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Water justice in cities: from distributional struggles to co-produced transformation

PascaleHofmann10 June 2015

Rapid urban expansion and the emergence of new urban centres in the Global South is frequently accompanied by a lack of adequate infrastructure and services. This is resulting in declining levels of access to water supply and sanitation for a large number of urban dwellers, with the State increasingly unable to fulfill its role as a provider of basic services.

I will elaborate on this using the example of Dar es Salaam, a city that has been the focus of my research for a while.

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Private vendors take on the responsibility for water delivery where formal infrastructure is absent. This usually means that those living in poorer areas end up paying more than those connected to the piped network.

In Tanzania’s largest city we see that formal service provision is limited to central and more affluent areas. The gap in service provision is particularly high in rapidly growing peri-urban areas such as Tungi and Kigamboni, whose inhabitants are among the worst served.

Both wards are areas that tend to absorb large proportions of the growing urban population, but with disproportionately high percentages of poor households. This is going to accelerate further once the construction of a new bridge that connects these two wards to the city’s main business district is complete.

Peri-urban areas may be incorporated into the city, but still lack services

At the same time, many informal areas previously labelled as ‘peri-urban’, like the Kombo and Karakata subwards close to the airport in the South, have become more consolidated and incorporated into the urban core. Yet they continue to suffer from non-existent or inadequate formal infrastructure and services.

As with the Kigamboni peninsula, the majority of those affected are lower-income people that experience varying degrees of water poverty, often with severe implications on their livelihoods; both in terms of the additional time spent to meet their needs and their income, if their economic activities rely on water.

Map of Dar es Salaam, with the area of Kigamboni highlighted in red. From Google Maps

Map of Dar es Salaam, with the area of Kigamboni highlighted in red. From Google Maps

Global efforts to meet water and sanitation needs

To address injustices in the current provision of infrastructure and services, there has been a renewed commitment globally towards universal access through the Sustainable Development Goals in order to activate people’s right to water supply and sanitation. Tanzania is one of the countries that have endorsed the right to water and sanitation.

In practice, however, efforts to tackle the shortfall have largely been seen as a problem of maldistribution. In other words, proposed solutions currently include expanding the water source, reforming the utility and improving the network – these plans assign major roles to utilities, the state and external support agencies.

Poverty, which is first and foremost conceived as people’s financial inability to pay, is regularly presented as the main reason for people lacking access to water supply and sanitation. This is in spite of evidence that Dar es Salaam’s lower-income households frequently pay more in relative and actual terms for a service that in reality is of a lower quality and lower frequency.

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More than just a distributional struggle

But water injustices in cities are much more than just a distributional struggle. They are created by socially fabricated political-economic structures, which have led to clear power imbalances that misrecognise those without access. Power relations play a significant role in Dar es Salaam where water has become a commodified good. Even though water supply is in public hands the utility is heavily pushed to be financially autonomous and commercially viable.

In Dar es Salaam and many other cities in the Global South the lack of entitlement and recognition is associated with the informal status of the urban water poor and their disempowerment. While the utility acknowledges their responsibility to provide Dar es Salaam’s residents with water regardless of their tenure status the proportion of their action contributing towards improving supply in informal settlements has been negligible so far.

Co-produced water practices

The deficiency of utility networks and supply in poor urban settlements has given rise to the emergence of a range of alternative practices. Many of them emerge out of poor people’s needs and can range from individual coping mechanisms to collectively organised and negotiated initiatives. Some of these communal efforts represent different forms of co-produced service provision whereby organised groups of poor communities are collaborating with the state directly.

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Goals of current DPU research

Earlier this year, I was part of a group of colleagues from DPU, in collaboration with a number of partner organisations, that embarked on the Wat Just research project – Translocal learning for water justice: Peri-urban pathways in India, Tanzania and Bolivia to explore alternative practices to access services with a particular focus on co-produced water management in three cities; Cochabamba, Dar es Salaam and Kolkata.

In each city we found a variety of service co-production arrangements that range from latent state support to fully institutionalised co-production platforms. However, very little is known to date about their actual performance and their potential to operate at scale.

The aim of our future research is to examine their transformative potential to address not only the current service gap – i.e. meet the urban poor’s practical needs – but also to investigate how far they can tackle more strategic needs such as challenging and transforming existing power relations that threaten to keep the needs of the urban poor hidden.


Pascale Hofmann is a lecturer at the DPU and is currently studying for an EngD at the DPU and UCL’s department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering (CEGE). She has been working with Professor Adriana Allen on a research project with seed-funding from the ISSC (International Social Science Council) Transformations to Sustainability Programme.

