Informal Water systems

Informality in Urban Water Systems: Affordability, Energy-Water Nexus and Social Network Aspects in Beirut, Lebanon.

Short Project description

When communities face water shortages, they tend to resort to alternative, informal sources such as purchasing water tankers for freshwater needs, pumping water from private and or illegal wells, and purchasing bottled water. My Ph.D. research that I completed at the University of California Davis focuses on the causes and effects of using these informal sources taking a case study in Beirut (Lebanon). Applying a political ecology perspective with a mixed methods approach the research focuses on three core components of informality. 1) Assessing socio-economic impacts by measuring water affordability disparities of two urban communities of different socio-economic levels, by calculating replacement costs of informal water sources and coping behavioral differences. 2) Analyzing environmental impacts and sustainability through a comparative energy-water nexus and carbon footprint analysis of formal and informal sources. 3) Understanding the governance structure of informal water tanker businesses and identifying socio-cultural and environmental drivers behind their cooperation and competition through their social network analysis.

Extended project description

Many parts of the world with chronic and intermittent water shortages rely on informal water systems for all or part of their daily water uses, such as water deliveries from water tanker trucks, purchased bottled water, or water pumped from local wells. These alternative sources tend to burden water users with additional costs, require additional energy inputs, and are managed by informal stakeholders. Using a political ecology lens and a mixed methods approach, this research examines informal water services in Beirut (Lebanon), their socio-economic and environmental impacts, and aspects of their organization. The research analyzes affordability disparities between high- and low-income communities, considering the additional costs of informal water sources and residents’ different coping behaviors and capabilities. The research also assesses environmental impacts of informal water systems with a comparative energy-water nexus and carbon footprint analysis of formal (piped infrastructure) and informal water sources. The research also applies social network analysis to identify and characterize informal water tanker firms, and shows indirect socio-cultural and environmental driving forces influencing their organization, cooperation and competition. Finally, while recognizing the importance of informal services to achieve water security, the research addresses their social injustice outcomes through hybrid policy recommendations for hybrid systems that target formal piped infrastructure and informal sources to balance resilience with sustainability and attenuate the inequalities of those services.

Keywords, main expertise

Informality, water systems, water justice, affordability, energy-water nexus, social network analysis

UCLouvain researcher(s)

Yasmina Choueiri

Visiting Assistant Professor at LOCI and visiting researcher at the Urban Metabolism Lab.