Academic journal article Journal of Sustainable Development

Can Collective Action Lead to Sustainable Outcomes in the Provision and Management of Domestic Water in Zimbabwean Urban Areas?

Academic journal article Journal of Sustainable Development

Can Collective Action Lead to Sustainable Outcomes in the Provision and Management of Domestic Water in Zimbabwean Urban Areas?

Article excerpt


This paper investigates prospects for collective action in the provision and management of domestic water in Zimbabwean urban areas in the light of the deteriorating water situation. It interrogates the view that a collective of individuals in a community can be an important resource (social capital) that, together with appropriate institutional design, be harnessed for the good of the community. The paper uses Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, as a case study to test this assumption. Empirical data was collected from two low income suburbs that represented an established suburb and a new suburb that was being developed by a co-operative. In both suburbs collective action has been and continues to be attempted with regards to domestic water provision. The study was undertaken between February and December 2011. Key informants, focus group discussions and participant observation were used to study the dynamics of collection action. There was more evidence of collection action in the newer than in the established suburb. However, the collection action was experiencing problems. The paper discusses the reasons behind this observation. The paper concludes that while collective action seemed desirable and was being attempted, its operationalisation proved to be a challenge, which underlines the need to identify the conditions under which this may work. Understanding the physical and social context of social capital, as well as defining the role of the state, is critical if the benefits of collective action, in the form of sustainable water service outcomes for the residents, are to be realized.

Keywords: collective action, social capital, institutional design, domestic water

1. Introduction

In many urban areas in developing countries the demand for clean and safe water is outstripping supply mainly because of rapid population increase (Banerjee et al., 2008), and the general failure of water supply and sewerage systems. Unfortunately the situation is projected to get worse. For example, it is estimated that by 2020 the urban population in Africa, Asia and Latin America will have increased from its 1980 total of 1 billion people to reach more than 3 billion people (Douglass, 1992). This explains why, of the over one billion people in the world who do not have access to safe drinking water, the majority are in developing countries (United Nations Development Programme [UNDP], 2006; UNDP, 2004). A case in point is sub-Saharan Africa where just over half (56%) of the population has access to safe water and less than half of the urban population (39%) is connected to piped water compared to 50% in the early 1990s (UNDP, 2006; WHO/UNICEF, 2006). In southern Africa the number of urban dwellers without access to safe drinking water is said to have doubled between 1990 and 2004 (WHO/UNICEF, 2006). As a consequence frequent outbreaks of water-related diseases have been reported, and have been compounded by the collapse of health delivery systems (Mason, 2009). Poorer households are mostly affected (Manzungu et al., in press). The fragile socio-political and environment of many African countries has made the continent very vulnerable to cholera outbreaks -over 90% of the cholera cases reported by the World Health Organisation (WHO) originate from the continent (Said et al., 2011).

In Zimbabwe inadequacies in water and sewerage reticulation has caused an increasing number of households to rely on unsafe water sources (Manzungu et al., in press). The consequences have been catastrophic as attested by the over 4 000 deaths that occurred in 2008-2009 due to the cholera outbreak, which was said to be the worst in Africa in the last 15 years (Mason, 2009). While the situation was contained, thanks to international assistance, the problem still persists as indicated by a typhoid outbreak in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital city in 2011/12. This has since spread to the rest of the country, and the government has admitted that it has no capacity to contain the outbreak (The Sunday Mail, 4-10 March 2012). …

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