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Community based water management institutions for delivering water and health

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Until recently community based water institutions have been justified mainly on financial grounds and as mechanisms for delivering services in a context where state institutions have been withdrawing from this space due to neoliberal policy changes. The new emerging reality of UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 ‘Clean Water and Sanitation’ in many countries in the Global South is bringing out the stark reality of social and health consequences of the failure to deliver water and sanitation services. It appears that Indonesia and Sri Lanka achieved much success in this regard while the scale of the challenge remains mega-complex in India. Despite there being ‘technology missions’ and the spending of hundreds of millions of pounds and the millions of toilets built under programmes such as ‘Total sanitation’ and now ‘Swachh Bharat’, lack of access to water and sanitation remain ‘wicked’ problems.

While previous approaches focused mainly on engineering solutions, at present the pendulum has swung to the opposite end of the spectrum where it is seen mainly as a social and economic problem and the technology dimension is predominantly subsumed. While health dimensions are picked up mainly as public health or curative issues, the opportunity to connect SDG6 with preventative public health in significantly reducing environmental burden of health is not fully utilised. Whether institutional gaps are a part of this challenge is under-researched.

Through secondary research focused on India, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia and subsequent primary research two of these three countries using mixed methods, this project has the following objectives:
1. to identify the scale of the challenges in terms of the extent to which community based water management institutions can scale up to also function as community based public health institutions;
2. what forms of community based institutions work successfully and in a resilient manner;
3. what is the role of technology, finance, technical capacity and the external actors in determining the success of community based institutions; and
4. what are the implications for public, private and community partnering or collaboration in the delivery of multiple and plural SDG relevant public health services.

In each case study country, the project will focus on one large city and its surrounding region to identify a variety of water user associations in metropolitan, peri-urban and rural locations. The theoretical lenses include the social and ecological systems models developed by Elinor Ostrom (1991) and subsequent work by many scholars.


Ostrom E (1991) Governing the commons, Cambridge University Press.

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