Book summary: Urban Water Trajectories

Article, 30 January 2019

IIED’s Anna Walnycki authors a chapter in Urban Water Trajectories, a book that offers case studies crossing developed and developing country contexts to address key trends in debates on water in cities, as well as identifying the practical impact of politics about water in cities.

The front cover of the book ‘Urban Water Trajectories

Urban Water Trajectories

Sarah Bell, Adriana Allen, Pascale Hofmann, Tse-Hui The (Eds.)
Springer, 2017 – Book, 214 pages 
Urban Water Trajectories

Water is an essential element in the future of cities. It shapes cities’ locations, form, ecology, prosperity and health.

Conventional arrangements for understanding and managing water in cities are being subverted by a range of natural, technological, political, economic and social changes. The prognosis for water in cities remains unclear, and multiple visions and discourses are emerging to fill the space left by the certainty of 19th century urban water planning and engineering.

In Urban Water Trajectories, a 2017 book that outlines challenges in access to water in cities across the world, IIED senior researcher Anna Walnycki describes some of the emerging solutions that have been developed by utilities, local governments and communities themselves, and also the challenges to governance and politics in ensuring that access to water is equitable, equal and accessible in cities.

Walnycki’s chapter, ‘Contesting and Co-Producing the Right to Water in Peri-Urban Cochabamba’, focuses on the city of Cochabamba, in Bolivia, which became infamous in the 1990s and 2000s due to the water wars when communities stood up to privatisation of water services in the city.

She explains: "Less than half of the city have access to the utility water services and that's mainly the preserve of those living in the wealthy northern suburbs, while those living in the southern barrios rely on community water provision or water provided by vendors." An estimated 600-800 community water providers provide water to informal settlements and low-income neighbourhoods. These community water providers emerged because formal providers and local utilities haven’t extended provision to the barrios. 

Over time, many community water providers have been undermined by water resource challenges, including contamination, depletion and declines in maintenance to the systems. There have been efforts to establish partnerships with utilities and local government, as well as efforts to influence national policy so that providers can access the support they need to continue to provide water to these neighbourhoods. 

Walnycki explains: "There are neither the institutions nor infrastructure to provide be able to deliver safe, clean affordable water services to everyone in Bolivia.

"My book chapter charts the challenges and emerging opportunities the history of community water providers in low income settlements in Cochabamba: some of the strategic and practical partnerships they've created with utilities and local authorities in order to improve the services that they deliver, and also their attempts to shape emerging policies and water governance practices in the country."

The chapter argues that the right to water will not be realised by a handful of utilities in Bolivia. Instead, in cities such as Cochabamba that have a rich history of diverse informal water service provision, community participation in improving access to water and the governance of water services is ensuring that the services are adequate and reflect the needs of communities; this is part of a process of incremental improvements to access to water in cities in the global South.


Urban Water TrajectoriesSarah Bell, Adriana Allen, Pascale Hofmann, Tse-Hui The (Eds.), Springer, 2017 – Book, 214 pages (ISBN:978-3-319-42686-0), from £89.99

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