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Globalisation, Cities and the Right to Water: Where are the Connections?

By Jo Beall, Development Studies Institute, London School of Economics, May 2005

Rough and incomplete draft for conference discussion - PLEASE DO NOT CITE

‘There is no argument over the urgent need for policy and institutional reforms to ensure that people across the developing world have secure access to adequate water and sanitation. The debate is over how this can and should be achieved.’

World Development Movement, February, 2005.


Although secure and affordable access to safe water and appropriate sanitation are recognised as fundamental human rights (WSSCC, 2000a), 1.1 billion people in the world lack safe water and 2.4 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation, with over 90% of them living in Asia and Africa (WSSCC, 2000b). Over recent decades, 6,000 people have died every day, and mainly children under five years of age (UN, 2003:5) due to poor water supply and sanitation. At any one time, about half of all people in developing countries are suffering from one or more of the six main associated diseases [1] (DFID, 1998:4) and each child is likely to have on average ten attacks of diarrhoea before the age of five (Black, 1994:1). Low-income urban dwellers in cities across Africa, Asia and Latin America do not escape these statistics. Indeed, problems of environmental health are exacerbated by rapid urbanisation. As the United Nations World Water Development Report (UN 2003:161) sets out the issues:

Many urban residents, and especially the poor, have only intermittent or no water supplies, and no sanitation. For the urban poor, this lack of access to safe water and basic sanitation causes widespread ill-health that further limits their productive capabilities. Ironically, the urban poor have often to buy their water from private vendors and pay far more per litre than their richer neighbours.

Nevertheless, constrained access on the part of the urban poor is manifest at a time when it is increasingly apparent that the world is facing a water crisis.

Cities are implicated in this crisis, not only by virtue of urbanisation and growing population pressure on freshwater sources but also due to the impact of industrial and commercial production, which is often urban-based, as well as patterns of economic growth not disassociated with globalisation (UN, 2003:15). Thus it is necessary to take account of a city’s location, not only in the national or regional but also the global economy, in order to understand the macro-policy context and other international pressures at work. Integration into the international economy shapes urban development everywhere but while all cities are part of what Lo and Yeung (1998:2) have described as a functional world city system, they stand within it as nodes of greater or lesser importance. Indeed, some cities are excluded from this interconnected global network altogether. This paper explores the paradox of a world characterised by expanding global networks, in which the urban poor are frequently excluded, including from city-level networked services, or whose inclusion is characterised by ‘disconnects’.

Globalisation, Cities and Infrastructure


The World Bank (2000:3) has defined globalisation as ‘the global circulation of goods, services and capital but also of information, ideas and people’. From this perspective, the world is increasingly interconnected, through the compression of time and space, through rapid communications and the electronic transfer of everything from ideas and information to money and technology itself. However, there is ample evidence to suggest that there are countries, regions and groups of people who, to a greater or lesser degree, are excluded by global processes or are incorporated under conditions that are not of their choosing. As Castells (1998:162) has observed, ‘Globalization proceeds selectively, including and excluding segments of economies and societies in and out of the networks of information, wealth and power that characterise the new dominant system’. At the level of the city, axes of exclusion emanating at the global level articulate with those already in operation nationally or locally. According to Hoogvelt (1997) the old core-periphery hierarchy is giving way to a new global division of labour in which divisions and hierarchies are no longer geographical but social. While a simple north-south spatial hierarchy is no longer valid, uneven development remains pervasive on an international scale and affects both people and places.

Knowing what is driving globalisation helps in understanding its impact. Also important is the ability of business in the information age to compete in regional and global markets, facilitated by technological developments. This has been accompanied by a move towards economic liberalisation that has opened up more economies and societies to world markets, a process that has been linked to a geographical realignment of production, consumption and sites of power, as Held et al (1999) explain:

Globalisation can be thought of as a process (or set of processes) which embodies a transformation in the spatial organisation of social relations and transactions – assessed in terms of their extensity, intensity, velocity and impact – generating transcontinental or interregional flows and networks of activity, interaction and the exercise of power.

