Folder Issue 1

February 2007




Informal space in the urban waterscape: Disaggregation and co-production of water services

Rhodante Ahlers
Independent Researcher;

Frances Cleaver
Department of Geography, Kingʼs College London, UK;

Maria Rusca
Department of Integrated Water Systems and Governance, UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education; and Governance and Inclusive Development, Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research, University of Amsterdam;

Klaas Schwartz
Department of Integrated Water Systems and Governance, UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education; and Governance and Inclusive Development, Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research, University of Amsterdam;

ABSTRACT: This special issue explores the realities of water provision in 'informal' urban spaces located in different parts of the world through eight empirical, case-based papers. The collection of articles shows that formality and informality are fluid concepts that say more about the authority to legitimate certain practices than describe the condition of that particular practice. In this introductory article we provide a historical overview that links the academic discussion on informality to urban water supply practices. Subsequently, we propose the concepts of disaggregation and co-production to describe how informality works, and how ideas about (in)formality are mobilised to label particular practices and service modalities. Disaggregation reveals that a single service delivery mechanism may incorporate activities, varying according to the degree to which they are formal or informal. Co-production describes a process where hybrid service provision modalities are produced as a result of the articulation of socio-political, economic, biophysical and infrastructural drivers. The article concludes by identifying a series of research directions that emerged as a result of producing this special issue.

KEYWORDS: Informality, co-production, water service modalities, urban waterscapes, governance



Community-driven multiple use water services: Lessons learned by the Rural Village Water Resources Management Project in Nepal

Sanna-Leena Rautanen
Rural Village Water Resources Management Project, Kailali District, Nepal;

Barbara van Koppen
International Water Management Institute, Pretoria, South Africa;

Narayan Wagle
Rural Village Water Resources Management Project, Kailali District, Nepal;

ABSTRACT: This article examines community-driven multiple use water services (MUS) as pioneered by the Rural Village Water Resources Management Project (RVWRMP) in the Far and Mid-Western development regions of Nepal. These regions are characterised by poverty, remoteness, rugged terrain, food insecurity, water scarcity, and post-conflict legacy. Water provision for domestic and productive uses provides opportunities to address poverty and livelihoods in environments with highly decentralised governance. This study explores the first-hand lessons learned in the RVWRMP in Nepal since 2006. This project is embedded within the local government. Key project entry points are decentralisation, participation and empowerment. This article reflects how the community-managed systems are used for multiple uses whether they were designed for it or not. It focuses on household- and community-level changes and related institution building and participatory planning through Water Use Master Plans and a Step-by-Step approach. Recommendations are made for scaling up multiple use services.

KEYWORDS: Multiple-use water services, local governance, Nepal



Finding structure in diversity: A stepwise small-n/medium-n qualitative comparative analysis approach for water resources management research

Peter P. Mollinga
Department of Development Studies, SOAS University of London, London, UK;

Daphne Gondhalekar
Center for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn, Bonn, Germany;

ABSTRACT: Drawing particularly on recent debates on, and development of, comparative methods in the field of comparative politics, the paper argues that stepwise small-N/medium-N qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) is a particularly suitable methodological approach for water resources studies because it can make use of the rich but fragmented water resources studies literature for accumulation of knowledge and development of theory. It is suggested that taking an explicit critical realist ontological and epistemological stance allows expansion of the scope of stepwise small-N/medium-N QCA beyond what is claimed for it in Ragin’s 'configurational comparative methods (CCM)' perspective for analysing the complexity of causality as 'multiple conjunctural causation'. In addition to explanation of certain sets of 'outcomes' as in CCM’s combinatorial, set-theoretic approach, embedding stepwise small-N/medium-N QCA in a critical realist ontology allows the method to contribute to development of theory on (qualitative differences between) the structures in society that shape water resources use, management and governance.

KEYWORDS: water resources, comparative method, critical realism



Searching for comparative international water research: urban and rural water conservation research in India and the United States

James L. Wescoat Jr.
Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MA, USA;

