Folder Issue 3





Worldviews and the everyday politics of community water management

Frances Cleaver
Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK;

Luke Whaley
Department of Geography, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK;

Evance Mwathunga
Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, Chancellor College, University of Malawi, Zomba, Malawi;

ABSTRACT: This article highlights one important reason why attempts to achieve sustainable development through community management often fail – the neglect of worldviews. It addresses a gap in existing research on institutional bricolage by focussing on the core role that beliefs and rationales play in resource governance. Our research into rural water supply in Malawi and Uganda was conducted through a variety of ethnographic methods including year-long community diaries. Drawing on this, we demonstrate how worldviews shape local water management arrangements and their outcomes. We unpick three dimensions of the work that worldviews do In (1) making sense of socio-natural events and processes, (2) maintaining unequal social orders, and (3) serving as resources for institutional arrangements. The article concludes with a reflection on how our approach meaningfully furthers critical water studies, and on the challenges faced by development initiatives in operationalising such insights.

KEYWORDS: Worldviews, critical institutionalism, institutional bricolage, community management, Malawi, Uganda




Number narratives of water shortages: Delinking water resources development from water distribution in Mumbai, India

Sachin Tiwale
Centre for Water Policy and Governance, School of Habitat Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India; and Centre for Policy Studies, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Mumbai, India;

ABSTRACT: This paper examines the numbers associated with the water demand estimation process followed for the city of Mumbai, particularly focusing on the per capita water supply standard. The per capita standard is a critical figure for the planning, design, and operation of the entire urban water supply system from dam to household level tap. Historically, high per capita standards were consistently prescribed for Mumbai to overestimate water demand and construct number narratives of water shortages. These narratives were successfully used to appropriate a larger share of water by justifying a series of dams and keeping other urban centres and villages within the region water deprived. In colonial and post-colonial times Mumbai always received enough water, brought using higher per capita standards. However, these supply standards were never measured and monitored during actual service delivery within the city. The water demand of poor slum residents was overcounted by following universal per capita standards when bringing water to the city. However, the same slum residents were subtracted or underserved during actual service delivery. Analysing colonial and post-colonial practices of water resources development, this paper illustrates the limitations of the existing approach of water demand estimation using the prescribed per capita standard, which delinks the process of water resources development from water distribution within the city. The prescribed per capita standard does not reflect the conditions of access and status of supply provisioning and underplays the issues pertaining to the poor performance of the distribution network, which further marginalises the urban poor.

KEYWORDS: water demand estimation, water supply, standard, narratives, Mumbai, India


Stormwater politics: Flooding, infrastructure, and urban political ecology in São Paulo, Brazil

Nate Millington
Department of Geography; and Manchester Urban Institute, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK;

ABSTRACT: This paper analyses an ongoing paradigm shift in how engineers have responded to the persistent problem of flooding in São Paulo, Brazil. Until recently, civil engineers largely attempted to expel water from the landscape as fast as possible. Over the past three decades, however, engineers have begun to articulate new mechanisms for responding to flooding that store stormwater in the urban landscape. In this paper, I analyse the construction of what are commonly referred to as piscinões, large-scale detention ponds that pool stormwater in the event of heavy rain events. Drawing from literature in urban political ecology, I argue that piscinões attempt to correct for a complex and unequal landscape, but that they do so in a way that mainly prioritises large-scale engineering solutions to the problem of flooding. As such, in spite of being hailed as indicative of a paradigm shift in flood management, piscinões are instead a continuation of the city’s broader hydraulic and urban paradigms. In response, I consider alternative approaches to the development of multifunctional piscinões that could serve both social and ecological aims. Ultimately, however, I draw from urban political ecology to argue that flooding is fundamentally a political problem that requires a political solution.