Policies associated with contemporary globalisation have an incontrovertibly neoliberal thrust, and are aimed at promoting the economic realm and market forces at the expense of strengthening state institutions or investing in human development. Urban management and governance has not been immune, particular in relation to the promotion of new public management, with its emphasis on deregulation, privatisation and cost recovery. The World Development Movement (WDM, 2005:33) cites donor agencies as both the proponents of ‘corporate globalisation’ and ‘the privatisation of essential services such as water and sanitation’. This has led to a carving up, contracting out and ‘unbundling’ of existing or planned networked infrastructure in ways that have tended to limit the ability of city governments to play an effective role in the delivery of services and to disadvantage low-income urban residents in their access to and engagement around urban services.

The present paper is animated by the recent contribution of Graham and Marvin (2001) who argue that contemporary urban life is mediated by multiple infrastructure networks from telecommunications to transport, energy and water. These, they argue are ‘the driving connective forces of much-debated processes of “globalisation”’ (ibid:8) but that global networked infrastructure is mediated by marginalisation and exclusion, giving rise to ‘uneven global connections’ (ibid:9). Drawing on two case studies of water supply and sanitation, the paper explores the paradox of what Graham and Marvin (2001:287) call the ‘poverty of connections’, in the context of increasing international connectivity.


Water and Sanitation Policy and the Right to Connections



Access to a safe and affordable supply of drinking water is universally recognised as a basic human need, as without it we would die within a matter of days. However, it is often here that consensus ends. There are disagreements as to the rights of the present generation over the development and care of the next. There are conflicts between the rights to maintenance of existing users in relation to investment in supply to new users. There are disputes over how much some users should have to subsidise others, the level at which cross-subsidisation should take place if it occurs, as well as the cut-off level between water supply and sanitation as a right, a basic need or as a consumable resource. One thing is clear and that is that at no time in developing countries have urban water and sanitation policies promoted equity.

The conventional approach to water supply and sanitation provision used to be the urban services approach.  Related to the basic needs approach to development it identified lack of access to basic services such as water and sanitation as both a cause and symptom of poverty. The corollary was that services should be provided as a basic need, sometimes interpreted as a right. The approach was entirely supply-side driven, underpinned by the rationale that water is a natural monopoly. This together with fear of the spread of infectious diseases led to state-subsidised, centralised water and sanitation systems based on mains water supply and sewers. It is tempting to look back to these as the halcyon days but there were significant problems associated with this approach. They were often operated by way of expensive imported technology that was difficult to maintain, leading to poor functioning, capacity and upkeep. Mains water and sewerage systems tended to be concentrated in better-off areas so that coverage extended to only a minority of city dwellers. Additionally, new investment tends to follow old, through maintenance or extension of existing serviced areas, so that exclusion of low-income areas and poor people from connections persisted. In effect, as Black (1994) has pointed out, supply driven provision led to governments subsidising urban elites.

This at first led to a greater emphasis on a basic needs or basic urban services approach. Kirke and Arthur (1984) summarise well the policies that gave priority to addressing minimum basic needs in low-income areas before responding to demands for services in middle- and high-income areas. Important were water tariffs being set with no government subsidy. They pointed to low-cost and local technologies that could be operated and maintained by poor people in urban settlements, and urged that an integrated approach be adopted that considered water supply alongside sanitation and drainage. These approaches, together with an emphasis on community participation for the long-term sustainability of projects became widely accepted by governments and donors and characterised provision in the sector up until the early 1990s, although they did not result in the majority of the urban poor in developing countries receiving an adequate service.

The basic urban services approach has persisted into the 21st century.  However it is now accompanied by a global policy shift from supply-led approaches to water provision to the emergence of ‘demand responsive approaches’ (DRA) that aim to improve efficiency and the financial and technical sustainability of delivery systems. DRA is premised on the understanding that water is not only vital for life but is also an economic good. It recognises there are costs in delivery and preferences over and affordability issues related to service levels. In order to mesh this approach with concerns over poverty reduction (as opposed to redistribution) DRA puts people into ‘ the specific social, political and economic contexts that impact upon access to and control of water’ (Joshi, 2004:1). This is translated as demand:

Designed to deliver water by demand – identiried as what users need and are able to afford – the DRA in policy enables a voice and choice for all, especially the poorest, whose needs as identified are often hijacked by the better off in water development interventions (Joshi, 2004:2). 