The project, on Translocal learning for water justice: Peri-urban pathways in India, Tanzania and Bolivia, has brought together academics and NGOs from Bolivia, India and Tanzania to discuss and share the challenges and opportunities of co-produced water and sanitation services in their cities. How can these platforms contribute towards water justice at the city scale? A series of Water Justice City Profiles have been produced, elaborating on the challenges in each urban region, as well as a series of videos that explain the concepts and contexts in which the research operates – several of which will be released in the coming weeks.

Exploring possibilities for community-led urban land development in Dar es Salaam

RafaellaSimas Lima19 May 2015

For the past two-weeks students of the MSc Urban Development Planning have been working in three sites across Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, as part of their field trip project supporting community-based initiatives for informal settlement upgrading.

Working with the Center for Community Initiatives (CCI), a local NGO, and members of the Tanzanian Federation of the Urban Poor, students have been trying to understand the realities of urban life in these three areas while developing ideas to guide more socio-environmentally just trajectories of urban development at the city-wide scale.

Incomplete houses on the Chamazi site Image: Rafaella Lima

Incomplete houses on the Chamazi site
Image: Rafaella Lima

The three sites in which the groups are based—Karakata, Chamazi, and Mabwepande—have much in common: they are all growing peri-urban areas, they are all mostly “informal” or “unplanned”, most residents are low-income, and they face similar interlinking challenges such as infrastructure, access to basic services, sanitation, and solid waste disposal. But they also represent different patterns of land acquisition and development within the Tanzanian context.

Learning about the Gulper machine, a mechanism that the Federation has been using for the emptying of pit latrines in Karakata.

Learning about the Gulper machine, a mechanism that the Federation has been using for the emptying of pit latrines in Karakata.

Karakata is the longest-established settlement of the three, and developed as residents from elsewhere in the city moved further out in search of more affordable land and rent prices. Considering Karakata’s close proximity to Julius Nyerere International Airport, as well as its diverse array of livelihood activities, the value of the land is currently rising at a rapid rate.

Residents face big issues such as sanitation and access to medical services, and the rapid erosion of the river in the area presents a grave environmental threat. Students assigned to this site have been working on ideas such as community-led environmental risk assessments and a more sustainable model for the Federation’s waste-disposal system.

Mapping the route between Chamazi housing site and the town centre.

Mapping the route between Chamazi housing site and the town centre.

In Chamazi, Federation members formed a housing cooperative to collectively purchase a plot of land to build homes for those who were evicted by the government from Kurasini Ward in 2008, due to the expansion of the port area.

However, since the project began in 2009, many houses have not been completed and a high percentage of families have yet to move to the site. One hypothesis for this has been that Chamazi’s distance from the city center (sometimes 3-4 hours with traffic) means much fewer livelihood and employment opportunities.

But the Chamazi site is not as isolated as it once was; in only the past few years the area around Chamazi town has grown rapidly, bringing new businesses, markets and services. UDP students have been exploring the seeming disconnect between the housing site and the town, along with the financing of the housing project to understand how it can remain affordable and viable.

A student-led focus group trying to understand the dominant challenges in Mabwepande.

A student-led focus group trying to understand the dominant challenges in Mabwepande.

Mabwepande is another peri-urban site for relocated people, however in this case the government allocated land for victims of flooding in the more central Suna zone.

At the moment the area feels rural and many residents use the non built-up space for agricultural purposes, but we have yet to see how increased development of the area and new pressures on land will affect them.

As the Federation has only just begun working in this site, Mabwepande had yet to be mapped in a way that was accessible to its residents. Along with conducting interviews and focus groups to begin to build a larger picture of the Mabwepande community, students created maps with the help of community members to be shared on the site.

Students present some of their findings and ideas to community members in Karakata.

Students present some of their findings and ideas to community members in Karakata.

These three sites are illuminating important citywide processes, such as the uncertain institutional relationships that govern the urban poor’s access to land (for example, there is no clear resettlement policy that might guide the relocation of people like in Chamazi and Mabwepande).

Students are understanding the notion of “scale” in practice, as they come to grips with the scale of informality and poverty across Dar es Salaam. This has been underpinned by the rainy season, in which intense flooding across the city has brought the hardships faced by Dar’s poorer residents into clear focus.

Observing a Federation and CCI-led focus group used in settlement profiling in Vingunguti settlement.

Observing a Federation and CCI-led focus group used in settlement profiling in Vingunguti settlement.

Finally, there is the challenge of gathering reliable data in a city that is growing so rapidly, in a context where certain forms of knowledge are not recognized. The field trip focuses on the way knowledge is built at the local level as students learn from the Federation model of settlement profiling, enumeration, and mapping.

