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25 Years

Pilot Projects

The International WaTERS network began with three pilot project research sites. These place-based analyses considered the pattern and structures of (in)access, histories of changing water conditions and governance practices, as well as contemporary governance processes that shape water quality and quantity challenges (including trade offs for different water uses between urban-rural contexts), across multiple scales (e.g., household, or regional). Learning across the sites allowed us to draw broader insights and lessons so urgently needed to chart more equitable and resilient water futures. International WaTERS also conducted extensive training, outreach, and knowledge mobilization within these case study sites. Training is now also offered to Network students and partner institutions through a certificate as well as through regional training and knowledge mobilization efforts. Our pilot sites included Lima (Peru), Bangalore (India) and Cape Town (South Africa).

Bangalore, India


In an effort to transform Bangalore into a globally competitive city with so-called world-class amenities, city boundaries have expanded outwardly three fold in the past decade and the city’s population has more than doubled, to become the third largest city in India. The master plan has assigned surrounding fertile farmlands and rural economies as future sites of urban real estate; this conversion process has led to extremely high water consumption rates. In East Bangalore, the IT corridor zone, water tables have dropped precipitously; in South Bangalore, flood plains and natural lakes have been converted into gated residential estates with high-consuming amenities such as golf courses, pools, fountains, and English lawns. In the Northern industrial zone, because of geomorphological configurations, there is little available ground water, and urban construction is contingent on pumping water from interior farming communities, which is prohibitively expensive for non-elite housing projects. Rapid urbanization, therefore, is based on the premise that water can be trucked in from rural Karnataka. Because of these water limits and shortages, the cost of these urbanization projects are being driven up, and it is one reason that city-wide affordable housing construction and drinking water plans are becoming less feasible and less likely to be implemented successfully.

With Bangalore located on a plateau 3,000 feet above sea level, and many of its 200-plus lakes and reservoirs now dry as they have been converted into housing sites, the largest bill for the city is the energy cost of pumping the water uphill. Water costs (for the government) are three times the cost of water in Delhi; groundwater is being exploited at more than 150 percent, and hence are not recharging. In many areas, water tables have dropped down to 800-1,200 feet, and much of that water is undrinkable. The Public Health Science Institute recently released a report that claims 60 percent of Bangalore’s water supply is contaminated, with 20 percent contaminated with e coli. Most residents only receive public water for a few hours every third day, and there is a major, exploitative business in water tankers providing water from the countryside, which has its negative effects on water access for villagers.

With the city government continuing to approve urban land projects without considering the intensifying water crisis, community groups led by activist-scientists are trying to mount a campaign to have a strong regulatory policy in place that not only reduces high consumption, but also distributes the limited supplies much more equitably. The city is home to a number of grassroots campaigns on water, some of which make the connection to the problem of rural-to-urban land conversion. Our objective would be to work closely with these science-based groups on both their fact-finding and public- educational dimensions. Even while numerous world-class residential complexes are being built on the once-rural periphery, there have been no studies that measure and predict their water consumption demands, and how they broker access to scarce and remote water supplies. Better understanding of how corporate entities circumvent public supplies and regulations would help us all understand the depth of the water crisis, the major sources of the problem, and the possible solutions.

Cape Town, South Africa


Cape Town is the second-most populous city in South Africa with 3.74 million inhabitants. The Cape Town metropolitan area, much like other Global South cities, is experiencing significant population growth, particularly informal settlements and impoverished settlements on the outskirts of the city (Chitonge, 2014). Persistent social and spatial inequalities are rooted in historical and contemporary political/development processes—notably histories of apartheid. In recent decades, the city has had some success with addressing the water needs of its citizens—official statistics suggest that virtually all residents currently have access to water (Yeld, 2010). However, under current population estimates and present day climatic conditions, the city’s water is almost entirely allocated, accenting uncertainty related to future water conditions.

Three major stresses for Cape Town’s water loom. First, there is expected to be increasing demand for additional water and infrastructure resources. Second, climate change is projected to increase temperatures, affect local hydrology, and impact the area’s water supplies (Bernstein et al., 2007; Patt, 2009). Presently, ninety-eight percent of Cape Town’s water comes from surface sources, making the current supply network particularly susceptible to negative impacts of climate change. The third ongoing stress relates to equity of access—there have been rising protests movements in recent years, with consistent focus on water and sanitation. Governance changes to better address equity likely include physical infrastructure investment in Township and impoverished settlements as well as progress on more participatory and democratic decision making related to water governance. Like other regions, Cape Town must also address future uncertainties, including balancing conflicting uses within the water-food-energy nexus. Notably, urban use remains the primary water use in the region, yet, agricultural uses and needs are paramount in the nearby upper and Lower Berg (Ziervogel & Smit, 2009)— highlighting the possibility for increasing tensions with agricultural and commercial interests, particularly if water supplies are less available (Battersby-Lennard et al., 2012). Similarly, water’s role in energy production has not been fully considered –highlighting the need for integrated planning across sectors (Prasad, Stone, Hughes, & Stewart, 2012).

