Folder Issue 3



The 150-year itch: Afghanistan-Iran hydropolitics over the Helmand/Hirmand River

Mohsen Nagheeby
School of Law, Northumbria University; and Water Security and Sustainable Development Hub, Newcastle University, Newcastle, UK;

Jeroen Warner
Social Sciences Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands;

ABSTRACT: Reports predict frighteningly serious escalations of the controversy between Afghanistan and its neighbours over transboundary waters. However, a postulated future is not empirical evidence. This paper focuses on Afghanistan’s relations with Iran. It aims to examine the evolution of the hydropolitical relations between Afghanistan and Iran over the Helmand River Basin and to identify where and how changes in the relationship occurred over the past century. The Transboundary Waters Interaction NexuS (TWINS) model is used to map the evolution of hydropolitical relations between the two riparian states. The paper also explores the dynamics of the political relations between the states in order to understand the potential for greater cooperation. While there is a complete disconnect between the two sides in terms of water management, the paper’s historical analysis shows that the frightening claims are not backed by facts on the ground and that they misrepresent the hydropolitical relations as they exist within the broader geopolitical context. The paper concludes that for both Afghanistan and Iran over the period of Western intervention and civil war, the water controversy has constantly been overshadowed by other priority concerns such as security, economy, and the quest for the stabilisation of Afghanistan. Enhanced water cooperation therefore depends on a change in the nature of geopolitical relations between the two countries and on the creation of a collective identity by Afghanistan and Iran over the Helmand River Basin.

KEYWORDS: Helmand/Hirmand River Basin, transboundary waters, cooperation, frozen conflict, Western interventions, geopolitics, Iran, Afghanistan




Water ATMs and access to water: Digitalisation of off-grid water infrastructure in peri-urban Ghana

Godfred Amankwaa
Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, UK;

Richard Heeks
Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, UK;

Alison L. Browne
Department of Geography, University of Manchester, UK;

ABSTRACT: Ensuring adequate access to clean water remains a major challenge throughout the world, particularly in off-grid and low-income neighbourhoods in the Global South. Digital water infrastructure such as water ATMs (automated standpipes) has been a common policy response to this challenge, targeted particularly at off-grid citizens in urban and peri-urban areas. Despite growing implementation and interest, however, limited empirical research analysis has been devoted to a consideration of the ways in which water ATM infrastructures are being implemented and how they impact water access in off-grid locations. Drawing on a mix of qualitative methods and a situated sociotechnical approach, the paper addresses this gap by examining how water ATMs are implemented and deployed, and their impacts on water access in a peri-urban community in Ghana. We find water ATMs as incremental infrastructures delivering relatively limited operational-level value, with their deployment and operationalisation shaped through everyday realities, existing community infrastructures, and networks of actors and intermediaries. We highlight how water ATMs produce new sociomaterial realities of water access which are also contested. We argue that digital water infrastructures are not just technical, but that they are, rather, terrains that underlie and are embedded in social, technical and political dynamics. Given the increasing deployment of water ATMs and digital water systems in urban areas of the Global South, we conclude the paper with recommendations for off-grid digital water infrastructure implementation.

KEYWORDS: Water ATMs, digital water innovations, water access, off-grid water, infrastructure, Ghana


Exploring contestation in rights of river approaches: Comparing Colombia, India and New Zealand

Marco Immovilli
Wageningen University, Sociology of Development and Change Group, Wageningen, The Netherlands;

Susanne Reitsma
Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, The Hague, The Netherlands;

Regine Roncucci
Independent researcher, Brussels, Belgium;

Elisabet Dueholm Rasch
Wageningen University, Sociology of Development and Change Group, Wageningen, The Netherlands;

Dik Roth
Wageningen University, Sociology of Development and Change Group, Wageningen, The Netherlands;

ABSTRACT: Rights of Nature (RoN) approaches as a tool to protect ecosystems and nature is gaining growing attention in academic and societal debates. Despite this new momentum, theoretical work is increasingly pointing out major problems and uncertainties related to such approaches. Inspired by this critical work, the paper considers RoN as a type of intervention that competes with those of other actors for the control of, and decision-making power over, natural resources. To understand the implications of such interventions, it is necessary to investigate how they shape, and are shaped by, local context. To that end, we look at Rights of Rivers (RoR) cases in New Zealand, Colombia and India. Investigating these well-researched cases, we aim to tease out the material and discursive contestations that emerge from the establishment and implementation of RoR interventions. We then propose an analytical approach that has emerged from our fieldwork and which can be useful in identifying the conflicts and contestations underpinning RoR.

