Thursday, 5 November 2009

Water Governance in a Falling Metropolis

One of the non-development, but still nerdy, blogs I follow is Ecoconomics, which discusses economic issues within the context of all our favourite comic book heroes and villains.  As someone who has not been trained in economics, following this blog is a fun way to learn about basic econ theory.

Last week I read a post about water in Metropolis, the home of superman.  To sum up the water and sanitation system in Metropolis is destroyed and its citizens are extremely dehydrated, lack adequate sewerage, and are paying ridiculous amounts of money for water sold to them by 'thugs'.  The entry poster, ShadowBanker, thinks that the comic exaggerates the level of suffering because there would be decent humanitarian response from the government and the private sector, thus ensuring the security of the citizens of Metropolis.

I can see what ShadowBanker is theory a city with resources that Metropolis has should deal relatively well with disasters.  However if we can compare this to a real life example such as New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we can see that the depiction of post-attack Metropolis in the comics might actually be more accurate than what ShadowBanker imagines.  Granted New Orleans is not one of the richest cities in the world, but the US government is wealthy and did not do enough for the people of New Orleans with respect to water and sanitation.  This brings me back to the role of the government in service provision.  Governments (in the global north and south) are key in providing basic infrastructure for everyday use, but also in responding to natural or evil-villain-made disasters.  Also when looking at New Orleans we can see how politics and social issues impacted humanitarian response, but the ShadowBanker's analysis of what happened in Metropolis is presented in an apolitical or asocietal manner.  In the DC Universe, cities, states, and governments may act apolitically or altruistically, but water governance in the north and south cannot be seen as separated from its political, historical, cultural context.

Another interesting issue brought up in the post is that of informal providers.  ShadowBanker talks about 'thugs' supplying water to the city's people for high prices, but small vendors are a very important part of water supply systems.  The Asian Development Bank found that in some parts of Manila up to 50% of people rely on informal vendors for water, which means these vendors are filling a massive gap in service provision.  Water is often sold at higher prices, and this is a big problem when trying to service the poor, but in some places there may not be another option.  Instead of demonising these vendors, perhaps it would be better to discuss the issue of regulation.

Despite my qualms with this Ecocomics post, it raises some good issues with regards to water governance.

Until next time superfans...

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