Apples and Oranges: Acknowledging Intra-Urban Complexity of Access to Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH)
I recently read an excellent paper on comparisons of infrastructure within cities (as opposed to the more frequent between/among city comparisons that are made in both the academic literature and the policy world. As someone who appreciates water policy discussions at the intersection of academia and the real world, this was an enjoyable read.
In this paper, Colin McFarlane, Jonathan Silver & Yaffa Truelove discuss some of the factors within Delhi, Cape Town, and Mumbai that drive access to infrastructure services. Many of these factors come as no surprise to a human geographer- political connections, gender, religion, ethnicity, class, and income. Inequality of access within a city is certainly what I saw in my doctoral research in Dar es Salaam. In fact, I have seen situations in my hometown of Everett, Massachusetts (Greater Boston) where the ability of local businesses to contest chronically overcharging of water and sewer bills is dependent upon favoritism and access to the right people in the city public works department.
So, what are the implications for the real world?
I believe that water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) professionals should look to this “radical shift” that was recently highlighted on the World Bank’s Water Blog that calls for the policy world to think about WASH within the context of urban governance and city-level service provision, address issues of accountability and transparency, improve supply chains, train city leaders, and provide clear roles and responsibility.
This is, of course, not an easy endeavor, not only due to weaknesses in the factors above, but also since city-level leaders in many countries still operate in a very centralized power structure in which ministry/cabinet-level decisions dominate. What I see, therefore is a disconnect- between the need for local accountability and transparency in service delivery and the decentralized and empowered municipal governments who would be able to do this.