Liquid dynamics: challenges for sustainability in water and sanitation

Liquid dynamics: challenges for sustainability in water and sanitation

Analysing past and current debates about water and sanitation

This STEPS paper reviews past and current debates in the water and sanitation domain and takes initial steps towards developing a framework that might better address the sustainability challenges posed by liquid dynamics. The paper outlines key strands in the current debate, emphasising the dominance of approaches based on global water assessments, technological fixes, and universalised notions of water
scarcity.

This paper states that despite growing global attention to water and sanitation, there often remains a major disconnect between globalised assessments and policy debates, and the needs and priorities of poor and marginalised people as they live with liquid dynamics. Such dynamics emerge from the complex, interconnected processes of social, technological and biophysical change that pervade water and sanitation systems.

The paper traces many important moves in the governance and appraisal of water and sanitation issues: moves that, for instance, recognise and value decentralised, local and community based approaches as part of multi-level governance processes; and moves away from narrow, closed appraisal procedures such as cost-benefit analysis to approaches that embrace a greater breadth of inputs and openness to different possible outcomes. Nevertheless, even those approaches that recognise complex social dynamics often fail to connect these effectively with the complexities of the biophysical world: with the dynamic hydrology and ecology of water and sanitation systems.

Furthermore, the paper argues strongly for reflexivity in analysis and governance, whereby those involved recognise more fully how their social and political positions shape the ways they understand water and sanitation systems, and how this in turn shapes their management interventions. Only though such reflexivity amongst the institutions that currently dominate water and sanitation debates, can space be opened up for attention to the alternative pathways to Sustainability that might better suit poor and marginalised water users.

In conclusion by drawing together a concern with material and biophysical dynamics, and with the ways that different people frame these, the STEPS Centre hopes to advance an agenda for understanding and action in the water and sanitation domain that will link poverty reduction and social justice with sustainability in today's accelerating liquid dynamics.

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