Put crudely, DRA is about getting what you pay for and what developmentalists think you deserve. This may constitute pit latrines and communal taps, or bulk sewerage and in-house water connections, with many variations in between, such as the block tariff system highlighted below in the case of Joburg. In some cases, such as is illustrated with reference to urban Afghanistan, the ‘poverty of connections’ applies not only to the most disadvantaged and vulnerable within cities but also to whole cities themselves, situated as they are in the most marginalized or damaged parts of the global system.


Urban water supply and sanitation in post-apartheid Joburg


Greater Johannesburg (Joburg) is the economic hub of a middle-income country. A city of some 3.2 million people, it is part of an urban conurbation comprising a population of something closer to eight million. As a result of its history, Joburg is in some ways not a typical African city. However, while many of the characteristics of the city can be traced to the very specific legacy of apartheid, the challenges facing the new post-apartheid Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Council (GJMC) in relation to water supply and sanitation are not uniquely South African and reflect those of highly unequal urban centres elsewhere in the South (Beall, Crankshaw and Parnell, 2002a).  As such, Johannesburg’s successes and failures in addressing social disadvantage and disparity reflect and hold wider lessons for cities in middle-income countries of the South.


In terms of access to water supply and sanitation, Joburg’s low-income communities are better off than many others living in African cities. In sub-Saharan Africa 36 per cent of the urban population are estimated to be without a safe, regular or proximate water supply and 45 per cent are thought not to be covered by sanitation (WHO/UNICEF cited in Nunan and Satterthwaite, 1999). In other words, nearly half of urban dwellers in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to individual or communal toilets or latrines in their houses, compounds or settlements. Moreover, at the time of the transition from apartheid the situation of Johannesburg’s poor compared well with national figures. For example, at that time for South Africa as a whole only 21 per cent of households had access to piped water and only 28 per cent to sanitation facilities. Over 80 per cent of poor rural households had access to neither (May, 1998). Nevertheless, urbanisation currently stands at 58% and it is projected to rise to 64% by 2030 (SACN, 2004:36). Under such circumstances the provision and maintenance of urban infrastructure and services constitutes a pressing issue, especially for South Africa’s commercial and industrial heartland, where issues of inequality are keenly felt.

According to surveys conducted at the time of the first democratic elections in South Africa, 18 per cent of the total urban population, or about five million people, had only a minimal level of water supply.  An additional 16 per cent had access to only a basic water supply (PDG, 1994a).  In the Johannesburg metropolitan area alone, about a million people had only a basic or minimal level of water supply (PDG, 1994b), understood as access to a shared standpipe, a stream or river, or water delivered by municipal water trucks.  Key among the many challenges facing Johannesburg at the time of the political transition from apartheid, therefore, was that of providing water to an unequal, divided and expanding urban population. Moreover, this had to occur in a context where there were water resource constraints both nationally and in relation to Joburg’s ecological footprint, as well as an explicit commitment on the part of the post-apartheid national government to give priority to rural development.

The apartheid legacy impacted very directly on post-apartheid service levels in Johannesburg. Most crude was the policy of providing inferior quality services for blacks. While under apartheid water was piped to all white homes, most of which were also connected to the city’s waterborne sewerage system, standards of social and physical infrastructure were intentionally set lower for blacks and from 1968 investment in urban ‘African areas’ practically ceased altogether. As such, racially defined standards of construction and service gave tangible expression to the political and economic hierarchy on which white supremacy was based (Beall, Crankshaw and Parnell, 2000). That said the apartheid government pursued a fairly typical state-led, supply-driven model of urban service provision. Barring the obnoxious racial inequalities inherent in legislation and investment priorities, the inequities of supply-led provision in South Africa were not dissimilar to those in other unequal cities of the South.

While under apartheid these inequalities were premised almost entirely on race and segregationist policies, in the post-apartheid era there has been increasing evidence of differentiation within the African population itself, with an upwardly mobile black middle-class and persistent poverty among the vast majority of African people. In cities housing type is a reliable predictor of infrastructure poverty (Beall, Crankshaw and Parnell, 2002b). The worst off in terms of water supply are those living in informal settlements where piped water networks have not yet reached. In certain areas ‘shacklords’ control access to water sources such as communal standpipes.  Among the tenant population of formal townships, low-income landlords are known to charge even less well-off tenants and sub-tenants for use of water and ablution facilities. Hence although Joburg is not known as a city where the urban poor pay water vendors for the purchase of water, nevertheless they pay a range of different sorts of intermediaries for access, rather than a service provider directly. Intermediaries may well oppose changes or improvements to water supply if they are making profits from existing supply mechanisms. These examples are provided in order to illustrate some of the complexities in the chain of ‘disconnects’ in the poverty of connections.