On one hand, Cape Town can be seen as a success story. Cape Town has implemented diverse, but not fully integrated, policies to provide citizens with water and mediate future water vulnerability. These steps include the Free Basic Water Policy (in relation to the constitutionally protected human right to water) and tariff block pricing which in theory aims to make this utility more affordable to consumers while minimizing excessive consumption –though arguably this policy at times has very negative effects for the most impoverished residents (Mukheibir & Sparks, 2005). However, service delivery – including drinking water, sanitation, stormwater drainage – has been highly unequal and the legacies of structural differentiation linked to apartheid persist (Miraftab, 2012). For example, studies show that informal backyard residents have low water and sanitation access and high levels related illness (Govender, Barnes, & Pieper, 2011). Statistics such as this highlight concerns over how Cape Town defines access to water for all citizens. Apart from statistics, focusing on citizens’ lived experiences of water also highlights the political and social importance of unequal and differentiated access (McDonald, 2012, EDGES @ UBC, 2015). Residents in suburban areas of the city experience “world-class” water service, while those in underserved and informal settlements have intermittent and qualified (McDonald, 2012). A key current challenge relates to the needs to expand access and affordable quality services to all citizens.

L. Rodina and S. McKenzie from EDGES at the University of British Columbia contributed to this write up.


Battersby-Lennard, J., Joubert, L., Royden, S., Katzschner, T., Johnston, P., & Rivett, U. (2012). TEDxCapeTownSalon Food| Water| Cities conversation 29 March 2012 Chemical Engineering Seminar Room, University of Cape Town, South Africa. Chemical Engineering.

Bernstein, L., Bosch, P., Canziani, O., Chen, Z., Christ, R., Davidson, O., ... others. (2007). Climate
change 2007: Synthesis report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. IPCC: Geneva, Switzerland.

Chitonge, H. (2014). Cities Beyond Networks: The Status of Water Services for the Urban Poor in African Cities. African Studies, 73(1), 58–83.

EDGES @ UBC. 2015. www.edges.ubc.ca

Govender, T., Barnes, J. M., & Pieper, C. H. (2011). Contribution of Water Pollution From Inadequate Sanitation and Housing Quality to Diarrheal Disease in Low-Cost Housing Settlements of Cape Town, South Africa. American Journal of Public Health, 101(7), e4–e9. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2010.300107

McDonald, D. A. (2012). World City Syndrome: Neoliberalism and Inequality in Cape Town. Routledge.

Miraftab, F. (2012). Colonial present: legacies of the past in contemporary urban practices in Cape Town, South Africa. Journal of Planning History, 1538513212447924.

Mukheibir, P., & Sparks, D. (2005). Climate variability, climate change and water resource strategies for small municipalities. Water Research Commission.

Patt, A. G. (2009). Assessing vulnerability to global environmental change: making research useful for adaptation, decision making and policy. Earthscan.

Prasad, G., Stone, A., Hughes, A., & Stewart, T. (2012). Towards the development of an energy-water-food security nexus based modeling framework as a policy and planning tool for South Africa. In Strategies to Overcome Poverty and Inequality Conference. University of Cape Town.

Yeld, J. (2010, November 24). Cape is SA’s best performer by far. Retrieved January 15, 2015.

Ziervogel, G., & Smit, W. (2009). Learning to swim: Strengthening flooding governance in the City of Cape Town. In Working Paper presented at 2009 Amsterdam conference on the human dimensions of global environmental change “Earth System Governance: People, Places and the Planet”, Amsterdam.


Lima, Peru


Lima, the capital city of Peru, is one of the most populous cities in Latin America and the world's second largest city located in a desert. With almost nine million inhabitants, Lima is home to almost one third of all Peruvians. In the last decades, its exponential population growth and territorial expansion due to rural-urban migration waves has dramatically changed the face of the city and its social dynamics (the vast majority of residents are first or second generation migrants). Economic and politically displaced immigrants have driven a unregulated spontaneous urbanization process characterized by illegal land appropriation, producing hundreds of shantytowns lacking basic services and a high degrees of social and environmental vulnerability. Although many shantytown dwellers have significantly improved their living conditions in the context of recent economic growth, Lima remains a highly unequal city with considerable variation between wealthy, middle class and relatively impoverished neighborhoods.