ABSTRACT: Comparison is common in water management research: every table, map, and graph invites comparisons of different places and variables. Detailed international comparisons, however, seem infrequent in water resources research. To assess this perceived gap, this paper searched for examples of comparative research between two water sub-sectors in two countries using systematic bibliographic mapping procedures. It focused on rural and urban water conservation research in India and the United States. Search methods built upon procedures initially developed for the FAO Investment Centre and more advanced systematic review methods. The search generally confirmed that there have been few detailed comparative international studies on the subject of this review. Not surprisingly, there are a greater number of comparative studies between rural and urban water conservation within each country. The search also identified different conservation emphases in the two countries, e.g., rainwater harvesting in India compared with stormwater quality management in the United States. It identified unanticipated publications and l¬ines of comparative water conservation (e.g. comparative physiology). Some transnational research goes beyond comparison to address the diffusion of innovations, i.e. research linkages as well as comparisons, although these studies are also few. The more prevalent pattern involves parallel literatures, which indicate substantial opportunities for future comparative and transnational research. This review also identified diffusion of international knowledge paths that are not the product of formal comparative research. The final section focuses on the prospects and priorities for future international and inter-sectoral research, e.g. paired multi-objective river basin research, linkages between climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, diffusion of water conservation innovations, and synthesis of research on urban and rural rainwater harvesting in different countries.

KEYWORDS: comparative research, water conservation, bibliographic mapping, India, United States



Historicising the hydrosocial cycle

Jeremy J. Schmidt
Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA;

ABSTRACT: This paper examines the historical claims made in support of the hydrosocial cycle. In particular, it considers how arguments advancing the hydrosocial cycle make historical claims regarding modernist conceptions of what water is (i.e. H2O) and its fit with society. The paper gives special emphasis to the society/nature dualism and to the notion of agency as key sites of contest in arguments regarding the hydrosocial cycle. It finds that, while several versions of the hydrosocial cycle seek to advance a political ecology more sensitive to non-human actions, these same accounts often do not address the robust account of non-human agency in the historical record. Evidence is presented regarding water’s agency amongst late 19th and early 20th century architects of key water management norms in the United States. This evidence troubles accounts of the hydrosocial cycle that critique the US experience and suggests new directions for rethinking the role of historical and institutional norms in water policy.

KEYWORDS: Hydrosocial cycle, agency, modernity, W.J. McGee, vitalism, United States



Can mobile-enabled payment methods reduce petty corruption in urban water provision?

Aaron Krolikowski
School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK;

ABSTRACT: Corruption in the urban water sector constrains economic growth and human development in low-income countries. This paper empirically evaluates the ability of novel mobile-enabled payment methods to reduce information asymmetries and mitigate petty corruption in the urban water sector’s billing and payment processes. Overcoming these barriers may promote improved governance and water service delivery. The case of Dar es Salaam is used to explore the role of mobile-enabled payment instruments through the use of a stratified random sample of 1097 water utility customers and 42 interviews with representatives from the water sector, the telecommunications industry, civil society, and banking institutions. Results show that mobile-enabled payment methods can reduce information asymmetries and the incidence of petty corruption to promote improved financial management by making payment data more transparent and limiting the availability of economic rents in the billing and payment process. Implications for African urban water services include wider availability and more effective use of human and financial resources. These can be used to enhance water service delivery and citizen participation in the production of urban water supplies. The use of mobile-enabled payment methods in the urban water sector represents an application of mobile communication technologies in a low-income country with proven potential for scalability that simultaneously supports the achievement of development objectives.

KEYWORDS: Urban water services, corruption, mobile money, Africa, Tanzania



Viewpoint – Brazil’s Madeira River dams: A setback for environmental policy in Amazonian development

Philip Martin Fearnside
National Institute for Research in the Amazon (INPA), Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil;

ABSTRACT: Decisions on hydroelectric dam construction will be critical in shaping the future of Amazonia, where planned dams would convert most tributaries into chains of reservoirs. The Santo Antônio and Jirau dams, now nearing completion on the Madeira River, have created dangerous precedents in a trend towards weakening environmental protection in Brazil. Political appointees have overruled the technical staff of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), which is responsible for evaluating the environmental impact study (EIA) and for licensing dams. Installation licences were granted without satisfying many of the 'conditions' that had been established as prerequisites. This feature and several others of the licensing process for the Madeira River dams have now been repeated in licensing the controversial Belo Monte Dam on the Xingu River. Brazil plans to build 30 large dams in its Amazon region in a decade, and others are to be financed and built by Brazil in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Guyana. These plans affect virtually all water resources in an area larger than Western Europe. The Madeira River dams indicate the need to reform the decision-making process in Brazil.