Similar patterns are evident with regard to sanitation. In Joburg coverage is quite extensive and the standard of formal sanitary services comparatively high, with flush toilets being the norm. Waterborne sewerage and wastewater treatments dominate over on-plot sanitation such as septic tanks and pit latrines, covering almost 80 per cent of the metropolitan population. Formal townships such as Soweto have bulk sewerage connections but there are still important differences in standards of sanitation. Results from the Soweto survey (Morris et al, 1999) show very clearly that it is only in the elite new private sector developments in Soweto that flush toilets inside the house are the norm. Historically areas without waterborne sewerage used a bucket system, with local authorities being responsible for disposal of night soil. However, today chemical toilets constitute the main form of on-plot sanitation, used most commonly in informal settlements, where they are shared among a large number of users.

Across different kinds of settlements and housing types, the issue of service standards has as much to do with the number of people per toilet as with the technical quality of the service. The micro-politics of sanitation services can be discerned from contextual studies rather than from large-scale surveys. Tenants complain that toilets do not always work and that landlords lock them at night. Those living in backyard shacks, therefore, continue to use buckets inside their rooms, which they empty into the communal toilet once or twice a day, suggesting that proximity does not automatically translate into access. Tenants are often required to clean ablution areas and toilets as part of their rental obligation, something many resented. Squatters often cite difficulties over sanitation as one of the reasons for moving away from townships to informal settlements. However, even here sanitation is a site of conflict, with tensions existing over access, cleaning and maintenance of latrines.

In the immediate post-apartheid period, Johannesburg’s municipal councils and the transitional metropolitan authority were acutely aware that the city’s extensive network of water supply and sanitation coverage was not universal and standards varied enormously. The issue of water as a basic human right was dealt with by the 1996 Constitution, which stated that everyone had the right of access to sufficient water. In 1994 the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) produced a White Paper, which recognised that water was a basic human right but also that its supply incurred costs that somehow had to be recovered. In policy terms, this translated into what DWAF referred to as a ‘life-line’ or ‘social tariff’, which meant that everyone was supposed to get a basic amount of water free, defined by DWAF as 25 litres of good quality water per person per day, provided at a maximum distance of 200 metres from the home and on a regular and reliable basis. [2] This benchmark, together with a policy of rising block tariffs [3] (where water is priced at a low initial rate up to a specified volume or block, and then at higher rates for successive specified volumes) received widespread acceptance in South Africa and Johannesburg (Beall, Crankshaw and Parnell, 2000). [4] Within this framework, water supply and sanitation became the constitutional responsibility of local government, which had an obligation to ensure basic needs provision. [5] The position adopted by DWAF was that where poor communities had no water supply and sanitation and were not able to afford basic provision, then government could subsidise installation costs. However DWAF was absolutely unswerving that operating and maintenance costs had to be funded and entirely recoverable at a local level.

Within this context, the Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Council (GJMC or ‘the Metro’) had also to address the high expectations and yawning needs of the city’s historically disadvantaged population, while at the same time being attentive to the priorities of powerful vested interests in the city who were vigilant over any erosion of their privileges. In effect this meant trading off the extension of services against maintaining established service levels or raising revenues. The Metro initially opted for the latter but was thwarted by boycott and backlash from the city’s residential elites (Beall, Crankshaw and Parnell, 2000) Thereafter the Metro attended to this challenge by opting to extend services through a basic needs-oriented urban services approach. They did this at first while still adhering to a supply-driven approach but with less ambitious state provision in mind.

