Perspectives from the ground: Governing informality of water in Metro Manila

Nazia Hussain
University of Tokyo Institute for Future Initiatives, Tokyo, Japan; nhussain@ifi.u-tokyo.ac.jp

Carmeli Chaves
School of Urban and Regional Planning, University of the Philippines, Metro Manila, Philippines; ccchaves@up.edu.ph

ABSTRACT: Although privatisation in Metro Manila has resulted in increased access to piped connections and reduced pilferage, the urban poor pay more for low-quality water and access it through small-scale providers including cooperatives and syndicates. While forming cooperatives can represent efforts of urban poor communities to claim legality, the selling of water to neighbours or offering protections for pilfering by local providers illustrates everyday illegality. Governing logics of the postcolonial state and concessionaires shape these Janus-faced survival practices of urban poor communities. These unwritten shared understandings, or informal institutions, operate within porous spaces of legality and illegality and remain at the mercy of the state, which can criminalise them. Moreover, while living in an informal settlement precludes access to individual piped connections from concessionaires, living on a resettlement site does not ensure access either, indicating that city planning directly impacts water access and supply. These realities suggest a relational reading of informality, linking the state and concessionaires from the top down with negotiated access to water from the bottom up, which may explain persisting inequities.

KEYWORDS: Informality, water, urban poor, governance, Metro Manila, Philippines