The urban informal water sector : sustainable development or a temporary problem?

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Title: The urban informal water sector : sustainable development or a temporary problem?
Author: Evers, Niklas
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences
Publisher: Helsingin yliopisto
Date: 2019
Language: eng
Thesis level: master's thesis
Degree program: Yhteiskunnallisen muutoksen maisteriohjelma
Master's Programme in Society and Change
Magisterprogrammet för samhälle i förändring
Specialisation: Kehitysmaatutkimus
Development Studies
Abstract: The thesis examines how the national water policies of Tanzania and Kenya address informality in the urban water sector by critically analysing the representations of “problems” in policies related to increasing urban water access. While access to safely managed water has increased rapidly on a global in the last decades, in most cities in the global south 30¬–60 per cent of the urban population relies on informal practices to meet its daily water needs. Especially the urban areas of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) struggle to increase access to safe water to citizens, resulting in a high reliance on informal practices, such as getting water from unprotected wells or buying water from street vendors. While these practices are generally associated with health risks and higher water prices, they serve as the main everyday water supply for millions of people. Since the state has failed to provide access to water for everyone, both under private and public management, informally managed water systems are, despite their problems, increasingly seen as a viable alternative to the standard solution of expanding the piped network to increase access. Many of the case studies on informality in SSA cited in this thesis argue that the state should accept and support the informal water sector as a pragmatic alternative for water supply in unserved urban areas. By analysing the national water policies of Tanzania and Kenya, this thesis sets out to answer the research questions of (1) how the problem of water supply is constructed in urban water policy in Tanzania and Kenya and (2) how Tanzanian and Kenyan water policies approach the informal water sector. The analysis applies Carol Bacchi’s (2009) poststructuralist approach to analysing policy, the ‘What’s The Problem Represented To Be?’ (WPR) approach. Four general representations of problems related to urban water access and informality were identified in the data: (1) The problem of lacking infrastructure, (2) the problem of identifying appropriate technologies, (3) the problem of stakeholder involvement and (4) the problem of informality in the water sector. The results show a high reliance on investment in large-scale infrastructure projects as the main policy for increasing access to water in urban areas in both Kenya and Tanzania, even though previous studies on informality and urban water provision suggests this tactic will fail in providing safe water for all. In addressing the informal water sector in urban areas, informality was represented as a problem that eventually will fade away as soon as the piped network reaches all. However, both countries appeared to take a completely different stance towards informality in rural areas. Whereas large-scale infrastructure projects still were the go-to solution for increasing access in urban areas, for rural areas the analysed documents proposed a massive support of community-based informal practices as the cornerstones of future rural water supply, covering tens of millions of people in the coming decade. If the attempt to solve lacking access to safe water in urban areas by expanding the piped network should fail, as previous research suggests it might, the community based policies for rural water supply may be scaled out to solve the urban water problem. This thesis shows that the informal water sector is still to a large extent seen as a temporary problem. However, both Kenyan and Tanzanian water policy has opened the door to supporting informal practices as sustainable solutions as a way to achieve the ambitious goal of safe water for all.
Subject: Development
water management
urban informality
the urban infrastructural ideal
WPR approach
Subject (yso): development

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