Negotiating Water Access in the informal Settlements of Bangladesh

by Trine Løber

Institution: Roskilde University
Year: 2015
Keywords: Water Access; Natural Resource Management; Informal settlements; Bangladesh; Hybrid governance; Social exclusion; Adverse Incorporation; Power; Slum
Record ID: 1121346
Full text PDF: http://rudar.ruc.dk/handle/1800/23007


This report adopts a critical institutionalist approach for investigating slum dwellers’ struggles and informal negotiations to access safe drinking water in urban Bangladesh. It takes departure in the hybrid and unofficial nature of water governance arrangements, where a complex web of institutions and actors govern water resources. My overall argument is that one’s possession of power shapes one’s ability to mediate others’ access to water resources, and thereby also one’s ability to benefit from the water resources. This argument is supported by five main findings; 1) slum dwellers fail to gain direct access to public water services due to their limited portfolio of powers; 2) Only powerful, rich and politically affiliated people are able to vend water in the slums; 3) These powerful elites appropriate community resources for own benefit; 4) Majority of slum dwellers has to negotiate use access via social and patron-client relationships with those who have the ability to mediate access; 5) Lastly, powerful actors inside and outside the slums safeguard the informal water governance system to maintain their benefits derived from water control. To support my argument and unfold the social phenomenon behind it, I draw on the concepts of social exclusion and adverse incorporation, and Ribot and Peluso’s (2003) theory of access, as these frameworks can facilitate an analysis of how the hybrid arrangements take shape through various processes of power, as well as framing why some people win and some lose in the ongoing struggle to access and control water resources.