water-and-sanitation

 

Enhancing Water Affordability

 

Living Data Hubs

 

American Water Shut-Offs: The Reasons, Impacts, and Remedies for Denying Water to Americans

 

Proximate Peers: Service impacts of inter- and intra-regional partnerships among water and sanitation operators

 

Mobilizing for Adequate, Accessible, and Affordable (A³) Water and Sanitation Services

 

Physical gradients of water and sanitation challenges in African peri-urban spaces

 

Water and Citizenship

 

Subsidies and Communicable Disease

 

American Water Shut-Offs: The Reasons, Impacts, and Remedies for Denying Water to Americans

As steeply rising water rates have outpaced low-income customers’ ability to pay, especially in cities like Detroit and Baltimore, mass water disconnections and ‘pockets of water poverty’ are signaling the onset of a water affordability crisis in urban America. Rather than joining scholars and advocates in mobilizing against current utility practices, we propose to work with all the relevant stakeholders to invent alternatives to cutoffs. Our aim is to promote financially sustainable and socially equitable solutions that will make drinking water affordable for all urban residents, regardless of their income, class and race. We are working to understand the causes of water cutoffs, the effects they have on different segments of the population and possible ways of avoiding them in the first place, even for families that can not pay their bills.

 

Mobilizing for Adequate, Accessible, and Affordable (A³) Water and Sanitation Services

In addressing water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) in Sub-Saharan Africa, the research community often tends to focus on accessiblity and adequacy of services in rural areas - and increasingly in urban areas. However, the dichotomy of spatial typologies belies the true diversity of neighborhoods across this urbanizing continent and the fractured or decentralized nature of infrastructures in such shifting landscapes.

This project seeks to extend the current knowledge frontier connecting geographies, services, socio-economics, and health through promoting a more comprehensive and textured "triple lens" of inquiry that eschews brush-stroke rural or urban categories and instead examines at the neighborhood scale how affordability is conceived and determined - both from provider standpoints and from the user end - in addition to studying accessibility and adequacy in defining and addressing WASH challenges in Mozambique. More here.

Physical gradients of water and sanitation challenges in African peri-urban spaces

Analysis of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) challenges on the African continent requires greater depth than is currently common. In particular, the ubiquitous urban-rural categorization of many survey results fails to highlight the important mixture of residents’ WASH vulnerabilities in different gradients of settlement types. WASH concerns in human settlements with mixed urban and rural characteristics – especially typical in peri-urban areas – demand improved survey methodologies that can effectively capture the rich texture of WASH challenges in such environments. More here.

Proximate Peers: Service impacts of inter- and intra-regional partnerships among water and sanitation operators

A focus on improving water and sanitation systems in environments of scarcity by creating learning opportunities, such as peer knowledge exchanges, typifies a growing international trend in funded programs among development institutions and professional sector networks. In particular, the UN’s Water and Sanitation Advisory Board launched the formation of Water Operators’ Partnerships (WOPs) in 2006 as a high-potential approach to reduce the proportion of the world's population unserved by water and sanitation services. A Global Water Operators’ Partnerships Alliance now supports regional WOPS in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and South East Europe, and records almost 200 WOPs at a national level throughout the globe. These partnerships establish peer-mentor groups of water and sanitation operators within and across global regions aiming to support the spread of good practices among utilities, with a special emphasis on how operators can better serve communities lacking basic services at present.

Building on Dr. Carolini’s research program on South-South Cooperation at the city level, the “Proximate Peers” project examines how effective WOPs have been in fostering learning among participant water and sanitation operators as well as in driving improvements in their services to the urban poor after the first decade of WOP experiences. Carolini’s team (including Daniel Gallagher, Isadora Cruxen, Fitse Gelaye, and Haleemah Qureshi) is currently undertaking a regionally distributed comparative analysis of WOPs in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia through six case study partnerships in Argentina, Brazil, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Malaysia, and Pakistan.

Subsidies and Communicable Disease

This research seeks to understand how shifts in public subsidies correlate with different public health challenges. My hypothesis tests whether and how subsidies impact the elasticity demands for basic services among income-poor communities, and thus alter the quality of basic services used in times of heightened resource scarcity. Decreased use of better basic services might make populations more vulnerable to communicable diseases, as well as increase spread of communicable diseases. By examining lagged effects of subsidy policy shifts and correlating this with other micro and macro-level data, including the number cases of malaria, cholera, and dengue fever in countries in South America, Central America, and Sub-Saharan Africa, we can begin to explore whether correlation is in evidence and whether more detailed study is warranted.