KEYWORDS: Rights of Nature, Rights of Rivers, value of nature, ecocentrism, dimensions of contestation, water governance, socionature, Whanganui, Atrato, Ganga




The ageing of infrastructure and ideologies: Contestations around dam removal in Spain

Lena Hommes
Water Resources Management (WRM) Group, Department of Environmental Sciences, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands;

ABSTRACT: This paper analyses the discussions surrounding dam removal in Spain and, specifically, ongoing contestations around the Toranes Dam. Engaging with scholarship about the temporalities of infrastructure and imaginaries, I show how dam removal is a trend that comes forth from temporally situated and shifting relations in the sociopolitical, technical, financial and environmental networks in which dams are embedded. More than simply a consequence of material decay and expiring use licences, dam removal is also intrinsically related to changing imaginaries about dams, rivers and nature. However, dam removal is contested. Central to it are debates about the definition of, and relations between, nature, society and cultural heritage in the past, present and future. People’s subjectivities – shaped by the dam and its intended and unintended effects on the environment and hydrosocial relations – are also a source of anti-removal mobilisation. The paper demonstrates how dam removal is a fascinating topic that draws attention to the different temporalities dams hold, including the stage of material and potentially also ideological ruin. Dam removal, however, does not (yet?) represent a clear paradigm shift; rather, the reality is messy, with dam construction and removal at times being promoted simultaneously.

KEYWORDS: Dams, dam removal, temporalities of infrastructure, imaginaries, Spain


Water values and moral economic practices in Kunene, Namibia

Diego Augusto Menestrey Schwieger
University of Cologne, Department of Social & Cultural Anthropology, Cologne, Germany;

Richard Dimba Kiaka
Jaramogi Oginga Odinga of Science and Technology, Bondo, Kenya;

Michael Schnegg
University of Hamburg, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Hamburg, Germany;

ABSTRACT: In Namibia, the institutional framework for governing rural water infrastructure has changed profoundly over the last decades. Following a community-based water management (CBWM) strategy, post-independence policies transferred the responsibility for providing water from the state to local user groups. This turned water from a public good into a common good, and today all pastoral communities must collectively cover the costs of water. In this article, we explore the economic consequences of these developments in the Kunene region of north-western Namibia. Our analysis reveals that CBWM places a significant burden on all households but that, at the same time, the effects differ across the region. In the northern part of the research area the poor pay a high share, while in the south they find ways to resist. Our analysis reveals that 'moral economic practices' such as food sharing can account for those differences to a significant degree. Communities in the north are characterised by very strong reciprocal patron-client networks, which give the poor relatively little power to oppose pricing rules that are preferred by their wealthy neighbours. In the southern part of the Kunene region, by contrast, social networks are based on sharing norms and are much more egalitarian. Along with other factors, those differences help to explain why the poor in the north find it much more difficult to resist their wealthy neighbours than do the poor in the south. In the end, the actual price of water differs across the region as it intersects with different moral economic practices.

KEYWORDS: Pastoral communities, community-based water management, moral economic practices, institutional multiplexity, Kunene, Namibia


Viewpoint – The South African water sector: Municipal dysfunction, resistance and future pathways

Suraya Scheba
Environmental & Geographical Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa;

ABSTRACT: In South Africa, local government is envisaged as a critical site of redistribution. This vision is laid out in the 1998 White Paper on Local Government. It imagined an entirely new kind of municipality, one that was focused on the delivery of services to all South Africans and was aimed at addressing historical injustices and reducing poverty and inequality. Now, however, more than two decades later, local government has become a site of systemic dysfunction. The financial and infrastructural state of municipalities is deeply troubling. This paper will unpack the influence and impact of privatisation and commercialisation principles on the South African water sector. The focus will be placed on the drivers of institutional and infrastructural dysfunction as they manifest themselves in the form of persistent inequality in water access. The systemic dimensions to municipal governance failure will be centred, as local government was envisioned as a critical site of redistribution. Thereafter, community responses and future pathways toward more just provisioning are considered.

KEYWORDS: South African water governance, cost recovery, service delivery, water rights, community resistance


Barriers to accessing emergency water infrastructure: Lessons from Flint, Michigan

Melissa Heil
Department of Geography, Geology, and the Environment, Illinois State University, Normal, IL, USA;

ABSTRACT: Several high-profile cases of water service interruption have occurred in United States communities over the last decade, halting the usual operations of water infrastructures. In these situations, governments and NGOs have created emergency water infrastructures, such as bottled water distribution sites, to meet residents' water needs. This paper examines the accessibility of such emergency water distribution sites by analysing the case of Flint, Michigan. Drawing on interviews with community leaders in Flint who administered the city's bottled water distribution programmes, this paper identifies barriers to access in the city's emergency water infrastructure that stem from and deepen pre-existing socio-spatial inequality. This research identifies the need for government emergency preparedness guidance to incorporate a more comprehensive notion of accessibility that considers the social, political, and economic factors that affect the usability of these sites.