The basic services approach was adopted largely under the advice of World Bank urban policy advisers, with shared communal standpipes being provided instead of house water connections and with on-plot sanitation or communal chemical toilets being the technology of choice over the extension of bulk waterborne sewerage connections. These solutions are speedy and therefore more politically responsive and more affordable. However, it has been cogently argued that excessively low standards - for example communal standpipes and pit latrines over on-plot or house connections and water-borne sewerage - are inappropriate for a country that the World Bank classifies as ‘upper middle-income’ (Bond, 2000). The City has pleaded clemency, arguing that it has faced a financial crisis that has compelled it towards fiscal austerity. Although cash strapped and without significant reserves, the financial ‘crisis’ in Joburg can also be said to have been deliberately ‘talked up’ as a tactic for pushing through neo-liberal policy reforms in the context of political opposition (Beall, Crankshaw and Parnell, 2002a).

More recently Joburg’s water and sanitation policy has become increasingly aligned with a demand responsive approach and mainstream international development thinking. First Joburg produced a medium-term policy document, iGoli 2002 (GJMC, 1999), which made clear that the Metro Council was determined to establish the commercial viability of urban service delivery. The justification was improved efficiency and cost effectiveness, and the need to provide a solid fiscal foundation upon which to facilitate cross-subsidisation and the maintenance of service standards across the city. Within this framework, water supply, sanitation and solid waste management are considered ‘trading services’ that are meant to pay for themselves and even make a profit. The utilities that deliver them operate as independent companies but with the Metropolitan Council as the major shareholder and customer, as well as playing a regulatory role. There are strong neo-liberal overtones to iGoli 2002 and subsequent policy documents of the GJMC, which have been strongly influenced by international agencies such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Bank, with cost recovery becoming the mantra governing public provision and performance in South Africa (Goldblatt, 1997:6).



Africa is a continent that is vulnerable within and has been marginalized by global economic forces and unsurprisingly therefore, ‘none of the world cities are located in Africa’ (Rakodi, 1998:330). Joburg perhaps comes closest. It should come as no shock, therefore, that a place conventionally dubbed as ‘two worlds in one city’ seems to have much in common with divided cities elsewhere in the South and indeed in the North (Beall, Crankshaw and Parnell, 2002a) and where a poverty of connections coexists within a highly networked and increasingly connected urban world.


Urban Water Supply and Sanitation in Post-War [6] Afghanistan

If Africa is relatively marginal in terms of global geo-politics, then Afghanistan stands at the other end of the spectrum. A Cold War battlefield for decades, it remains a site of international scrutiny and a focus for regional competition for trade and influence. However, Afghanistan has been incorporated into the global arena under conditions not of its own choosing, and the attention it has received has not translated into development gains. On the contrary, in the most recent Human Development Index, Afghanistan was reported to have the second lowest life expectancy in the world (43.1 years), the second lowest adult literacy rate (36%, by far the highest infant and under-five mortality rate (165/257 per 1,000 live births) and the second largest proportion of under-nourished people (70%). Moreover, this status is derived from among those countries not even listed in the main ranking due to an overall scarcity of data (UNDP, 2003:339).

These dismal statistics derive above all from interminable years of conflict. The Soviet occupation brought considerable investment and some recall this era nostalgically as the halcyon days. Nevertheless development was uneven and accompanied by untold conflict. This was escalated by the involvement of the United States in Afghanistan’s civil war, while internally the country continues to be wracked by conflict fuelled by a system of warlords and petty commanders who feed off systems of patronage and the poppy economy. The legacy of violence and upheaval, alongside persistent ungovernability stand as challenges in the way of strategies for reconstruction and the establishment of accountable structures of government, both at the national and sub-national levels.

At present Afghanistan is moving from an immediate post-war situation, in which development interventions were confined to relief and rehabilitation, towards a situation where the focus is increasingly on reconstruction and development. Until recently, efforts were primarily directed at rural areas where in addition to war, vulnerable communities have been adversely affected by displacement, drought and loss of livestock. Nevertheless, there is growing evidence to show that that since the end of large-scale fighting, people are not remaining in the countryside and Afghanistan has been experiencing a process of rapid urbanisation. Urbanisation has been largely prompted by the return to the cities of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs). Additionally, returnees headed for the countryside have subsequently moved to urban centres in pursuit of livelihoods (Beall and Esser, 2005). Esser (2004) reports a USAID humanitarian aid specialist making the point that “In Afghanistan, disaster drives urban growth.” Additionally there is net migration as well as natural increase among urban populations, particularly in the capital city, Kabul. While Kabul had approximately 2.5 million inhabitants in early 2001, the city is now estimated to host more than 3.5 million people. Here the estimated pace of urban influx and concentration is unprecedented, even when compared to fast-growing cities such as Dhaka, Karachi, Jakarta, or Mumbai [7] (Beall and Esser, 2005:7).

