Maryam Nastar, a graduate of the LUCID PhD program, has recently published an article in Ecology and Society: What drives the urban water regime? An analysis of water governance arrangements in Hyderabad, India, as part of a special issue on Urban Water Governance, co-guest-edited by LUCID director Lennart Olsson. In the article, Maryam finds that the influence of international organisations, such as the World Bank, in municipal level water governance in Hyderabad, is preventing the grass-roots innovation that could be important in bringing about a transformation in the water supply systems, which could benefit thousands of people who now suffer from daily shortages. Maryam focuses on how bottom-up social and political actions, combined with innovations such as water harvesting, could be a remedy to the lack of progress that results from the technical approaches promoted by such organisations.
At the moment many of the residents of Hyderabad in India have to deal with daily shortages in their water supply, as is the case with India’s urban populations in general. For example, in 2010 more than 50% of approximately 400 million urban residents in India had no access to water from inside their homes. Recent reforms in national policy have aimed to address this problem by strengthening municipal level governance, in order to ensure local cultural and political autonomy, by diffusing social and political tensions at different levels of government. Nevertheless, barriers persist in, decentralizing service delivery, maintenance of centralised control by state and federal governments, local governments inability to deliver decentralized functions, and the exclusion of the poor from influence in decision making.
In order to understand how and where the water governance regime is failing to deal with these issues, Maryam undertook the analysis by applying an analytical framework that has previously been mostly used in a western, so-called developed country, context. The multi-level perspective framework (MLP) can be used to understand historical and future processes of change in social/technological systems – such as an urban water supply system – by looking at interactions across multiple levels, be they spatial, governmental, legal etc. It can thus be used to understand what processes are constraining or promoting the required change in that system.
Maryam’s analysis was performed on an extensive collection of documents, newspaper articles and scientific papers, as well as interviews with people in deprived areas and other qualitative methods. Having brought the MLP to bear on the water governance system, showing which actors were involved in legislative, managerial, social and technical aspects of the system and how, through the interactions of these actors, problems manifest in and between these domains, the analysis points to the influence of organisations at the highest levels of the system. The findings: organisations such as the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank promote a top-down technical approach that may stifle positive developments at the local level.
For this reason Maryam turns her attention to such bottom up innovations, seeing potential not only in alternative approaches to water supply, such as water harvesting, but in the social and political action that would be necessary for these technical innovations to have a significant positive influence in the water supply system in general. The possibility, in Maryam’s own words, is: “a coalition of social movement and political action, providing an arena for a new vision in the water sector that would replace the one imposed by landscape forces represented by international donors.”