In return, students offer input and experiences from their diverse home countries to try and support community-led processes of co-production of housing, land development, and knowledge.

Mexico: Where does hope reside? (Part III)

Étiennevon Bertrab18 February 2015

La tierra no se vende, se ama y se defiende. La Parota, Guerrero. Image: Javier Verdin (Agua, Ríos y Pueblos)

La tierra no se vende, se ama y se defiende. La Parota, Guerrero. Image: Javier Verdin (Agua, Ríos y Pueblos)

This post focuses upon the disconnection between the urban population in Mexico (a large majority) and what happens in the non-urban territory, and reflects on the crucial role and state of journalism. However, events that have come to light in the last 7 days demand a short digression:

Just Another Week On

An on going investigation has revealed that the ‘disappearance rate’ in Mexico is currently a shocking 13 people per day. That is one every 2 hours. These people are usually considered as ‘disappeared by force,’ as reinforced last week by the UN Committee of Forced Disappearances. They are mostly marginalised women and men who predominantly belong to poor rural and indigenous communities.

To add to the tragedy 40% are aged 15 to 29, simply too young to go through such experience without life-long consequences – if they survive. The injustice doesn’t end here: confronting a reign of impunity their own relatives face high risks when choosing to do something about it.

This was the case of Norma Angélica Bruno, aged 26, who had recently joined a group of determined to find ‘the other disappeared’ in Guerrero. So far the group has discovered 48 bodies in clandestine graves across the state. In a sickly ironic turn of fate, Norma was assassinated before the eyes of her three children while walking to the funeral of a murdered colleague.

As if living in a parallel world, the Interior Minister Osorio Chong declared that Mexico has the highest levels of security in ten years and that “very important steps have been taken to give back peace and security to all Mexicans”.

National Autonomous University (UNAM), Mexico City. Image: Étienne von Bertrab

National Autonomous University (UNAM), Mexico City. Image: Étienne von Bertrab

The missing link between society and nature

Despite growing awareness of the crises in Mexico, politicians, analysts, mainstream media and even organised citizens who try to reform or rebuild the State, tend to ignore an underlying issue. The country is highly urbanised and most citizens are, willingly or not, alienated from nature, or more concretely, completely dislocated from what happens ‘elsewhere’.

It turns out, however, that Mexico’s land, water and natural resources are being degraded and extracted at an alarming pace. Mexican institutional framework, created in order to join the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the early 1990s, has been largely irrelevant in the rhetorical pursuit of sustainable development.

Take water resources, for instance: after conducting hearings between 2006 and 2012, the Latin American Water Tribunal warned of “possible hydric collapse” and condemned the Mexican State for violation of international treaties and its own legal framework to guarantee the right to water as a fundamental human right.

Indigenous Resistance

Indigenous communities have resisted for centuries. However, as a result of a combination of constitutional reforms and trade deals, resource grabbing has increased significantly over the last two decades; and it often unfolds violently.

For instance, in the mountains of Guerrero communities have been resisting the imposition of the La Parota Dam, which would displace 25,000 and severely affect livelihoods of another 75,000. Their decade-long resistance has been relatively effective, yet at a tragic cost: repression, illegal incarceration and assassination of communal leaders.

But this region is by no means an exception. Another ethical tribunal, the Tribunal Permanente de los Pueblos (TPP), documented over the last few years 220 active socio-environmental conflicts across the country, and observed the normalisation of institutional violence towards those who resist.

TPP’s condemnation of the Mexican State, entitled “The dispossession and degradation of Mexico: Free trade and deviation of power as causes of structural violence, impunity and dirty war against Mexico’s peoples”, can be downloaded here.

For years, active community members have regular meetings where they discuss structural problems and actions. With huge efforts they form regional assemblies and have an annual national assembly. This is the case of the Asamblea Nacional de Afectados Ambientales (ANAA).

In my view, these forms of organisation are poorly supported and understood, and are essential not only in slowing down environmental degradation, but also in addressing a key factor in Mexico’s humanitarian crisis.

Mazahua people confront the dispossession of their water - pumped to Mexico City. Image: Agua, Ríos y Pueblos

Mazahua people confront the dispossession of their water – pumped to Mexico City. Image: Agua, Ríos y Pueblos

The brave world of journalism

Mexico has become one of the most dangerous countries to practice journalism, particularly critical, independent journalism. According to the map Periodistas en Riesgo, a recent initiative by Freedom House and International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), 13 journalists have been killed over the last two years (the most deadly period has been May-October 2014) and four journalists are currently thought abducted.