Hence, Afghanistan’s urban infrastructure has been under strain for years. The urban services challenge involves addressing service backlogs in previously planned areas and extending services to the burgeoning informal settlements that characterise the post-war urban landscapes of Afghanistan and house well over half of all urban residents. The situation has been exacerbated by physical destruction and social fragmentation on an unprecedented scale. In Kabul alone, 63,000 private homes were ravaged by fighting. As one resident in Kabul put it:

This house has no electricity, no water, no toilet – how can anyone live here? The war is over but also in peace surviving is difficult (Beall and Esser, 2005:10).

Popular responses are not easy to forge. Some respondents in a recent study reported having moved seven times in five years, across rural and urban settlements (Beall and Esser, 2005:17). When people fled the war, others who could not afford to leave moved into vacated homes, only to be evicted or made vulnerable when owners returned. With years, even decades, intervening between one occupant and another and with few formal land titles surviving, insecurity of tenure is a very live issue and one that provokes tension at the local level, as evidenced by the following remarks from a resident in Herat:

We moved here more than a year ago, but we have no relationship with the neighbours. Neither they come to us nor we go to them. We cannot rely on the community at all. The wakil (elder) of the gozar (area or ward) is the person to whom we could tell our problems to but he does nothing. There is a shura (community organisation) but they are only there for the rich people (Ibid: 30).

Under such conditions it is difficult building relations of trust and reciprocity. Decades of war, absent or corrupt government and the struggle for survival has led to demoralisation on the part of urban residents and a sense of powerlessness on the part of their leaders. Urban residents described their situation thus:

Once all the neighbours got together to go to the municipality because we had no water and no electricity, but the wakil did not support us …. We also don’t have any proper sanitation system and our toilets are in bad condition. Yet because the wakil said we wouldn’t achieve anything by talking to the municipality we did not go (Ibid).

To get connected in urban Afghanistan, people have to pay and corruption is an issue of serious concern. To get one’s name on the list for water and electricity connections or the upgrading of a sewerage system, people have to pay as much as 7,000 Afghanis (US$145). Even this is no guarantee that the connections will materialise and it is widely suspected that public officials, who only earn between US$35 and US$100 a month, rely on such payments to supplement their meagre incomes (Ibid.).

The National Development Framework is committed to urban development and investment in infrastructure and the recent National Urban Programme (NUP) includes infrastructure construction and revitalisation among its six priority sub-programmes. However, the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing (MUDH) and the various municipalities [8] responsible for implementation are committed to their city master plans, drawn up in the 1970s and reinforced during the Soviet period. Premised on a supply-driven approach and state provision of infrastructure, urban planners and city officials only envisaged maintenance and extension of existing bulk infrastructure. At one level this is understandable. The poverty of connections affects everyone in urban Afghanistan. Even the most wealthy can only guarantee their water supply by investing in privately-owned generators to ensure their pumps are running. At another level, however, it is blindingly obvious that the majority of urban residents are living in informal settlements or unserviced areas but they are seen to fall outside of the parameters of the master plan. While all urban residents in Afghan cities are vulnerable, the vulnerability of poor people is translated into poverty by the crude inequalities prompted by the survival of the fittest in a post-war reconstruction environment.

There are few international agencies and NGOs concerned with urban development, as most international actors are still focused on humanitarian relief or rural rehabilitation. Among those working in the cities it is possible to discern three sets of actors with different approaches. First there are the NGOs. More primarily have rural expertise and experience but they have been prevented from working outside the cities due to the security situation. Thus they are beginning to work in urban informal settlements and notably through the provision of water, usually through hand pumps. Their interventions are firmly founded on a basic needs approach. They fall short of an integrated urban services approach in that they are operating outside of any coordination with other agencies or sectors, such that some of the engineers and planners expressed anxiety as to the impact their activities would have on the sustainability of water supply in water scarce cities.

