Storage and non-payment: Persistent informalities within the formal water supply of Hubli-Dharwad, India

Zachary Burt
Energy and Resources Group, University of California at Berkeley, CA, USA; zzburt@gmail.com

Isha Ray
Energy and Resources Group, University of California at Berkeley, CA, USA; isharay@berkeley.edu

ABSTRACT: Urban water systems in Asia and Africa mostly provide intermittent rather than continuous water supplies; such systems compromise water quality and inconvenience the user. Starting in 2008, an upgrade to continuous (24/7) water services was provided for 10% of the twin cities of Hubli-Dharwad, India, through a process of privatisation and formalisation. The goals were to improve water quality, free consumers from collecting and storing water, and reduce non-revenue (i.e. unpaid for) water. Drawing on household surveys (n = 1986) conducted in 2010-2011 in the 24/7 zones, as well as on a range of interviews, we find that, even with 'formal' 24/7 water service, most consumers continue the supposedly 'informal' practices of in-home storage and water use without payment of bills. We argue that multiple unaccounted-for factors – including a history of distrust between the consumer and the utility, seemingly small infrastructural details, resistance to higher tariffs, and valuing convenience above water quality – have kept these informal practices embedded within the formalised delivery system. Our research contributes to understanding why formalisation may only partially supplant informal practices even when the formal system is functional and reliable.

KEYWORDS: Informality, water supply, drinking water storage, non-payment, quiet encroachment, continuous water supply, 24/7 water