Water and Citizenship

Though the recent rise of high-level international interest in deriving human rights indicators for basic needs like water and sanitation offers some broad-stroke value in providing general references for policy makers and advocates, the assumption that these indicators serve to: a) promote or facilitate enforcement of human rights to water and sanitation; and b) spur direct funding for water and sanitation are unfortunately empirically dubious claims. The increase in indicator production does not reflect a “need” but rather a propensity in high-level international discourses to quantify and abstract. Such abstraction and quantification are exercises where international high-level professionals have a perceived comparative skills advantage relative to the skill set – and personal/financial/analytical investment – required to actually advocate for or deliver water and sanitation systems themselves ‘on the ground’.

Given the very physically localized nature of water and sanitation systems coupled with the widely experienced decentralization to local governments of the responsibility for ensuring the delivery of such systems, the challenges of rights enforcement and of mobilizing funding require greater analytical and empirically-driven disaggregation of what drives accountability and prioritization in different locations, rather than an analytical movement in the opposite direction (i.e. aggregation and ranking exercises). This research explores how International human rights to water and sanitation dialogues, conventions, and report-writing purposefully further generalize prescriptive policy at a dear cost. I argue that their depoliticizing effect is through the facilitation of a disjunction of international and national policy dialogues from the place-based, and ultimately public, responsibilities for water and sanitation systems. Instead, this study gathers and presents evidence about how the accessibility, adequacy, and affordability of water and sanitation systems are necessarily tied to citizenship – and in the age of decentralized administration of basic services – to the most local levels of government.

ENHANCING WATER AFFORDABILITY

Urban households across the United States—and the water departments that serve them—are under tremendous financial pressure to maintain access to safe drinking water. Diminished federal support for water infrastructure investments, shrinking urban populations (in some cities), and climate change have resulted in municipal water departments raising water rates to meet the growing costs of healthy and sustainable drinking water provision. This steepening trend of increased rates, however, couples with stagnant household incomes among the poorest urban residents over the past three decades. The result is a growing water poverty cycle in cities across the US, where poor urban households experience water shut-offs that can even end with home foreclosures. 

Our research seeks to understand the nature of water poverty in U.S. cities, to examine potential local-level policy responses, and to explore how federal programming might support utilities and households in need. Based on an analysis of drinking water provision in our case study cities, including Seattle, Chicago, New Orleans, Detroit, Kansas City (KA), New York, and Omaha, we are working with utilities to explore the spatial and demographic character, as well as prevalence, of urban neighborhoods hardest hit by water affordability challenges. We examine the different types of Customer Assistance Programs that water utilities run to understand how well they reach vulnerable households and how enrolled households compare with those whose water ultimately gets shutoff. Ultimately, we are working to build online interactive platforms for municipal water utilities and for residents and their advocates that will create a public space for understanding and visualizing how drinking water systems are performing, particularly for the most vulnerable residents. These sites will give stakeholders a way to assess where their neighborhood and city stands with regard to water poverty, and will help to envision policy alternatives to the water poverty cycle.

We are extremely thankful to the Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab (J-WAFS) for their support and sponsorship that have enabled this work. Learn more about J-WAFS.

 

LIVING DATA HUBS

“Living Data Hubs: People and Data in Kibera” is a collaborative project seeking to address the critical data gap found in informal communities through community data collection and training. This project will provide knowledge about how to scale up and network the Living Data Hub model to expand access to the internet, stimulate economic and educational opportunity, and elevate residents’ voices through the collection and dissemination of robust data on socio-environmental risk.

The Living Data Hubs are integrated into infrastructure within a network of four community-managed public spaces that are part of the Kibera Public Space Project. MIT, KDI, TNET, and community based organizations are working together to construct, and maintain the Living Data Hubs, promoting community stewardship of essential infrastructure while building employability of community members in a larger city with rapidly-growing tech and data science sectors.

Once established, the hubs will both collect and disseminate data through wireless access points, which connect residents to the internet and build the infrastructure for a larger network, and data sensors for collection and dissemination of data. Through bespoke installation and networking and governance training, community members build technical capacity and develop sustainability plans to maintain the network and have control of their data