Water Access in Cities : a Question of Governance

January, Friday 11th ;  9h00 – 10h00

Moderator : Graciela Schneier-Madanes, CREDA


Agua para todos o agua para quienes? La accesibilidad al servicio de redes en la Buenos Aires hidrica del siglo XX.
Melina Tobias and Andrea Catenazzi

In Argentina, the model of technical networks in potable water and sewage was strongly developed during the first half of the 20th century through the creation of the company OBras Santiarias de la Nación (OSN). However, this model quickly found its limitations in the Metropolitan Area of Buenos Aires (AMBA), as the urban expansion put in question the own planning and extension of the networks. From then on, the occupation dynamics of the urban land left to the possibilities of the inhabitants themselves, the generation of self-urbanization strategies through which they resolved in a particular way, the lack of access to drinking water and sewage drains.
After more than a century of the beginning of the technical networks in the AMBA, it is possible to extract some lessons in relation to the transformations (or continuities) and superpositions of what we can define as the hydro-social cycle, understanding this as the articulation between social relations and forms of water management. In this sense, it is worth asking: What were the different forms assumed by the hydro-social cycle in relation to the technical model of networks and the dynamics of metropolitan expansion in recent centuries? How was it adapted or reinterpreted to face the challenges of urban expansion itself?
The article then proposes to analyze the evolution of the hydro-social cycle in the AMBA throughout the 20th and 21st centuries in light of the development of the technical networks system of potable water and sewage. Particularly, it is interesting to focus on the tensions that the centralized model of networks showed to extend service coverage to the entire metropolitan area, as opposed to the patterns of extended metropolitan expansion. In this context, we seek to focus the analysis on the various “solutions” presented by the main provider of the service over time to bring water and sewage to self-built areas (particularly informal settlements), and the way in which these solutions can (or can not) be understood as mechanisms of integration or social segmentation.
Regarding the methodological decisions of the presentation, we chose to work with a qualitative perspective focused on the review and analysis of secondary sources (regulations and reports from the provider company and the regulatory bodies), which in turn we will seek to complement with the data analysis censuses to evaluate the expansion of the service in the metropolitan region over time.
We identified four periods or moments throughout the history of the water and sewage service in the AMBA. The first of these extends throughout the state and national provision of OSN (1912-1980) and is characterized by the urban expansion of the metropolitan area, and the lack of recognition by the company of informal settlements with the argument technical (and political) of not being able to extend the networks there with minimum standards of quality that the company guarantees.
The second moment corresponds to the decade of the 1980s, a period of OSN decentralization, where it is possible to identify the initiation of policies developed by the National Government aimed at providing potable water in informal settlements, encouraging the implementation of pilot experiences as they were the so-called “Pro-water” programs, which involved the articulation of the company with other state actors (National and Municipal Governments) and with external financing, to respond to the lack of coverage within the metropolitan region. These initiatives, although they implied a visibility of the problem of lack of access to services in informal settlements, had a limited scope in time and space (reaching only one of the informal settlements of the AMBA).
The third period refers to the privatization of the service through the company Aguas Argentinas (AASA) and the creation within it of the Community Development area in 1999, with the aim of creating its own methodology to supply potable water and sewage to informal settlements. Within this framework, in the year 2002, the company Aguas Argentinas launches the “Modelo Participativo de Gestión” (Participatory Management Model) -MPG, also known as the Program of “Barrios Carenciados” (Disadvantaged Neighborhoods), aimed at reducing sanitary risk and expanding water and sewer services in neighborhoods of urban population. low resources and villas. The MPG involved the interaction between various institutions and actors: the privatized company, which supplied the materials and was in charge of the management of the execution; the regulatory entity, which performed the tasks of coordination and control; the municipal governments, in charge of the logistics of the program; and, finally, the residents of the informal settlements, who provided the workforce for carrying out the extension work of the networks (and in return for this the company will not charge the costs of the connection facilities, although afterwards the rate). This initiative did not require that the ownership of the land where the water and sewer projects are developed is regulated for the start of the works, which to a certain extent meant a new phase characterized by the recognition by the company of these territories previously excluded, although the recognition was presented as part of a focused policy that, as such, was not sustained over time.
The fourth and last period of the hydro-social cycle begins towards the end of privatization in 2004 with the emergence of the Water + Work (A + T) program in the municipality of La Matanza, and extends during the process of re-nationalization of the service since 2006 with the creation of the new company Agua y Saneamientos Argentinos SA (AySA), and the expansion of the A+T to Cloaca + Work (C+T) program, and to the entire concession area. This last stage is characterized by the consolidation of these programs that suppose the continuation of the MPG but with greater participation of the National State, through the then Ministry of Social Development, and with the conformation of work cooperatives that are in charge of the realization of the works in the neighborhoods. Likewise, in this last stage, the performance by AySA of a survey on informal settlements within its concession area is also highlighted, in order to know the socio-demographic characteristics and the difficulties of access to the service in these territories, and the requirement by part of the regulatory bodies, of having to relax the historical technical criteria of extension of coverage, in order to be able to provide services in informal settlements.
The study and identification of different stages in the hydro-social cycle that makes up the drinking water system and sewers in the AMBA, allowed to appreciate certain changes over time in the way in which the lending company and the National State were recognizing the importance of the problem of access to these services in self-urbanized areas, and especially in informal settlements. However, the dynamics of urban expansion in the AMBA (in an extensive way), combined with the limitations of the centralized system of networks that characterized the service from its origins, and with the institutional inertia that the company presents in order to be able to flex its technical criteria; it hinders the comprehension and development of a comprehensive policy that allows guaranteeing access to water and sewage services to the entire population of the AMBA.