Without brave journalists we would be incapable of understanding what happens in a country whose State machinery has dominated the art of manipulating our mainstream media. On a positive note, as noted by several political analysts, those in power have been completely unable to understand the world of the Internet – despite attempts to monitor and control. Civil society is way ahead in understanding the power and potential of social media, a space where anyone can join in solidarity.

To explore the role of street art in social movements in Mexico DPU and UCL Americas are hosting a unique conversation with artist-activists part of Oaxaca’s Colectivo Lapiztola, on Monday 23 February. Read more and register to attend.

Étienne von Bertrab is a Teaching Fellow at the DPU and a guest lecturer in universities in Mexico. He also works as a consultant in the UK and in Mexico, where he has been a social activist for ten years. Twitter: @etiennista

Will 2015 be the year of urban opportunity?

Matthew AWood-Hill16 January 2015

Here at the DPU we’re bouncing out of what has been a very exciting year, celebrating our 60th anniversary, and into a particularly important one in our collective thinking about urban futures.

We’re going to see international discussions taking place on cities and human settlements, disaster risk reduction, development finance, the post-2015 development agenda and climate change.

Image: Matt Wood-Hill, 2014

Habitat III

Something I have seen dominating a lot of our conversations in the last year has been the road to the Habitat III conference. Although this won’t be held until October 2016 (in Quito, Ecuador if you already want to start planning your trip), the lobbying and agenda-building has already begun. We saw this at the 7th World Urban Forum in Medellin, and from numerous speakers at our DPU60 conference in July, including Joan Clos, the Director of UN Habitat.

Habitat III will have a profound impact on the way cities are planned, designed and governed. Given the title of this post, however, perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.

 

The Launch of the Sustainable Development Goals and the post-2015 development agenda; September 2015

2015 will be notable for the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), announcing a post-2015 development agenda that will supersede the Millennium Development Goals.

There are currently 17 Goals in total, which have Ban Ki-Moon’s support, but the numerous targets are yet to be finalised. Indeed nothing is set in stone, and much could yet change in the months ahead.

An Urban SDG

Several staff at the DPU have been busy working as part of the lobby for ‘Goal 11: Make Cities and Human Settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.’

Goal 11 is the essence of the ‘urban opportunity’ – the title of the position paper produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

As urbanisation continues globally so does urban poverty. Urban economic output will grow, meanwhile new ways of providing infrastructure and services are required to cater for demand. These concentrated populations represent a vital opportunity that cannot be put off for another 15 years, and this must not become one of those Goals that ‘should have been there all along’. It is in cities that many solutions can, and will need to be found, and therefore this is the optimum moment of ‘urban opportunity’.

I’m looking forward to sharing two blog posts in the next couple of weeks that give greater insights into formulation of Goal 11 and what it sets out to achieve.

 

The Post-2015 framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR); March 2015

The Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) was the first international framework for the creation of DRR policies and plans when it was conceived to cover a 10-year period in 2005. There won’t be a stand-alone DRR goal in the SDGs, but of particular note to us is the proposed Target 4 within Goal 11 for cities to “incorporate climate and disaster risk considerations in their zoning, building codes, and infrastructure investment decisions”.

DPU staff have been very active in UN-ISDR discussions on updating the HFA, look out for more on this soon. I’m sure that many of us will be following the World Conference on DRR in Sendai closely to see how it relates to discussions on urban resilience.

 

The Third International Conference on Financing for Development; July 2015

While this isn’t a topic I can claim much familiarity with, it is pretty clear that the post-2015 development agenda is going to require a renegotiation of financing commitments. When we look at the unconfirmed SDGs as they stand, the 17 Goals and 169 targets are necessarily ambitious if they truly hope to “end poverty, transform all lives, and protect the planet.” But how these will be implemented is far less easy to understand, and I’ll be looking for a few clues in July.

 

COP21 in Paris; December 2015

COP20 in Lima might be quite fresh in many of your minds. Personally I couldn’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu – it seems we’re always told that we’re on the cusp of an epoch-defining agreement, but it slips away.

So could this year really be the year where a global climate deal is finally agreed? And if it is, then so what? We’ve been seeing climate responses increasingly happening at the local level. Let us not forget that the Kyoto Protocol expired in 2012, and if global agreements are the way to go, then the international community has been stalling for too long.

 

Communications in 2015

This year I’m looking forward to seeing DPU communications give you greater insights into the key moments above. Staff here have been shaping the debates and will be responding to the outcomes. Ultimately we will continue to work with governments, community groups and other organisations on the ground to support them in implementing these agendas.

We also have an exciting schedule planned for the DPU blog over the next few months where staff, alumni and other contributors from around the world will share their experiences in development practice.

Stay tuned in 2015!

 

Matthew Wood-Hill is the Media and Communications Officer at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit.