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Water - Access, Poverty and Social Exclusion

Time (GMT +00) 00:00 23:59


Ursula Grant - ODI/Chronic Poverty Research Centre

Deepa Joshi -  University of Southampton

Rehema Tukai - WaterAid Tanzania

Alison Wedgwood - Environmental Economics, UK

Rajindra Ariyabandu - Water Resources Secretariat, Sri Lanka

Progress in Understanding Chronic Poverty - Ursula Grant (Chronic Poverty Research Centre, ODI)

Drawing from the work of the Chronic Poverty Research Centre, Ursula Grant provided some guidance on thinking about poverty and issues of exclusion in a way that responds to ideas of differentiation and poverty dynamics. The presentation outlined some current conceptual thinking around poverty definitions, highlighting the implications of adding depth and time dimensions to our analysis. Development practitioners often acknowledge the heterogeneity of poverty but policies and initiatives are often limited in their identification of ‘the poor’, making it harder to reach certain people because of the nature and causes of their poverty.

Chronically poor can include people who are working but have unsustainable livelihoods, as well as people who are stigmatised and discriminated against, and people at vulnerable moments in their life cycle, and in weak households. There is rarely a single cause as chronic poverty tends to be the result of multiple,overlapping and interacting factors operating at levels from the intra-household to global. Causes are both maintainers and drivers. In other cases, there may be qualitative differences between the causes of transitory and chronic poverty, requiring quite different policy responses.

Service delivery inefficiencies can both drive and maintain deep and entrenched poverty, excluding or discriminating against the poorest that can’t pay, and marginalising, being unresponsive or unable to provide coverage to vulnerable groups. The challenge is to find the right entry points to understand and respond to difference. This demands acknowledging the political choices that underlie how, where and why services are delivered, and to who. It requires identifying and mitigating harmful practices that serve to deepen the poverty of some people, and generating awareness of who is invisible, undervalued or stigmatised in decision making processes and service delivery.

This paper focused on the linkages between water, poverty and livelihood strategies and their implications for demand-based approaches to water supply development in India. Drawing on three case studies conducted in Andhra Pradesh under the SecureWater research programme, she explored the different dimensions of poverty within communities and the consequences thereof for securing water to make a living. Her findings highlight that the recent introduction of demand responsive approaches in India, which is so far based on the assumption that villages are homogenous entities, tends to reproduce existing socio-economic inequalities. Using the example of Tanda village where a demand-based approach was successfully implemented as part of a recent sector reform programme, she offers a more detailed and critical analysis. While acknowledging notable progress in some areas, Joshi points out the uneven distribution of costs and benefits associated with newly established water supply schemes and potential conflicts arising from an increased demand on the resource base. She goes on to argue the need to build a poverty and livelihoods perspective into the design and implementation of demand responsive approaches in order to ensure a more appropriate balance between sustainability and poverty reduction.

Gender and access in pastoral communities - Rehema Tukai (WaterAid Tanzania)

This presentation used a short video to illustrate the challenges associated with participatory approaches. The mantra of community participation has become well-established in WSS projects but is often applied uncritically. Retrospective analysis of a WSS project implemented by WaterAid in Amei, a Maasai village in Tanzania, revealed a number of important lessons. Villagers contributed with labour and cash to set up the project, contributed to the project’s maintenance, and women participated in decision making. Positive results were evident, especially relating to women’s empowerment, but analysis of water use revealed that the rehabilitated borehole was used only during the dry season. Amei is a traditional pastoralist community and women, unable to raise the cash necessary to power the borehole themselves, could only access safe water during the dry season when men returned with their cattle. In Amei, the lack of a secure means of financing means that the project has actually worsened the position of women with regards to access to water. The project is a good example of the challenges facing practitioners. Asking communities to express preferences for different scheme types is one thing, but understanding how these relate to actual water needs and priorities is quite another. One size can not fit all and ‘off the shelf’ solutions need to be carefully adapted to different socio-economic contexts.

Practical challenges for demand responsive approaches - Alison Wedgwood

This paper analyses the ideological debates over demand-based approaches to water supply, which were introduced in the 1990s in an attempt to improve efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery, and then discusses various methodologies for assessing demand. The first part of the paper sets out different understandings of “demand”: by engineers (as an assumed level of consumption), by sociologists (as an expression of a right) and by economists (as willingness to pay for a service). Based on this, a broader definition for “demand” and for “willingness to pay” is offered. The second part of the paper focuses on various demand assessment techniques and their use at different stages of the project cycle. This includes at stage 1: the assessment of existing coping strategies or existing demand; at stage 2: assistance with the design of technical and management options; at stage 3: enabling households to select options; and at stage 4: facilitating the implementation of the new water supply service. At each stage strengths and weaknesses of the methodology as well as potential problems arising from the broader socio-political context are highlighted. A key lesson to be learned from the implementation of demand responsive approaches to-date is to move away from blue-print approaches to allow more flexible responses to changing patterns of demand among poor communities.

Community-level Water Governance in Sri Lanka - Rajindra Ariyabandu (Water Resources Secretariat, Sri Lanka)
The paper presented by Rajindra de Ariyabandu analyses the effects of the introduction of Demand Responsive Approaches (DRA) to water supply and sanitation in Sri Lanka. In the two villages where the SecureWater field work took place, the introduction of DRA has brought significant improvements to water provision: water is now more accessible, of better quality and more reliably available. The implementation of DRA has strengthened village organisational capacity, improved project sustainability and increased livelihoods options. However more detailed household analysis revealed that the poorest failed to benefit from the scheme. They are usually wage labourers and would benefit the most from time saved collecting water but lack of initial capital and ‘spare labour’ to contribute to the project’s set up make them unable to be part of it. Poor families who managed to be part of the project did it at high cost, reducing consumption or selling assets. The current approach, emphasizing cost recovery rather than equity risks, marginalise poorer sections of the community and fails to capture demands of sub communities and individual households. Moreover, new DRA schemes led to the neglect of pre-existing ‘traditional’ water points which are still used by the poorest. Introducing appropriate subsidy schemes and community based loans are measures which would improve coverage among the poor with household water supply and sanitation.


The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) reflect a growing international consensus on the importance of poverty reduction as a central objective of development. MDG 7 includes targets to reduce by half the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015. But what exactly are the linkages between water and poverty, what are the costs and benefits associated with ‘access’ for poor households and how are these shaped by existing approaches to water governance?

A recent review of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) found that the contribution of water supply and sanitation interventions to poverty reduction and growth is often poorly understood and articulated within sector strategies. Emerging critiques point to the failure to prioritise among competing uses and address issues of rights and access. Presentations and discussion at this seminar focused on conceptual developments in our understanding of water-poverty linkages; methodologies for assessing demand among poor water users; and mechanisms designed to improve access for poor and marginalised groups.