Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

"It Really Was a Shock to the System"- a Socio-Technical Study of the Effects of the Christchurch Earthquakes on Water Conservation Habits

Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

"It Really Was a Shock to the System"- a Socio-Technical Study of the Effects of the Christchurch Earthquakes on Water Conservation Habits

Article excerpt

Abstract

Christchurch suffered a series of earthquakes from 2010 to 2012 that took lives and caused significant infrastructural damage to fresh and waste water systems, buildings and roads. Given that historical transition studies reveal that crises can be a catalyst for significant change (Keath & Brown, 2009: 1271), this was an ideal moment for authorities and residents to put into effect water conservation strategies at the centre of recently implemented inclusive water governance and management policies (Ministry for the Environment, 2011).

Approached through a socio-technical analytical framework, we theorise that the earthquakes brought together two existing water-orientated disaster response assemblages. When faced with a broken water system, Christchurch residents had to rethink, renegotiate and recalibrate their relationship with water and its associated objects, structures and processes. Two disaster related assemblages had been waiting in the wings. These were the participatory water governance assemblage constituted in the planned response to the "slow disaster" of Canterbury's prevalent water problems and the "fast disaster" recovery assemblage planned and evoked in response to the earthquakes' disruption and damage to existing water infrastructure and practices. Opportunities to oust the existing unsustainable water assemblage began to materialise as residents broke with old habits and developed new, conservation and sustainability orientated ones for the new normal. However there was a failure to fully mobilise these emergency water conservation practices into durable habits constitutive of a new sustainably orientated assemblage of water relations. Inconsistencies could not be resolved, hybridity could not be rendered absent and it was impossible for these emerging possibilities to crystallise into a new immutably mobile socio-technical network. The upsurge in Christchurch's water consumption demonstrates a missed opportunity to effectively generate a new, hybrid actor network of sustainable water relations. Christchurch's water use is now higher than pre-quake levels.

Introduction

Water has agency. Wherever it flows, water connects as it sustains diverse forms of life and livelihoods. Yet its capacities are increasingly organised and managed through a lens of impending disaster. Humans are so depleting the earth's freshwater it has been estimated that the global majority may face water shortages within two generations (Harvey, 2013). While such a shortage has yet to be categorically established, the perceived risks of waiting until the water shortage cannot be refuted, has led to a shift in global water policy rhetoric. The expected slow disaster of global water poverty is beginning to recompose new networks of water relations that build on a deeper appreciation of the non-human and material dimensions of social life. Ecologically sustainable water relations are becoming a globally accepted solution for current water woes and a goal for numerous international, national and local water treaties, agreements and initiatives in developed and developing nations alike (International Water Association, 2014; United Nations, 2012, 2014; Varaday, Meehan, & McGovern,2009). Progress is being encouraged and charted along a spectrum of improvements that range from increased access to clean drinking water to water sensitive cities (McCallum, Hodge, Freiberg, & O'Connor, 2014, 1). There are some examples of effective transitions to improved water service systems such as in Phnom Penh and Singapore. These are the shining exception rather than the rule for cities of the developing and developed world (Hering, Waite, Luthy, Drewes, & Sedlak, 2013; Rouse, 2013; Tortajada, Joshi, & Biswas, 2013). These global policy and legislative moves are attempts at representing a conservation-orientated network of people, machines, ideas, concerns, aspirations and project management tools. By representing new associations between actants, they are attempts to mobilise water relations that try to perform a version of sustainability. …

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