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Investigating Natural, Historical, And Institutional Transformations - Cities

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - INHABIT Cities (Investigating Natural, Historical, And Institutional Transformations - Cities)

Reporting period: 2015-09-14 to 2017-09-13

At present, over half of the world population lives in urban areas. Urbanization is particularly rapid in African cities, which are expected to double their population by 2030. Most of this growth happens and will continue to happen in slum areas. It is estimated that poor slum areas encompass approximately 70% of the urban population. Provision of water and sanitation services is a major challenge in these cities, where low-income dwellers suffer the most from the infrastructural ad service deficit. Currently, water utilities serve between 40% and 70% of the urban population, while the rest is supplied by a large variety of small-scale providers, which operate for profit or for philanthropic reasons. Sustainability of cities largely depends on their ability to ensure adequate and access to safe drinking water and sanitation. To this end, the overall aim of INHABIT Cities ( is to improve understandings of the dynamics of water service provision in urban environments in the global South.
Field work for this project was undertaken in Lilongwe, Malawi (January – April 2018) and Maputo, Mozambique (November-December 2016 and August 2017). In Lilongwe, the study focused on different service modalities adopted by the water utility to serve different parts of the city. The Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) serves approximately 78% of the population through in-house connections in higher-income areas and water kiosks and few yard taps in low income areas (see figure 1). Here field work focused on the role of infrastructure (reservoirs, dams, pipes etc.) and operation and maintenance in producing uneven water supplies across the city. Further, the project focused on how uneven supplies are experienced in areas that suffer the most from high rates of water discontinuity. In particular, the project analysed everyday risks associated with uneven water supplies and how these affect hygiene practices ad priorities of low0-icome dwellers in Lilongwe. In Maputo, 66% of the population is supplied through a centralized water distribution network operated by Águas da Região de Maputo (AdeM), while the rest is served by small scale independent providers (SSIPs) (see figure 2). The study focused on both service modalities, by looking at gendered supply and access, and by undertaking a comparative study on pricing regimes, water quality, and distribution of costs and benefits of large water infrastructures.

The research design entailed a mixed-methods approach, to reflect on the multiple dimensions of the research problem and triangulate findings, drawing on in-depth interviews, focus groups, a household survey (Lilongwe) and a water quality assessment. Over 100 semi-structured interviews were conducted with water sector stakeholders and consumers (especially women, responsible for fetching water for the household). The household survey (n = 497) was undertaken in partnership with the project Uncovering Hidden Dynamics in Slum Environments [UNHIDE]). The survey was designed to capture perceptions of everyday risks and their relation to hygiene practices of urban dwellers living in areas suffering from high rates of discontinuity. The survey will be made available as open data set (OpenAIRE project). Further, a water quality assessment was undertaken in Maputo, with the aim improving understandings on drinking water quality in the capital city of Mozambique. Further, a videography component was developed and implemented in both cities. In Lilongwe, the videography focused on the everyday practices of distributing and accessing water in areas that are served by water kiosks and suffer from high rates of water discontinuity. In Maputo, we investigated two forms of marginalization. The first concerns customers of the water utility, living at the very end of the distribution network. These customers suffer the most from water shortages and are often supplied only during the night for a few hours. The second form of marginalization concerns people living outside the area served by the water utility.

Research outputs of INHABIT cities include publications in peer-reviewed journals (8 published, 1 accepted with revisions and 2 under review) and two research documentaries. The documentary Lilongwe Water Works?, completed in 2017 (Rusca, 2017) is available open access on Vimeo at It premiered in July 2017 at the IHE Delft Water Movie Night. The documentary Water at the margins (Rusca, 2018) premiered in Delft in July 2018 as part of the IHE Delft Water Movie Night. The film will be on Vimeo by the end of September 2018 and the trailer is available at: The project also engaged in several dissemination and communication activities, including participating and/or convening conference sessions, writing blogs linked to the publications, and developing two brochures. The documentary Lilongwe Water Works? was presented (together with other research outputs on the dynamics of water service provision in Lilongwe) in three different stakeholder meetings, respectively: 1) in the headquarters of a Water User Association (WUAs) in one of the informal settlements (water users and members of the water users associations were present); 2) in a school in one of the informal settlements (water users and WUA members);  3) at Lingadzi Hotel, with water stakeholders (water users, WUA members, World Bank, UNICEF, Ministry of Water, Lilongwe Water Board, Economic Justice Network, Lilongwe City Council, WASAMA) and journalists (Zodiac, Reuters, AFP, Free Expression institute, Times Group, Capital Radio, Nyasa Times). Results were translated into educational material, taught at King’s College London and IHE Delft.
The project was innovative in developing and testing methodologies to complement talk-based methods and to reduce power differential between the researcher and the research subjects. Visual methods are becoming increasingly popular in social sciences, but are still little explored when it comes to water related studies. As a result, INHABIT Cities developed a new research line on visual methods for research and outreach, which contributed to advancing the state of the art on innovative methods in critical water studies. INHAbIT Cities has brought situated urban political ecology perspectives into engagement with institutional bricolage and has tested innovative methodologies for investigating socio-natural dimensions of water service provision. This was done by developing collaborations with critical institutionalists, physical geographers, and water resources and water quality engineers. The interdisciplinary approach to this topic contributed to progressing lines of inquiry on materiality of water and water infrastructures and on everyday urbanism ad water governance beyond the state of the art.