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Changing The Paradigm - Rediagnosing Water Service Delivery As A "wicked Planning Problem" Using India As A Case

Congress: 2015

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 8: Revisiting water paradigms,

Over 1 billion people in developing countries have no access to safe drinking water, and many more have only intermittent access. Approximately 97 million of the two billion live in India1, which is also the world's second most populous country. With its increasing urban share of the population, just over 50 percent of Indian urban households obtain water through piped access (via individual or communal taps). Piped access however does not assure reliable water; most piped water service is intermittent, or the water pressure is irregular, or the water is of questionable quality.2

Recognizing the importance of improving access to water, the Government of India in 2012 established a service level benchmark of providing water to all of the population 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (24/7) using the physical delivery approach of continuously supplying water through centralized pressurized piped networks. In the 2012 National Water Policy, the government further has signaled a preference for private sector involvement as part of the institutional approach of water service delivery. While the 24/7 pressurized piped water service seems enticing, the rate at which piped pressurized water is being extended to unserved areas and developments suggests that full implementation could take many decades. Hence the prescribed water service objective, while mimicking what is provided in more developed nations, has failed to sustain over time and is a long way from being implemented in all of Indian cities.

The "prescribed solutions" (as I call them) of continuously supplying 24/7 pressurized piped service through centralized infrastructure and an expansion of private sector participation, indicate the government's approach to the water problem as a relatively linear engineering challenge, which they propose to overcome by installing new centralized pipeline networks that continuously supply water from distant surface water sources to users through individualized piped connections3; and as a problem that is blocked principally by a lack of local capacity3, which they propose to overcome by engaging private enterprises. The prescribed solutions thus reflect a uniform, singular approach (one service of continuously pressurized piped water through individual connections, one physical delivery approach of centralized piped infrastructure and one water source, and one institutional approach of a particular public-private- partnership) to solve the water problem. This study challenges a homogeneous policy intervention for urban water service delivery by the central government and argues instead for a more context-specific approach by rediagnosing the water service delivery problem and proposing to approach it as such.


This study examines urban water service delivery through a planning lens in two ways: one, by engaging planning theory concepts to enable a deeper look at the water service delivery process and two, by proposing a new way to approach to address the problem by recognizing and responding to the challenges which form barriers to efficient and equitable water service delivery. The approach not only acknowledges but directly deals with the challenges in the entire delivery process, expands the considerations to what water service means, and leads to an outlook that can systematically addresses the challenges to deliver the service and maintain the service over time as the urban growth occurs.

I demonstrate that water service delivery is a far more complex problem involving not only engineering and institutional capacity, but also politics, finance, social equity, organizational design, and more. This study draws upon the insights that planning theory offers on complex, "wicked" planning problems whose very definition is contested.4 Water service delivery, this study argues, is such a problem. I argue that instead of a uniform, singular approach to the water delivery problem, considering a wider set of approaches such as a more context-specific and community-responsive set of strategies and institutional mechanisms would provide all the users with water when they need it at a faster pace, and most likely for be more cost effective. There are multiple options that can be used to address the problem and precedents that can be drawn upon to find ways forward. A case study of water service delivery in a local urban context provides evidence for the argument and illustrates the options.

This study draws upon multiple sources of evidence, and uses convergence and triangulation of the data to develop findings. The study is a culmination of institutional, financial, and policy analyses through literature review; field observation; in-person semi-structured interviews; data analysis, and writing.

Results /Discussion

I show that there are a number of ways that water can be provided with acceptable quality and 24/7 availability. In addition to continuous availability of water stored in reservoirs and delivered on demand through pressurized pipes, tanker delivery from reservoirs to individual or communal storage tanks, tanker or local pipe networks from wells, purification and filtration at the tank, well, or tap, and many other variations can be used. With the wider set of options that can be considered to address the wicked planning problem of water service delivery, a combination of technical solutions and institutional aspects can be used to achieve "water when you need it". An example of this is "enhanced hybrid approach" that I develop based on the "hybrid approach" that I find in the field. In addition, by considering a broader set of possibilities it opens up opportunities to better serve individual needs and to reduce costs.

Conclusion Typically where large water service delivery is addressed as a technocratic problem with a physical lens, the planning perspective in this study extends to both the physical and nonphysical aspects. The study delves into how these aspects affect the planning and design of the outcome of a water service and the approaches toward it. Acknowledging and understanding water service delivery as a wicked planning problem is an important initial step. An essential following step is the institutionalization of the "enhanced hybrid approach" that would enable not just rapid proliferation of the approach through its implementation but would also create a market for new and adaptive technologies in a more collected than a fragmented manner. This study therefore has presents a new outlook toward urban water service delivery by redefining its very concept. The results therefore have strong implications to large-scale water and other infrastructure provision in growing urban regions. 1 World Health Organization (WHO)/UNICEF, (2012), "Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation 2012 Update."

2 McKenzie D. and I. Ray, (2009), "Urban Water supply in India: Status, Reform Options and Possible Lessons." Water Policy (11). 442-460 pp.

3 ———. 2011. Report of the Sub-Committee on Financing Urban Infrastructure in the 12th Plan. Ministry of Urban Development, High Level Committee on Financing Infrastructure.

4 Rittel, Horst W. J., and Melvin M. Webber. 1973. "Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning." Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company, Amsterdam 4: 155–69.

2011 IWRA - International Water Resources Association - - Admin