A second position can be identified in the positions being advocated by UN-Habitat. This fell firmly into an integrated urban services approach. UN-Habitat sought through community mobilisation and participation to extend basic services to low income settlements, in concert with efforts to work with urban infrastructure and service providers, notably local authorities and the MUDH. Third, the World Bank was pushing urban partnerships, including community and private sector involvement alongside government, within the context of area-based development strategies. Including strong elements of an integrated urban services approach, the focus was on partnership rather than on DRA, which in most war-torn cities in Afghanistan fairly meaningless. Most of these strategies are addressing real need and the challenge is for better coordination. However, a fourth approach to infrastructure that is not directly related to urban vulnerability stands to threaten any progress. This relates to the imperative for some donors and indeed national politicians, to be seen to be making an impact. Hidden infrastructure such was water supply and sanitation, do not score highly when such priorities prevail. For example, at present USAID, JICA and both India and Pakistan are supporting road building rather than urban services as a demonstration of their support for reconstruction. Efforts to privatise water and sanitation in Afghanistan are somewhat retarded at present although very much part of the ultimate goal and one that is crucially connected to the growing link between security and development. While this will help reconnect Afghan cities to global networks and standards, it will also add to the growing series of disconnects affecting these cities’ poor and vulnerable residents.


These two case studies sit at opposite extremes of the development challenge in relation to water supply and sanitation. In the case of South Africa, a middle-income country that is not aid dependent, decisions and choices can be made with relative autonomy from international policy trends. Joburg Metro has maintained this autonomy only to a limited degree, falling prey to many of the precepts and priorities of corporate globalisation.  Afghanistan by contrast, requires massive investment to repair and expand its damaged infrastructure networks and to cater for the dramatic influx of new urban residents. Afghanistan is a poor country that has found itself part of the global chessboard and a victim of its geographical location. As such it is inevitable that support must come from the outside, not least because external forces have been implicated in the physical and social destruction in the first place. As pointed out by the WDM (2005:32) more generally:

This makes the policies of donor governments and institutions towards financing water and sanitation critical and makes the current dearth of political and financial support for public water a threat to its future.

The two cases presented here demonstrate that there are a number of different approaches to urban water supply and sanitation provision. The inclusion of a range of city studies standing between these two extremes would have further demonstrated that workable solutions exist that are not wholly dependent on private sector solutions to water and sanitation policy. A DRA requires the articulation of demand in ways for which governments and donors are not necessarily prepared. The demand for water and sanitation is not just about power showers versus standpipes or flush toilets over pit latrines. It is about the simple demand for the right to water and the right to life. There is no single way of meeting that demand, nor only one way of providing water and sanitation. Indeed, solutions are not as easy to come by as is sometimes assumed, with the challenges sitting as much in the arena of power, politics and the need for institutional reform as in the realm of technology and resources.



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[1]Diarrhoea, ascaris, dracunculiasis, hookworm, schistosomiasis and thrachoma.

[2]The DWAF White Paper tries to balance its obligations to South Africa’s historically neglected majority population, within the context of a water policy that does not endorse free universal access to state supplied water. Indeed, Hardoy and Satterthwaite (1989) would see this as an outrageous under-estimate of people’s needs and DWAF does recognise that this amount of water constitutes a bare minimum for health.

[3]This is a system where cross-subsidisation takes place within the water supply system itself (Cairncross, 1990:118).

[4]Targeting of any sort is costly and administratively complex but the GJMC has committed itself to what it calls ‘lifeline services’ rather than lifeline tarrifs and believes that a universal approach is possible. However, this depends on having the technology and administrative capacity in place and that is still not guaranteed. Moreover, the problems of monitoring consumption in the context of fluid populations and rapidly changing occupancy are notorious in cities of the South. 

[5]A regional parastatal sells water to the GJMC, which is then responsible for water reticulation and the actual delivery of water and sanitation services within the metropolitan area.

[6]The concept of ‘post-war’ is used advisedly as it is premature and erroneous to characterise Afghanistan as ‘post-conflict’>

[7]Growth rates in these cities vary between 6.17% and 3.13%; UNDESA (2004), page 8. Currently, 23.3% of Afghanistan’s population lives in urban agglomerations, but projected annual changes in ‘percentage urban’ (1.98%-2.34% for Afghanistan) are clearly above regional averages (1.16%-1.42%); UNDESA (2004), pages 26,103.

[8]The research on which this analysis is based was conducted across three cities, Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif and Herat. The security situation prevented further research being conducted in Jalalabad.

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