KEYWORDS: Water, infrastructure, flooding, climate change, urban political ecology, São Paulo, Brazil




Citizen science water projects in Nepal: Participant motivations and the impacts of involvement

David W. Walker
JSPS International Research Fellow, Faculty of Design, Kyushu University, Fukuoka, Japan; and Water Resources Management Group, Wageningen University & Research, Wageningen, The Netherlands;

Masakazu Tani
Faculty of Design, Kyushu University, Fukuoka, Japan;

Narayan Gyawali
Lutheran World Relief (LWR) Nepal, Kathmandu, Nepal;

Prem Sagar Chapagain
Central Department of Geography, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal;

Jeffrey C. Davids
California State University, Chico; and SmartPhones4Water (S4W), Chico, California, USA;

Alisha Ghimire
Community Resilience and Humanitarian practitioner, Kathmandu, Nepal;

Makhan Maharjan
Urban Environment Management Society (UEMS), Lalitpur, Nepal;
Binod Prasad Parajuli Practical Action, Kathmandu, Nepal;

Rajaram Prajapati
Smartphones For Water Nepal (S4W-Nepal), Lalitpur, Nepal;

Santosh Regmi
Nepal Hydrological and Meteorological Research Center, Kathmandu, Nepal;

Rakesh Kumar Shah
Lutheran World Relief (LWR) Nepal, Kathmandu, Nepal;

Puja Shakya
Practical Action, Kathmandu, Nepal;

Surabhi Upadhyay
Smartphones For Water Nepal (S4W-Nepal), Lalitpur, Nepal;

ABSTRACT: Citizen science is blossoming in the water sciences and benefits to the scientific community are well reported. The experiences of involved citizens are less well researched, however, particularly in the Global South. To address this knowledge gap, we investigated the participant motivations of citizen science water projects in Nepal and the benefits and negative impacts of involvement. Semi-structured interviews and questionnaires were utilised with 74 participants and 15 project organisers, mainly from 5 projects. Participant responses yielded evidence of most of the commonly reported potential benefits of involvement in citizen science, including knowledge gain, increased scientific literacy, and empowerment. Not all benefits were experienced by all participants, however, and there was evidence – albeit minimal – of negative impacts, with some participants reporting the net effect of involvement as being burdensome or disappointing. Participant motivations matched those typically observed among Global North citizen scientists; most commonly, contributing to scientific research, having the opportunity to learn, and helping the community. While this study indicated that involvement in the investigated projects was mostly beneficial, further Global South citizen scientist assessments are needed to enable benefits to be maximised, negative impacts to be avoided, and motivations to be understood for improved participant targeting and retention.

KEYWORDS: Citizen science, Global South, water resources, water quality, disaster risk reduction, participant assessment, Nepal




Engaging and learning with water infrastructure: Rufaro Irrigation Scheme, Zimbabwe

Tavengwa Chitata
The University of Sheffield, Department of Geography, Sheffield, United Kingdom;

Jeltsje Sanne Kemerink-Seyoum
University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Delft, The Netherlands; and IHE-Delft Institute for Water Education, Delft, The Netherlands;

Frances Cleaver
Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK;

ABSTRACT: In this paper, we focus on changes made in the form and materiality of water infrastructure in a smallholder irrigation scheme in Zimbabwe. We use this focus on sociotechnical tinkering as a practical entry point to exploring how these changes matter in shaping knowledges and relationships in irrigated agriculture. Drawing on data collected through ethnographic methods, we show how history and politics matter in shaping the possibilities of rearranging infrastructure. Equally important are the knowledge-laden, embodied and discursive practices of the farmers, operators and engineers who engage with infrastructure. We argue that through the knowledges, creativity and agency of people interacting with irrigation infrastructure, water as well as power are (re)defined and (re)distributed in subtle and often unexpected, yet significant, ways.

KEYWORDS: Groundwater, irrigation infrastructure, smallholder farming, knowledge, Zimbabwe


The need for co-evolution of groundwater law and community practices for groundwater justice and sustainability: Insights from Maharashtra, India

Gabriela Cuadrado-Quesada
IHE-Delft Institute for Water Education, Delft, the Netherlands;

K.J. Joy
Society for Promoting Participative Ecosystem Management (SOPPECOM), Pune, India;

