Making informality work: the role of collective actions in water supply dynamics in informal areas of Xochimilco, Mexico City

Authors: Bertha Hernandez Aguilar*, Universidad Nacional Autonoma De Mexico
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Sustainability Science, Urban Geography
Keywords: Collective agency, water scarcity, informal settlements, Mexico City
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual 27
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Global change can disproportionately impact marginalized and vulnerable populations in informal settlements. The increase of global water scarcity will make formal access to water through hard infrastructure sponsored by centralized government not only politically unlikely but physically unfeasible. In this scenario we will need alternatives of water provision in informal settlements that are reliable, sufficient, affordable, environmentally efficient, and fair. Using data from two communities of Xochimilco Municipality in Mexico City, we explore how water access works in these informal settlements, and what roles are played by governments, private actors, and the community. We found that collective agency is key to both organizing public water delivery through trucks and responding to critical water scarcity situations. In one of the community’s collective agency was hindered by “ghost leaders”, leading to people opting for individual action (i.e., buying water privately) instead of trying to organize and fight for efficient access to public water trucks (pipas). The other community showed stable leadership and strong collective agency, resulting in lower consumption of private water. While collective agency is partially recognized by formal actors and authorities, it is not promoted or supported. We discuss how by avoiding responsibility on public services provision, formal actors exploit water scarcity and collective agency to gain political control of informal settlements. We argue that a full normalization of informality could be beneficial as it would permit formal support of informal collective agency, leading to more efficient access to water in communities trapped into informal regimes of water distribution.

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