KEYWORDS: Hydropower, hydroelectric dams, environmental impact, energy policy, Amazonia



From formal-informal to emergent formalisation: Fluidities in the production of urban waterscapes

Kajri Misra
Xavier Institute of Management (XIMB), Bhubaneswar, India;

ABSTRACT: Urban waterscapes are understood to be a tapestry of formality-informality, but this categorical scheme needs closer interrogation. Its conceptual integrity, theoretical relevance and empirical viability have been questioned in its application to other phenomena, such as the organisation of economic activity, labour, land and housing. Is its use in characterising systems of water provision any less marked by similar issues? Do alternative understandings of the formal-informal, such as in respect of the functioning of organisations, display greater conceptual strength and empirical fit? We address these questions, using the conceptual and theoretical challenges to the categorisation raised in the economic literature, and the realities of formal and informal water provision in two areas in Bhubaneswar, India. Significant limitations are revealed in the way the frame is currently used for organised systems of water supply in the urban South. Organisational-institutional understandings of the formal and informal, as elements that exist simultaneously in all organisations and interact to produce emergent formalisations, are found to be both conceptually stronger and a better fit with the observed realities. We therefore suggest using this alternative conceptualisation, for its descriptive power and greater theoretical and practical potential. Formality is then a dynamic condition that emerges from the interplay of the formal and informal in all kinds of organised systems for water provision in developing locations.

KEYWORDS: Formal-informal, water governance, institutions, India



Developing informality: The production of Jakartaʼs urban waterscape

Michelle Kooy
UNESCO-IHE, Delft, the Netherlands; and the Department of Geography, Planning and International Development Studies, University of Amsterdam;

ABSTRACT: This paper argues the need for new conceptualisations of the relationship between water and development to better reflect the reality of cities in the Global South. Using a case study of Jakarta, Indonesia, it traces how the development narrative for urban water supply contributed to the understanding of informality as a binary opposite of the urban infrastructural ideal (undeveloped, temporary, transitional). The paper explores the implications of this framing as they emerged through the outcomes of the largest international development intervention in Jakartaʼs water supply in the 1990s, which culminated in the current private-sector concession contracts. The case illustrates how informality in Jakartaʼs water supply should be understood not as a failure of the state, technology, or development to achieve the urban infrastructural ideal, but rather as a particular mode of urbanisation that was reliant on, and productive of, a range of informal practices. Given the current heterogeneity in water supply strategies in many cities of the Global South, we need to accept the so-called informal as an enduringly dominant, rather than a remnant, mode of supply, and attend to ways in which the codification of informal practices reveal a more nuanced politics of access that reflect complex realities of southern urban waterscapes.

KEYWORDS: Urban water, informality, governmentality, development narratives, World Bank, Indonesia



The persistence of informality: Small-scale water providers in Manila’s post-privatisation era

Deborah Cheng
Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, University of California, Los Angeles, USA;

ABSTRACT: This article troubles the notion of a formal-informal dichotomy in urban water provision. Whereas expansion of a water utility typically involves the replacement of informal providers, the experience in Manila demonstrates that the rapid connection of low-income areas actually hinges, in part, on the selective inclusion and exclusion of these smaller actors. In this sense, privatisation has not eliminated small-scale water provision, but has led to the reconfiguration of its usage, blurring the boundaries between formal and informal. By examining the spatial and temporal evolution of small-scale water provision in Manila’s post-privatisation era, I show how certain spaces are seen as less serviceable than others. Critically, small providers working in partnership with the utilities are sanctioned because they supplement the utilities’ operations. The areas in which they work are considered served, factoring into aggregate coverage statistics, even though their terms of service are often less desirable than those of households directly connected to the utilities. In contrast, small providers that operate outside of the utilities’ zones of coverage are considered inferior, to be replaced. The result is a differentiation in informality – one in which the private utilities largely determine modes of access and thus the spatialisation of informal water provision.

KEYWORDS: Urban water utilities, informality, privatisation, small-scale water providers, Manila



The scale of informality: Community-run water systems in peri-urban Cochabamba, Bolivia

Andrea J. Marston
University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA;

ABSTRACT: The production of the urban waterscape is an ongoing process. In this paper, I examine the strategies used by members of 'water committees' in peri-urban Cochabamba, Bolivia in their attempts to ensure the long-term integration of their community-run water systems into municipal water plans. My analysis underscores two points. First, the water committees and their advocates have engaged a range of scalar strategies in an effort to transform their water systems from informal to quasi-formal (and therefore more temporally stable) structures. Second, I contend that the literature on politics of scale can potentially enrich theories of urban informality. Interpreting the political strategies of informal collectives through a scalar lens highlights the fact that 'inter-institutional' alliances are usually also – and importantly – multi-scalar. The literature on politics of scale, moreover, offers an important reminder about the role of history in urban waterscapes. Scales of governance are not politically neutral, and scalar interventions can engage historical legacies that are not necessarily compatible with contemporary aspirations.