ABSTRACT: With groundwater becoming the mainstay for meeting water requirements for life and livelihoods, countries around the world are experimenting with law reforms in order to establish some guiding rules for its use, distribution and protection. A fundamental question about law reforms is the degree to which they incorporate justice and sustainability. This article, in responding to this question, focuses on Maharashtra, India. We base our response on a content analysis of the 2009 Maharashtra Groundwater (Development and Management) Act; the 2018 Maharashtra Groundwater (Development and Management Draft Groundwater Rules; and a village case study. Primary data was collected in Pune, Mumbai, and Hivre Bazar village; this included an empirical analysis of 47 in-depth interviews, participation in a number of village meetings and open-ended discussions, and direct observations of groundwater practices. Our analysis led to three conclusions. First, the 2009 Groundwater Act and the 2018 Draft Groundwater Rules are primarily driven by concern for sustainability of the resource, especially in areas where the water table is steadily declining, but when it comes to groundwater justice, no proactive measures are suggested in either the 2009 Groundwater Act or the 2018 Draft Groundwater Rules. Second, there are certain core factors identified at the local level that we believe to be fundamental in facilitating sustainability and – to a lesser extent – groundwater justice. These factors include a community’s ability to: (1) acknowledge that there is a crisis and display a willingness to engage with it; (2) create a rule-bound community groundwater resource; (3) demonstrate leadership and the feeling of community; and (4) utilise awareness, information and knowledge. Our third conclusion is that there is a need for the co-evolution of community practices and state-led groundwater law; such a co-evolution has the potential to put in place arrangements around groundwater that can support both groundwater justice and sustainability.

KEYWORDS: Groundwater justice, sustainability, groundwater law, practices, India




Diagnosing watersheds in India: Integrating power and politics in the analysis of commons governance

Shashank Deora
Centre for Technology Alternatives for Rural Areas (CTARA), Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Mumbai, India;

ABSTRACT: The experience of watershed development and management in countries of the Global South highlights significant challenges to governance. Establishing the overlap between watershed and commons, this paper identifies some of the most critical challenges to watershed governance in India, which follow from the uneven power relations and politics among diverse watershed actors. Common issues are faced in the implementation of the adaptive, polycentric governance regimes that are recommended for governing complex social-ecological systems like watersheds. Popular approaches in the commons literature that are focused on institutional analysis, however, do not adequately engage with the power and politics in natural resource governance; indeed, power relations and politics around a watershed can be better analysed using a social constructionist approach to natural resource governance. As has been attempted in some recent commons scholarship, this should include perspectives from political ecology, feminist political ecology, and critical human geography. Such an approach can help explain the historical emergence of the watershed through multiple socially constructed processes. It can also facilitate investigation into the relationship between watershed governing institutions and the changing human subjectivities of watershed actors that underlie dynamic scalar commoning. This paper discusses the potential, challenges and limitations of a social constructionist approach to the comprehensive diagnosis of watersheds; it also highlights some key questions that can be addressed through future research.

KEYWORDS: Watershed governance, watershed and commons, scalar dynamics, power and politics, socially constructed commons, human subjectivities, India


A critical reflexive audit of qualitative water governance research in the lower Hudson Valley, New York

Michael H. Finewood
Pace University Department of Environmental Studies and Science, Pleasantville, New York, USA;

Gretchen Sneegas
Texas A&M University Department of Geography, College Station, Texas, USA;

Chana Friedenberg
Pace University Department of Environmental Studies and Science, Pleasantville, New York, USA;

Loraine Guevarez
Pace University Department of Environmental Studies and Science, Pleasantville, New York, USA;

ABSTRACT: This paper presents a critically reflexive audit of research we conducted to explore perceptions of water resource governance and conditions. In 2018/19, we administered stakeholder perception surveys to people who were working in, or had contributed to, watershed governance in the Lower Hudson Valley, New York. Through an initial analysis we determined that participation was not representative of regional diversity. As a result, we took steps to address this disparity in participation by developing a mid-course correction and instituting a series of focused interviews with people from communities 'missed' in the surveys. We also conducted an audit of our methods to better understand where we went wrong. Here we discuss our research methods and experiences as well as how our positionalities and a 'colourblind' methodology introduced and maintained barriers to participation. We draw specifically on literature from watershed governance, participation, intersectionality, and critical race theory. We also draw on the responses of interview participants, which identified racialised barriers and lack of representation as key reasons for broader disengagement within the water governance community that we surveyed. We argue that our methods reproduced existing institutional modes of networking and reinforced existing barriers to participation, particularly for under-represented communities.

KEYWORDS: Watershed governance, methods, barriers to participation, critical reflexive audit, Hudson Valley, USA


The contested politics of drought, water security and climate adaptation in Australia's Murray-Darling Basin

Jason Alexandra
Alexandra and Associates, Melbourne, VIC 3095, Australia & RMIT University, School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, Melbourne, VIC 3000, Australia;

Lauren Rickards
Centre for Urban Research, RMIT, Melbourne, Australia;

ABSTRACT: Droughts are intensifying in many mid-latitude river basins due to climate change; therefore understanding the influence of droughts on water policy is crucial. This study of the politics of water reforms in Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) analyses contrasting discourses of water security during the Millennium Drought (1996-2010). The paper traces the historical evolution, mobilisation and effects of three discourses defined as 'drought-proofing', 'higher value use' and 'river restoration'. These are broadly aligned with engineering, economics and ecological perspectives, and while all discourses were integrated into government responses to the drought, the resurgence of drought-proofing significantly altered policy settings intended to shift MDB water management onto a more sustainable path. The paper illustrates the political and physical conditioning of water policy, placing drought responses in their historical context. The analysis demonstrates how policy actors used discourses of water security to define normative goals and legitimise policies, particularly when climatic extremes provide opportunities to influence policy outcomes. The paper provides three key insights for water governance and climate adaptation: first, drought responses can have far-reaching effects for water governance and policy trajectories; second, droughts pose challenges to positive climate adaptation when they revitalise heroic drought-proofing initiatives; and third, understanding the historical roots of contemporary drought responses is vital for effective climate adaptation.

KEYWORDS: Water security, water politics, drought, climate change adaptation, discourse, Murray-Darling Basin, Australia


The political economy of corruption and unequal gains and losses in water and sanitation services: Experiences from Bangkok

Danny Marks
School of Law and Government, Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland;

Michael Breen
Anti-Corruption Research Centre, Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland;

ABSTRACT: This article presents empirical information on experiences of corruption in the wastewater sector. Previous studies have examined the types and magnitude of corrupt behaviour that have been documented in water supply and sanitation services and have found that corruption in the sector is sophisticated and pervasive. Drawing on interviews with key stakeholders, we document a range of corrupt behaviours at the citizen–institution interface and in public financial management. Our findings underline the importance of contextual factors, including the rapid industrialisation and urbanisation taking place in the Extended Bangkok Metropolitan Region, as well as the existing institutional and regulatory weaknesses. Our findings also point to the environmental impact of corruption in the wastewater sector, a hitherto neglected factor which our respondents perceived as an immediate and direct threat to their communities and livelihoods.

KEYWORDS: Political economy of corruption, wastewater and sanitation sector, Khlong Dan wastewater plant, integrity failures, Extended Bangkok Metropolitan Region, Thailand


The path to the new urban water paradigm – From modernity to metamodernism

Manuel Franco-Torres
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway;

ABSTRACT: The urban water sector in industrialised countries is transitioning towards a new paradigm, usually characterised by participatory approaches to governance, integrated modes of management, circular economies, partnership with nature, and green and distributed infrastructure. However, change in a prevailing paradigm is rarely seen in connection with shifts in the underlying societal beliefs, assumptions, and values of an epoch (that is, the cultural framework). In this paper, I review the alterations that the dominant urban water paradigm has experienced over the past 150 years, analysing them in relation to evolving cultural frameworks. I start with industrial modernity (mid-19th century to mid-20th century), followed by descriptions of postmodernism and reflexive modernisation (late 20th century). Finally, I provide an innovative analysis of the new urban water paradigm as a reflection of metamodernism, an emergent cultural framework recently described in the field of cultural studies. I show that metamodernism can be used to explain coherently how urban water systems in industrialised countries are responding to growing complexity and uncertainty. They do so by oscillating between principles associated with modernity, such as order, technological optimism and utopian development, and postmodern principles, such as eclecticism, partial views of reality and participation.

KEYWORDS: Urban water management, new paradigm, modernity, reflexive modernisation, metamodernism