KEYWORDS: Water, Disaster Response, Infrastructure, Accessibility, Flint, USA


Drinking water quality assemblages: Scale, temporality and flexibility in Kaolack, Senegal

Elizabeth A. MacAfee
Faculty of Landscape and Society, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Ås, Norway; Department of Cultural Anthropology and Development Studies, Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands;

ABSTRACT: In this article, I argue that drinking water quality is a sociomaterial phenomenon with scale and temporality; I argue further that the way in which actors in urban environments influence drinking water quality affects how people access water and the degree to which they are exposed to drinking-water–related hazards. Understanding the complexity of the multiple possible impacts on drinking water quality requires attentiveness to the heterogeneous social, political and technical relations that together constitute a 'drinking water quality assemblage'. Different problematisations of drinking water quality can also contribute to the emergence of multiple contested assemblages. Using a qualitative case study developed over eight months in Senegal including interviews, participation, observation and document review, I explore coexisting assemblages of drinking water quality in Kaolack, Senegal. I categorise the assemblages as state, implementer, provider and consumer. These vary in the degree to which each assemblage is flexible or rigid: they also exhibit differences in the scales and temporalities of concern for drinking water quality problems. I argue that this theorisation of drinking water quality relates better to the dynamic and multiple materiality of water and water quality than do the static and inflexible technical definitions that are more commonly found in policy and planning documents.

KEYWORDS: Drinking water quality, assemblage theory, urban water, Senegal


Hybridity in practice: Responding to water insecurity in São Paulo, Dhaka and Cairo

Sally Cawood
Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK;

Noura Wahby
Department of Public Policy and Administration, The American University in Cairo, Cairo, Egypt;

Luciana Nicolau Ferrara
Center for Engineering, Modelling and Applied Social Sciences, Federal University of ABC São Paulo, Brazil;

ABSTRACT: This paper examines everyday practices of self-construction and connection, negotiation, and self-disconnection of, and from, formal and informal water infrastructure and services in three global cities – São Paulo, Dhaka, and Cairo. While each city has distinct histories and geographies, we show via detailed qualitative fieldwork in six low- and high-income neighbourhoods how residents face ongoing struggles to access quality, affordable, and sustainable water supply. We make two key contributions to the existing debate on urban water insecurity. First, we highlight that while residents continue to pursue water formalisation as a pathway towards neighbourhood regularisation and broader citizenship entitlements, they do not abandon the hybrid systems of infrastructure and provisioning they use to access water. Instead, these hybrid material, social, and political practices of self-connection and contestation of water services are the cornerstone of negotiating water in/security in everyday urban life for both high- and low-income groups. Second, we focus beyond the formalisation of water supply to highlight how residents maintain, repair, and/or disconnect from water infrastructure and services. We introduce the underexplored practice of 'self-disconnection' as a way in which residents respond to water insecurity in state or community systems, challenging notions of a linear, singular network ideal. The paper concludes by synthesising the diverse ways in which residents respond to water insecurity in their daily lives, across three distinct geographical contexts.

KEYWORDS: Water insecurity, hybrid infrastructures, formalisation, land tenure, urban political ecology


Promise of water abundance and the normalisation of water-intensive development in Cyprus

Serkan Karas
Department of Architecture, University of Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus;

Panayiota Pyla
Department of Architecture, University of Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus;

ABSTRACT: Cyprus is the most water insecure of the European Union member countries. This is the case despite the fact that its water landscape – surface, underground and coastal – has been developed almost to its maximum, with large and costly dams, conveyors and desalination plants. This paper provides an historical and technopolitical perspective on this expensively built and precarious water supply regime. We demonstrate how water supply has been central to the formation of the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) from the end of colonialism in 1960, through to the 1974 division of the island, and then the 2004 integration of the RoC into the European Union. The paper exposes how, at critical turns, water infrastructure constituted a material practice that shaped the economy’s motive powers, that is, agriculture and tourism. We examine how state actors and international experts promoted these economic activities in ways that relied heavily on water-intensive practices. This led, in turn, to the normalisation of large-scale, capital-intensive water supply projects that consolidated the power of a precarious republic whose control over its population was only partial. Environmentally harmful practices came to be accepted as inevitable or even as crucial for the very existence of the Republic; examples of this include illegal drilling for irrigation in the south-eastern area of Kokkinokhoria and supply of hotel resorts in the village of Ayia Napa and, the supply of golf courses with subsidised agricultural. water. We conclude that, in effect, this material practice creates a long-term technopolitical dynamic that downplays or excludes demand-side water policies and ecological concerns.

KEYWORDS: Water regime, tourism, agriculture, direction, state, infrastructure, Cyprus