Evolving humanity, emerging worlds
Manchester, UK; 5th-10th August 2013
Contemporary urban water ecologies: anthropological perspectives and engagements
Location University Place 4.205
Date and Start Time 07 Aug, 2013 at 14:30
Urban water and sanitation provision is a major contemporary challenge, especially in contexts of rapid urban growth and tightly limited resources. Through ethnographies of urban water and sanitation provision the panel seeks to compare how anthropologists understand and engage with such processes.
The introduction of reliably reticulated potable water, especially in urban areas, has, along with the provision of water-borne sewerage systems, long ago been demonstrated to have had a major positive impact on public health - as has efficient urban drainage systems. Yet in many parts of the early 21st century world, very rapid urban growth has massively outpaced local government's capacity (where such exists) to ensure that such services are provided to city and town residents. A consequence is often poor public health alongside a range of attempts to introduce and/or implement various alternatives to tried and tested systems, especially as regards sanitation provision. Moreover, such alternatives often come in the wake of calls to establish so-called sustainable systems in the face of both climate change predictions and neo-liberal economic policy prescriptions.
The purpose of the panel is to bring together anthropologists and others concerned with the social and cultural aspects of contemporary urban water-supply and urban sanitation provision, especially but not only in contexts of rapid urban growth. The goal is twofold: to provide an opportunity for comparisons of detailed ethnographies, from various parts of the world, of the challenges of contemporary urban water-supply, sanitation provision and drainage systems; and to consider, again with an interest in comparison, how and where anthropologists have managed to engage in activities aimed at providing such services/facilities - the extent of their successes and the challenges they have faced.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Water supply in Owerri City, Nigeria: who is gaining authority and who is losing it?
In Owerri, the private sector rather than the public sector leads in water provisioning. Efforts are underway for a public – private partnership. The paper ascertains the extent this new arrangement is influenced by political affiliations, social relationships and cultural representations.
In the recent past, the water provisioning landscape in Owerri has displayed a multiplicity of governance forms. The approach ranged from state-run system to independent private operations. Currently there is an increased reliance on the informal private sector rather than the public sector, such that water deliveries to the great majority are almost totally in the hands of local entrepreneurs (water vendors). Public water supply is almost nonexistent in Owerri city. This is because the piped systems have been grounded to a halt, due to government's inability to provide electricity to pump water. With the promotion of water service privatization by global players, efforts are underway for a public - private partnership in Owerri city in order to make water more readily available. But to what extent is this new arrangement influenced by political affiliations, social relationships and cultural representations? Where does it put NGOs, international actors or the private water investors in the picture? Is there a popularly acceptable regulatory framework or water policy? Is the State Water Agency actually gaining authority in municipal water provision or losing it to informal private operators? This paper discusses the dynamics between international, national, state and local forces in the shaping of water governance in Owerri city. It recommends that the "informal private operators" be included in the shaping of water governance, and that the emerging partnerships in water service provision in Owerri city be strengthened to effectively tackle local water supply challenges.
Alternative Water Infrastructure Systems in Germany
This paper presents an ethnographic study of two urban communities in Germany that have developed an alternative and decentralised water and sanitation system; it asks how these socio-material networks relate to questions of cost-saving, technology, and sustainability.
In Germany, rising costs for the renewal of over-dimensional or obsolete water-infrastructure systems, demographic change, imposed austerity measures and awareness of scarce resources have lead to criticism towards expensive, centralised water infrastructure systems (cf. Lange/Otterpohl 2000, Hoyer/Dickhaut 2011). As in many other places worldwide, new technological systems were developed to enable more sustainable sanitation in urban areas. These alternative systems keep the water cycle within smaller localities and focus on recycling wastewater for new uses such as energy generation. They often deploy a combination of traditional and highly complex technologies and involve an wide spectrum of actors ranging from research institutions, engineers, local politicians, alternative urban movements, low-tech pioneers, as well as luxury residential settlements. These socio-material networks link new technologies and social communities and enact discourses and imaginations that combine topoi such as cost-saving, self-sufficiency, and sustainability to propose an alternative to centralised water infrastructure systems.
This paper shares the results of an ethnographic study of two communities that share a decentralised sanitation system in light of the topics posed above. The results of the study provide an opportunity to compare challenges and rationales facing contemporary water and sanitation provision worldwide. The study is part of a larger research project called Low-Budget Urbanity hosted at the HafenCity University Hamburg, which observes urban transformations in times of austerity (www.low-budget-urbanity.de).
Co-operation and Partnerships in Urban Drainage and Sanitation Provision: Experiences in Cape Town's informal settlements
Challenges arising during collaborations between researchers from diverse disciplines, local government officials and informal settlement residents.
The Water Research Commission of South Africa has, for some years now, supported cooperative research studies involving partnerships between engineering, environmental studies and social anthropology researchers. They have, in turn, attempted at times to bring both local government officials and residents of informal settlements, and sometimes NGOs into the process. The paper documents some of those experiences in order to comment on the challenges that have arisen. Its goals are to reflect on the dynamics of those relationships and to indicate how such partnerships might best be structured.
Toilets for Africa: Reflections on humanitarian design, "the dignity toilet," and sanitation activism in Khayelitsha, Cape Town.
The paper focuses on contrasting logics between sanitation design solutions promoted by humanitarian agencies and the approach of a Cape Town-based sanitation activists concerned with redirecting state resources from the privileged enclaves of middle class suburbs to poor neighbourhoods.
Humanitarian agencies, donors and philanthropic foundations are increasingly looking for instant "technical fixes" in order to circumvent costly and complicated interventions and programmes that may require long-term reform of state institutions and systems. The logic underpinning these quick and quantifiable interventions is that they can be implemented relatively easily in a wide variety of settings. This technological vision is evident in the Gates Foundation's programme involving eight international university research teams that were commissioned to "redesign the modern toilet." The aim of this research programme is to ultimately eradicate sanitation problems and water-borne diseases in the developing world. This "humanitarian design" approach to sanitation has resulted in numerous projects throughout Africa, including the Canadian-designed "dignity toilet" and the ambitious rollout of 90,000 urine diversion (UD) toilets in Durban (see Penner). These ambitious programmes, which are plagued by all sorts of implementation problems, contrast starkly with the more conventional technological solutions promoted by sanitation activists from organisations such as the Social Justice Coalition (SJC), a social movement based in the informal settlements of Khayelitsha in Cape Town. The SJC approach focuses on modern state sanitation infrastructure and systems and seeks to make these more accessible to the urban poor. Instead of seeking "African sanitation solutions" these activists have sought to redirect state sanitation budgets, services and technologies from the privileged enclaves of middle class suburbs to poor neighbourhoods. The paper is concerned with examining the differing logics, intersections and contradictions between these approaches to sanitation in South Africa.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.