When Acces to Water is Commodifies: Mexico a Case Study.
Joshua Greene

Mexico is the world leader in per capita consumption of bottled water. Throughout the country residents rely on bottled water companies primarily for drinking water. Despite the fact that almost all Mexicans have access to water infrastructure, the quantity and quality of the water that is delivered remains a challenge. As ground and surface water conditions have worsened, good water has become scarce: households have had to turn to the market for access to water for bathing, cooking and cleaning. Literature looking at the privatization of water resources has generally focused on the management of public water systems while the commodification of water has received less attention. In this paper we present the results from several years of fieldwork comparing two regions of Mexico looking at the impact of this development on the household. The paper briefly traces the history of water developments in Mexico, outlines the systemic conditions in the two study regions, and then presents the preliminary results from our research looking at how Mexicans access the water they need and how much they have to pay for it. This paper shows clearly that the burden for access has shifted from the level of governance to the level of the individual and household. Furthermore, this paper shows that markets solutions to access, and specifically the commodification water, has not resolved the key issues at the heart of SDG 6.1, bringing access to all.

Flint Water Crisis, Managing Water in Shrinking Cities

Guillaume Poiret

Flint is a city in the State of Michigan which grew from the 50s to the early 80s, booming with the extension of the auto industry.
Then jobs were relocated which led to both an economic and an urban crisis since the city strongly declined. The city was loosing inhabitants and had less financial ressources. In 2011 the State of Michigan had to appoint an emergency manager to take the place of the mayor since the city had declare a state of financial emergency.
To improve the financial situation hard choices are made implying serious cuts on numerous local services. The search for efficiency is also focused on water. In 2013, the building of a new pipeline from Lake Huron to the city is decided to replace the former system providing fresh water which relied on the Detroit supply network. It has to be completed before 2014. However delays force the manager to find a temporary solution to supply the city with water : the Flint river will be use without complete treatment to provide water to the inhabitants.
From 2014 to 2016, Flint is drinking a contaminated and unsafe water althought inhabitants voices against the poor quality of water are ignored by emergency manager’s staff and Michigan staff. It’s only in the beginning of 2016 that the state of Michigan starts providing spring water and is ready to consider the issue, studying a huge plan to replace all the pipes of the city and to find another supply network.
If Flint water is now officially drinkable, water distribution is still in action and inhabitants still fear to use tap water. Flint water crisis has been seen as a symbol of the ongoing racial tensions in the US since nearly 60% of Flint population is black while Michigan Governor was white and Republican. It has also been argued that the crisis is the result of the absence of policy to adapt the city to progressive shrinkage. Urban decline and its concequences have been ignored at the local level.
Based on a field work and on interviews of councillors, staff and activists, this paper will explore the water crisis as a miror of urban decline showing both how urban and marketing policies to promote the city and attract newcomers lead to social and racial tensions, tensions during the crisis being just the top of a more profound movement, and how the lack of shrinkage planning in US mid sized shrinking cities undermines the resilience of cities themselves.