Folder Issue 1



Public banks + Public water = SDG 6?

David A. McDonald
Global Development Studies, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada;

Thomas Marois
Department of Development Studies, SOAS, University of London, London, UK;

Susan Spronk
School of International Development and Global Studies, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada;

ABSTRACT: Sustainable Development Goal 6 aims to achieve universal access to water and sanitation services by 2030; this is expected to cost an estimated US$150 billion per year. Where will this funding come from? One possibility is private finance in the form of direct equity investment from private water companies and lending from commercial banks. Evidence suggests, however, that private investments in water and sanitation have not materialised as planned due to the sector’s risk – return profile. Water and sanitation are considered 'too risky' by private investors and returns insufficiently rewarding. One alternative that may help to fill the water supply and sanitation (WSS) funding gap is an as yet untapped source of public finance: public banks. There are over 900 public banks in the world, with US$49 trillion in assets; they have, however, been largely underestimated as an important source of water and sanitation funding and have also been neglected by academic research and by mainstream policy organisations such as the World Bank. There is a need to better understand how public banks can be mobilised as effective funders of public water. In this article we provide a brief history of public banking practices in the water sector, review their pros and cons, and discuss the significance of the emergence of a new type of public water operator and the potential these entities offer for financing in this sector.

KEYWORDS: Public banks, public water, finance, SDGs, remunicipalisation





Incarnating water in Central Asia: Hydro-relations along a transnational river

Jeanne Féaux de la Croix
Eberhard-Karls University Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany;

ABSTRACT: Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork as well as collaborative events with artists and policy makers in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, I demonstrate how water concepts and forms of interaction are anchored in the particular water incarnations of springs, lakes, glaciers and big rivers. As main water arteries for the Aral Sea, the Naryn and Syr Darya Rivers are managed between shifting alliances of the farming interests, International Non-governmental Organisation (INGO) bodies and national agencies of four riparian states. These Central Asian rivers have been subject to big dam-building programmes since the mid-Soviet period, while international companies now mine on the glaciers of the Naryn headwaters. I analyse socionatural water relations on a spectrum of three 'incarnations': first, river water as an exploitable resource; second, enspirited springs and lakes; and third, glaciers as indexes of human wrongdoing. While the multiplicity of water relations has been documented in many parts of the world, the concept of water incarnations highlights their topographical anchoring. This Central Asian case further shows how this anchoring can support claims of national entitlement. Finally, this paper argues that the situated heterogeneity of water relations can make it difficult to connect them to more sustainable water relationships in the region.

KEYWORDS: Transboundary agreements, modern water, commons, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Central Asia, springs, sacred sites, glaciers, Aral Sea


Jamaican river waters: Collapsing time and the politics of rural life-making

Anne M. Galvin
Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, St. John’s University, New York, United States;

ABSTRACT: The Black River, which runs through the parish of St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, is an ecological, agricultural and aquaculture resource and a source of drinking water. Research among residents and workers highlights the ways in which river waters become layered with meanings and uses in the postcolonial setting of former plantation economies. Time collapses within the landscape as river geographies house, and are reconfigured by, sediments of colonial European settlement, plantation slavery, recent industrial histories, and continuities of rural subsistence. River social geographies are shaped by historical shifts in governance and economics under racio-colonial capitalist systems that grew out of plantation slavery. How have the logics of colonisation that created sugar plantations shaped physical and social geographies surrounding river water in contemporary agricultural districts? In what ways have contemporary global capitalist industries like rum production affected Jamaican river waters and how have they operated on top of pre-existing riverine social geographies? This research explores the negotiation of rural Jamaican life-making norms – including subsistence fishing and farming practices – in relation to river waters, as understood by private citizens and other political actors. It examines the multiple registers that river water occupies in rural Jamaican life and the complex water politics that grows out of collapsing time within the post-plantation rural landscape of Jamaica.

KEYWORDS: Caribbean, postcolonial temporality, plantation protocapitalism, river water, political ecology, Jamaica


Waters, water and the hydrosocial politics of bathing in Mexico City, 1850-1920

Casey Walsh
University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, USA;

ABSTRACT: Before the emergence of microbiology in the 1860s, the relationship between health and water was understood to hinge mostly on its manifold mineral qualities; medical treatments often involved bathing in particular waters to take advantage of their curative powers. With the help of microscopes, those waters came to be seen as home to dangerous microbes and a cause, as much as a cure, of disease. But while biology placed water management on a new footing, ideas from chemistry about the diverse positive medical effects of mineral waters continued to justify the use of those heterogeneous sources for bathing in pools and spas. In this article, I trace this slow, incomplete transition from chemical to biological understandings of waters and health in Mexico City in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Contradictory hydrosocial processes took shape as scientists, businesspeople and politicians sought to deliver biologically pure, potable public water to individual bathrooms and to, at the same time, promote the healing properties of social bathing in chemically heterogeneous waters.

KEYWORDS: Bathing, water, infrastructure, medicine, history, Mexico


Examining the cracks in universal water coverage: Women document the burdens of household water insecurity

Lucero Radonic
Department of Anthropology and Environmental Science and Policy Program, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, United States;

Cara E. Jacob
Department of Anthropology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, United States;

ABSTRACT: Universal access to safe drinking water is assumed to be a defining characteristic of cities in the Global North. This article documents the daily challenges facing working class women in Flint, Michigan, when the promise of modern water infrastructure cracks. In 2014, in order to reduce costs, Flint’s drinking water source was switched from Lake Huron to the Flint River. This change, and specifically the way it was managed, resulted in contamination of the water supply with lead and pathogens. While the experience of Flint is now an emblematic case of water insecurity in the Global North, it is not unique. Through a case study developed in the context of a community-based participatory research project, this article details how water insecurity transferred the burden of clean water provisioning back to individual households, and specifically to women. Rather than being able to rely on the labour and technical expertise that have rendered water safe in the modern city, Flint residents were abruptly made responsible for ensuring their own water security. We detail how the Flint water crisis brought about a 'new normal'; we consider the ways in which it gave rise to a new relationship to potable water that was characterised by a (re)turn to bottled or filtered water (from tap water) and a shift in who is responsible for the labour necessary to render water safe. The women’s testimonies that we present here illustrate how, when modern uniform water fails, people begin to see heterogeneous waters.

KEYWORDS: Water, water security, household water insecurity, infrastructure, gender, photovoice, Flint, USA, Global North


Implicit or illicit? Self-made infrastructure, household waters, and the materiality of belonging in Cape Town

Angela D. Storey
University of Louisville, Louisville, KY, US;

ABSTRACT: Residents of informal settlements in Cape Town, South Africa, access water through a maze of infrastructural pieces stitched together by social connections, political solidarities, and intersecting needs. In the absence of sufficient formal provision, the labour of informal settlement residents creates and maintains many of the pieces of water infrastructure used daily to fill gaps in access. Water lines are extended, shared, split and broken, and wastewater disposal spaces are constructed, each forging routes of access beyond formal provision and yet tying residents to wider systems. Based on a decade of ethnographic work conducted with residents of informal settlements in the Khayelitsha area of Cape Town, this article examines the difficulty of differentiating between formal and informal, legal and illegal, and public and private pieces of water systems. I argue for understanding such material pieces at the edges of water systems as implicit infrastructures, wrought at the intersection of local labour to manage multiple household waters, persistent structural exclusion, and neoliberal reworking of public services. Such a naming requires understanding infrastructural systems for water as both porous and exclusionary, highlighting the ways through which logics of urban resources frame everyday lives as beyond the purview of the state.

KEYWORDS: Water, infrastructure, informal settlements, urban anthropology, South Africa


Water, modern and multiple: Enriching the idea of water through enumeration amidst water scarcity in Bengaluru

Lindsay Vogt
Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies (ISEK), University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland;

ABSTRACT: Numeric abstractions relied upon by modern water management are reductive by design, but their political effects need not be reductionist, as an example from Bengaluru attests. Prompted by a water supply crisis that briefly shut down an IT corridor, one multinational corporation looked to a small environmental consultancy named Avaani, and its customised enumerative technologies – metering, tariff design, water audits and environmental balance ledgers – to mitigate water scarcity and its corresponding business interruptions. This occasioned the meeting and merging of two understandings of water: the modern water stripped of place and history that is so sought by the corporation in its daily water provisioning, and the water that is imbued with moral imperatives and local histories and which is tended by the non-profit organisation. As the enumerative idioms of Avaani soon proliferated throughout the corporation and its public outreach, the non-profit largely avoided the reduction, alienation and abstraction that characterises governmental enumeration; it did so in two ways: by using data collection as a 'spin-off' to curate and compound friendly encounters between people and water, and by embedding water accounting with moral considerations. This case shows how enumerative regimes, depending on their design and deployment, may contribute to a more multiple and multiply contextualised sense of water, even in situations of water scarcity where reductionist measurement tends to abound.

KEYWORDS: Enumeration, measurement, audit cultures, groundwater, water scarcity, NGO, development, Bengaluru, India


Co-producing drinking water in rural Ethiopia: Governmentality in the name of community management

Linda Annala
Hanken School of Economics, Centre for Corporate Responsibility, Helsinki, Finland;

ABSTRACT: In rural drinking water governance, the reliance on community management has permeated development programmes and water policies for decades. Moving away from a community-centric view, this paper expands the focus to a broader landscape in order to investigate how the state, citizens and other non-state actors co-produce drinking water in the Amhara region of Ethiopia. The study seeks to understand what kinds of power relations are being (re)produced among co-producing actors through the discourse of community management. The conceptualisation of power relations is undertaken by employing Foucault’s governmentality perspective. As its empirical material, besides an examination of policy documents, the study utilises interviews with community Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Committees (WASHCOs), woreda (district) and regional water officials, private suppliers, NGO representatives, artisans and other actors. As a conceptual contribution, the paper makes power visible in the otherwise depoliticised literature of co-production. For governments and development practitioners, the study urges the opening up of spaces for discussion by showing how the vocabulary of community management can be appropriated to (re)produce power structures.

KEYWORDS: Co-production, community management, governmentality, rural drinking water governance, Ethiopia



Damming Rainy Lake and the ongoing production of hydrocolonialism in the US-Canada boundary waters

Johann Strube
Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education, The Pennsylvania State University, United States of America;

Kimberley Anh Thomas
Department of Geography and Urban Studies, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, United States of America;

ABSTRACT: Transboundary water governance between the United States and Canada – ahistorically described as cooperative and harmonious – has been instrumental to Settler colonialism and the dispossession of Indigenous peoples around the Great Lakes. At Rainy Lake, on the border between the American state of Minnesota and the Canadian province of Ontario, transboundary water governance supported a binational, Settler colonial joint venture through which European-descended Settlers established themselves in this area. It allowed for the construction of hydroelectric dams that enabled industrial development but also damaged ecosystems and species on which local Ojibwe and Métis communities depended, particularly the lake's wild rice (Zizania palustris) stands. We reconceptualise transboundary water governance in the region by expanding the framework of hydro-hegemony to include relations between Canada, the United States, and Indigenous Nations. By recognising Indigenous Nations and Settler colonial states as having equal status in political negotiations around the use of water, our analysis reveals negative hydro-hegemony between the United States and Canada on one side, and Indigenous Nations on the other. We advance hydrocolonialism as a framework for describing these relationships. Hydrocolonialism persists through the ongoing exclusion of Indigenous Nations from nation-to-nation diplomacy; this exclusion is particularly embedded in the functioning of the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty and the International Joint Commission which it established.

KEYWORDS: Wild rice, Settler colonialism, hydro-hegemony, hydrocolonialism, Boundary Waters Treaty, International Joint Commission, hydroelectric dams, USA, Canada





The impact of pro-poor reforms on consumers and the water utility in Maputo, Mozambique

Valentina Zuin
Yale-NUS College, Singapore;

Maika Nicholson
Sherwood Design Engineers, San Francisco, CA, United States;

ABSTRACT: Over one billion people gained access to piped water between 2000 and 2015. Piped water access in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), however, is the lowest of all SDG regions and is declining: in 2017, only 56% of the urban population in SSA had access to piped water in their homes, down from 65% in 2000. Increasing water access via private connections is difficult for many of utility providers in SSA, and unconnected households may also choose not to connect to the water utility network because of low-quality utility service, high water charges and high connection fees. This paper focuses on understanding the impact of the pro-poor water reforms implemented between 2010 and 2019 in the Greater Maputo Area (GMA), Mozambique; specifically, it attempts to understand how households were able to obtain piped water access through a water connection campaign, a reduction of the connection fee, and the option of paying in instalments. We use data collected in 2010 and 2012 – before and after these policy changes were introduced – from 1300 households in 6 poor neighbourhoods in peri-urban Maputo. This paper also investigates the broader sectoral impacts of these policies over time from the water utility’s perspective, using data from sector reports and interviews with key informants that were conducted by one of the authors in 2019. We found that between 2009 and 2017, the number of domestic private connections more than doubled in the GMA. Both the utility connection campaign and the reduction in connection fees facilitated water access for low-income households – although the poorest households were still unable to access piped water in the studied neighbourhoods – and for a few households, access was made possible by the option of paying the connection fee in instalments. Such rapid increases in the number of connections had two important implications for the water sector: first, as the number of private connections increased, the quality of service decreased significantly; second, the increase in domestic connections among largely low-income and relatively low-consuming customers resulted in major financial challenges for the system. These results are in line with those of other authors who argue that social and financial goals cannot be achieved in tandem; they also support findings in the existing literature on the limited ability of tariffs to deliver subsidies to the poor.

KEYWORDS: Water reforms, urban service provision, pro-poor water services, connection fee, payment in instalments, financial sustainability, coverage increase, Maputo, Mozambique




Cities with mosquitoes: A political ecology of Aedes aegypti’s habitats

Angela Bayona-Valderrama
School of Civil Engineering, University of Leeds, UK;

Tatiana Acevedo-Guerrero
IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, Delft, The Netherlands; Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Center for Development Studies CIDER, Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia;

Cláudio Artur
Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, Maputo, Mozambique;

ABSTRACT: Both urbanisation and climate change have been linked to the ecological success of Aedes aegypti. These mosquitoes, which breed in stored and stagnant water, are the primary vectors of dengue, chikungunya and Zika, diseases that have been increasingly affecting populations in the Global South. Addressing this problem requires a wider understanding of habitats favourable to the breeding of Aedes aegypti as they are made and remade in the city. Through interviews and archival work documenting the histories and routines of water storage, this exploratory study examines the formation of suitable mosquito habitats in six neighbourhoods of Maputo, Mozambique. The paper has been inspired by debates on urban political ecology to delve into the transformations that water undergoes once it is stored in and around homes. We document the interrelatedness between socio-economic characteristics (in contexts of unequal urbanisation) with physico-chemical changes of stored water, as it becomes a suitable mosquito habitat.

KEYWORDS: Stored water, habitats favourable to Aedes aegypti, political ecology, Maputo, Mozambique




Modern and nonmodern waters: Sociotechnical controversies, successful anti-dam movements and water ontologies

Silvia Flaminio
University of Lausanne, Faculty of Geosciences and Environment, Institute of Geography and Sustainability, Lausanne, Switzerland; and University of Lyon, UMR 5600 EVS, Lyon, France;

ABSTRACT: Many new dam projects are presently being put forward, revealing both the comeback of large hydraulic infrastructure and the resilience of the modern ontology of water. To contribute to the understanding of modern water’s perpetuation, this paper takes a step back in time and looks at the cases of two dam projects which were cancelled during the 1980s due to environmental protests: the Loyettes Dam on the Rhône River in France and the Gordon-below-Franklin Dam on the Gordon River in Tasmania, Australia. Previous studies in the political ecology of water have paid attention to opposing discourses, representations, imaginaries and, more recently, to ontologies when considering conflicts involving modern water. This paper further explores the contestation of modern water that occurred in the late twentieth century. It focuses not only on pre-existing ontologies of water but also on the production of water ontologies during and after sociotechnical controversies. It does so by 1) asking how modern water seeks to maintain itself, and 2) questioning the rise of alternative water ontologies. The discussion identifies different water ontologies which vary in a continuum from nonmodern to modern; it also connects them with ways of being with the environment in general. The study concludes that while controversies may result in the transformation of planning practices and changes in water ontologies, the hegemony of modern water is only partially challenged by successful anti-dam movements.

KEYWORDS: Dams, modern water, water ontologies, Gordon River, Tasmania, Australia, Rhône River, France




The landing of parachuted technology: Appropriation of centralised drip irrigation systems by irrigation communities in the region of Valencia (Spain)

Noemí Poblador
CIRAD, Montpellier, France;

Carles Sanchis-Ibor
Centro Valenciano de Estudios del Riego, Universitat Politècnica de València, Valencia;

Marcel Kuper
CIRAD, University of Montpellier, UMR G-Eau;

ABSTRACT: Drip irrigation technology in existing collective surface irrigation schemes is frequently implemented through top-down policies and black box projects, causing significant changes in agricultural water management, uneven effects on local practices and organisations, and very different reactions in the social structures of irrigation. In this paper, we analyse the institutional co-production of technological change in the case of irrigation for fruit production in the Region of Valencia (Spain) following the implementation of drip irrigation systems in two irrigation communities. The State conceived public subsidy schemes promoting drip irrigation that had to be implemented rapidly. The private sector designed and implemented the new subsidised standardised infrastructure with a logic that was disconnected from collective-action principles. Farmers’ representatives opted for a centralised fertigation model that introduced significant rigidity into the irrigation system, hindering the development of polyculture and organic farming. Irrigation communities were then obliged to redesign the irrigation system to make it compatible with their needs and to recover social control over drip irrigation. Our results highlight the importance of human capital and social control in processes of technological change in collective irrigation institutions.

KEYWORDS: Drip irrigation, water users associations, adaptation, centralised fertigation, organic farming, Valencia, Spain


More sustainable systems through consolidation? The changing landscape of rural drinking water service delivery in Uganda

Angela Huston
Department of Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics, McGill University, Montréal, QC, Canada; and IRC, The Hague, Netherlands;

Susan Gaskin
Department of Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics, McGill University, Montréal, QC, Canada;

Patrick Moriarty
IRC, The Hague, The Netherlands;

Martin Watsisi
IRC Uganda, Kampala, Uganda;

ABSTRACT: The drinking water services sector in Uganda is in the early stages of a nationally planned transition; it aims to move from a paradigm based on community managed point sources towards one of professional utilities of piped networks. The implementation of this transition was studied in Western Uganda’s Kabarole District between 2017 and 2019; a systems approach (building blocks) was used to assess the sustainability of the different service models. The level of services was assessed using household and infrastructure surveys; these were supplemented by a management assessment, key informant interviews and stakeholder workshops. The two utility models present in Kabarole outperformed the community management model, with the existing national utility demonstrating greater maturity and performance than the newer Umbrella utility. The community management model, while relatively well defined in policy and planning frameworks, was poorly implemented, with less than 20% of community management structures operational at water points. The water sector is undergoing a process of consolidation of service delivery under a smaller number of larger providers, a trend that has been observed in other countries as they progress towards universal supply. In this paper, the prospects and risks of the current sector trajectory are discussed, as are the implications for monitoring, regulation and planning systems across the urban–rural spectrum.

KEYWORDS: Utility, service delivery models, systems, community management, Uganda


Municipal failure, unequal access and conflicts over water: A hydrosocial perspective on water insecurity of rural households in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Karen Lebek
Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Systems (IRI THESys) and Geography Department, Humboldt University Berlin, Berlin, Germany;

Michèle Twomey
Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Systems (IRI THESys) and Geography Department, Humboldt University Berlin, Berlin, Germany;

Tobias Krueger
Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Systems (IRI THESys) and Geography Department, Humboldt University Berlin, Berlin, Germany;

ABSTRACT: Despite South Africa’s modern water legislation and commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, over three million South Africans, most of whom live in rural areas, still lack access to a basic supply of safe drinking water. This case study examines the implications of unequal levels of household water insecurity (HWI) among rural households and communities; it considers the effects on their health and productivity and on their power relations with other households. We first ask whether municipal water services have succeeded in improving water access and reducing HWI for served households in the study area; we then investigate misuse and vandalism of municipal water infrastructure – the reason it occurs and how it interrelates with unequal access and HWI. We understand HWI in both a physical and a relational sense and employ the hydrosocial cycle as a lens to explore its relational dimension. Our research indicates that the District Municipality responsible for water services has largely failed to improve water access and reduce HWI for users of standpipes and users of unimproved sources/surface water, with adverse effects on health and productivity; only users of illegal yard taps benefit from water services. Partial coverage, incremental infrastructure development, neglect of infrastructure maintenance and corruption have produced uneven power relations that result in conflicts over water, vandalism and misuse of water infrastructure.

KEYWORDS: Household water insecurity, water services, vandalism, water infrastructure, power relations, South Africa


Parsing the politics of singular and multiple waters

Lindsay Vogt
Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies (ISEK), University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland;

Casey Walsh
University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, USA;

ABSTRACT: This Special Issue explores the politics of heterogeneous waters. Modern technoscientific water management regimes have driven the consolidation of power over water and those who use it through a material, cultural, and political process of centralisation and homogenisation. Despite this expanding uniformity, numerous scholars have called attention to the thriving heterogeneity of waters and water cultures. How do we reconcile these two views? In this introduction to the special issue, we propose that the relationship between water and waters is not either/or, as water/waters, but rather something more simultaneous and conjoined: water-waters. This approach displaces conceptual and temporal (before/after, premodern/modern) dichotomies and recognises that the processes through which water is made homogenous or heterogeneous (or both) are distinctly political. We conclude by introducing the anthropological and historical contributions to this special issue, which examine the political effects exercised by various kinds of waters and how people deal with the manifold permutations of water’s multiplicity. The articles assembled here show how uniform 'water' rarely fully replaces or displaces 'waters' materially or ontologically, but rather that they coexist in a tense and dynamic political balance.

KEYWORDS: Multiple waters, modern water, water cultures; dialectics