KEYWORDS: Scale, informality, urban, water governance, Bolivia



'Mafias' in the waterscape: Urban informality and everyday public authority in Bangalore

Malini Ranganathan
Global Environmental Politics Program, School of International Service, American University, Washington, DC, USA;

ABSTRACT: This article investigates the phenomenon of Bangaloreʼs urban 'water mafias', operators who extract and deliver groundwater to scores of informal residential areas in Indian cities. The term 'mafia' here is treated as a semantic area of situated meanings and cultural interpretations that needs to be historicised and prised open in order to better understand how the urban waterscape is produced and inhabited. It situates the provenance and workings of mafias within wider debates on urban informality, state formation, and urban infrastructure and space. Rather than seeing mafias as filling a gap where government water supply has failed, as mainstream narratives suggest, the paper argues that mafias must be seen as formative of the post-colonial state. It further suggests that the specific form of public authority exercised by water mafias explains the production of informality in Bangaloreʼs waterscape. Based on ethnographic research in 2007-2009, the paper characterises the everyday authority wielded by mafias along three main registers: (i) the ability of mafias to make and break discursive and material boundaries between the formal and informal, public and private, and state and society, (ii) the varied nature of mafiasʼ political practices, ranging from exploitation to electoral lobbying to social protection to the provision of welfare, and iii) mafiasʼ complicity in both water and land regimes in a neo-liberalised urban political economy.

KEYWORDS: Post-colonial cities, informal sovereigns, state formation, municipal water politics, urban periphery, India



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;

Isha Ray
Energy and Resources Group, University of California at Berkeley, CA, USA;

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



'Chasing for water': Everyday practices of water access in peri-urban Ashaiman, Ghana

Megan Peloso
Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada;

Cynthia Morinville
Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada;

ABSTRACT: Despite recent reports suggesting that access to improved sources of drinking water is rising in Ghana, water access remains a daily concern for many of those living in the capital region. Throughout the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area (GAMA), the urban poor manage uncertainty and establish themselves in the city by leveraging a patchwork system of basic services that draws importantly from informal systems and supplies. This paper takes a case study approach, using evidence gathered from two-months of fieldwork in a peri-urban informal settlement on the fringe of Accra, to explore everyday practices involved in procuring water for daily needs that routinely lead residents outside of the official water supply system. Findings from this case study demonstrate that respondents make use of informal water services to supplement or 'patch up' gaps left by the sporadic water flow of the official service provider, currently Ghana Water Company Ltd. (GWCL). Basic water access is thus constructed through an assemblage of coping strategies and infrastructures. This analysis contributes to understandings of heterogeneity in water access by attending to the everyday practices by which informality is operationalised to meet the needs of the urban poor, in ways that may have previously been overshadowed. This research suggests, for example, that although water priced outside of the official service provider is generally higher per unit, greater security may be obtained from smaller repetitive transactions as well as having the flexibility to pursue multiple sources of water on a day-to-day basis.

KEYWORDS: Water supply, urbanisation, informality, everyday practice, urban poor, Ghana



The gift of water. Social redistribution of water among neighbours in Khartoum

Sebastian Zug
Department of Geosciences, Fribourg University, Fribourg, Switzerland;

Olivier Graefe
Department of Geosciences, Fribourg University, Fribourg, Switzerland;

ABSTRACT: Water gifts are a common strategy to satisfy water needs in the absence of sufficiently performing water networks in Khartoum, but a widely ignored topic in urban political ecology of water. This article questions the exclusive focus of political ecologists on the capitalist waterscape of the city and argues for supplementing the perspective with an in-depth analysis of the neighbourly waterscape, where water gifts are carried out. Through the analysis of interconnected waterscapes on different scales a more holistic understanding of the social construction of water supply in the city can be achieved.The emergence of the gift of water in a city depends on heterogeneity of neighbours’ water access, the cost of the water to be gift, the relationship between donor and recipient, as well as the local social and moral framework. This article uses the example of Khartoum to explore and conceptualize the gift of water in the framework of political ecology.

KEYWORDS: Water gifts, water solidarity, neighbourly waterscape, scale, political ecology of water, moral geography, Khartoum, Sudan



Water and ethics: A values approach solving the water crisis (Groenfeldt, D. 2013).
Helen Ingram



Water, Christianity and the rise of capitalism (Oestergaard, T. 2013).
Tapio S. Katko