Lima faces two major problems regarding its water system: water scarcity and service inequalities in terms of water coverage and quality. Lima ́s water supply comes from the Chillón, Rímac and Lurín rivers. Since the volume of water naturally provided by these rivers is insufficient for current needs, infrastructure projects have been designed to augment water supplies. For example, a series of dams have been built in the highlands in order to guarantee a continuous water supply for the city during the dry season.

The drinking water in the metropolitan area of Lima is managed by Sedapal, the state owned company that supplies potable water and sewerage services in Peru. Although public, this company provides limited and unequal water services. While wealthy and middle class districts generally enjoy 24-hour service, poor neighborhoods suffer serious water shortages of hours and even days. In the most marginal zones –mainly of the eastern parts of the city- there are approximately 325,000 people that do not have water connection, forcing them to buy water from tank-trucks. This results in significant disparities in water costs—anywhere between $ 0.50 to $ 4 per cubic meter, depending on the source.

Sedapal argues that with current water capacity it is not possible to expand coverage and ensure water service continuity and quality. Further, there are insufficient public funds to allow the building needed infrastructure to improve the service conditions, in particular for the eastern and northern districts where water needs to be pumped due to the geographical conditions of the city’s expansion.

What follows from the above description also is that the water problems of Lima are not just “urban.” The megacity extracts water from three watersheds -- Chillón, Lurín and Rímac --, and transfers water from other basins, too. This exacerbates conflicts between urban and industrial uses, and rural livelihood communities—including those already confronted with water encroachment practices by dominant mining, agribusiness and hydropower companies. Further to this, current neoliberal policies favor large-scale monoculture export in Lima’s surrounding provinces, which traditionally were important (peasant-based) food suppliers to the megacity. The results are far-reaching virtual water exports and transnational water grabbing in combination with rapidly declining water tables in Lima’s desert environment, and the disappearance of medium and smallholders unable to compete with agribusiness.

In an attempt to deal with these challenges, the authorities have installed urban/rural climate change adaptation and mitigation plans and IWRM programs. However, and consistent with the region’s history, rather than addressing the problems of smallholder and indigenous communities in Lima’s surrounding watersheds or targeting unequal water distribution in the exclusionary city, these policies above all focus on lessening Lima’s overall water needs.


Lima, Peru Cape Town, South Africa Bangalore, India

  Water-related challenges

  • Limited water supply due to environmental constraints.
  • High levels of social inequality.
  • Growing water requirements.
  • Limited water supply with predicted increased variability.
  • High levels of social inequality.
  • Controversial use of meters and related instruments for demand management
  • Growing city population and urban boundaries.
  • Growing water requirements and declining water tables.
  • Increasing water prices linked to affordable housing challenges and rural water diversions.

  Research activities

  • Research on institutional dimensions of planning for resilience in face of climate change, as well as equity focused research
  • Biophysical and social science work to elaborate urban-rural linkages re mining, pollution and supply, competing uses, etc..
  • Research on institutional dimensions of planning for resilience in face of climate change, as well as equity focused research in townships
  • Biophysical and social science work to elaborate urban-rural linkages e.g. migration, water supply, competing uses, etc...
  • Research on institutional dimensions of planning for resilience in face of climate change, and equity focused research on access and water related conflicts
  • Biophysical and social science work to elaborate urban-rural linkages re. agriculture, migration, quality challenges, etc...

  Training, Knowledge   Mobilization, and Outreach

  • Justicia Hidrica
  • 2-week training session on the theme: Water Justice in Latin America
  • Justicia Hidrica
  • Outreach workshop.
  • Justicia Hidrica ‘Virtual Tours’ of waterscapes for policy makers
  • Justicia Hidrica, training and outreach events at Water Justice meetings (Y2)
  • University of Western Cape, 1-week training session on the theme: Participatory Research Methods: focus on social dimensions of water
  • NEPAD and WATERNET Outreach workshop.
  • University of British Columbia, policy workshop using Participatory video on issues of equity in vulnerable areas of Cape Town.
  • SaciWaters and SOPPECOM and Forum 1- week training session on the theme: Peri-urban water issues in South Asia.
  • SaciWaters and SOPPECOM Outreach workshop on the theme:
  • Climate Change resilience in peri-urban areas
  • Collaborative visioning exercise on fostering hydrologic resilience with NGOs and policy makers throughout South Asia.