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Other research product . 2020

Reports of missing persons in innovation and infrastructure to achieve water and sanitation for all

Hyun, Christopher Yoonchul;
Open Access
Published: 01 Jan 2020
Publisher: eScholarship, University of California
Country: United States

We live in a world where 844 million people lack basic drinking water services, and more than four billion people lack access to safely managed sanitation. Somehow, these people go missing in the process of water and sanitation provision. Reaching these billions requires not only technological innovation but also socio-political ingenuity. This dissertation provides theoretical and on-the-ground insight into key social and political components of technological interventions, or what I call the “invisible infrastructure” of tech-led transformations. I focus on infrastructure in low-income regions and explore how social systems relate to technological systems, particularly in terms of street-level bureaucracy, interdisciplinary research, and pro-poor policy implementation. I employ mixed-methods research approaches, producing social science and spatial datasets as well as rich ethnographic observations and archival work. I conduct analyses through both quantitative and qualitative coding, drawing from and contributing to the scholarship of development studies and practice, city and regional planning, and development engineering—all with the practical hope of one day achieving water and sanitation for all.In the Introduction of this dissertation, I propose an invisible infrastructure framework for tech-led transformations in order to help render missing people and social dynamics more visible. I describe how invisible infrastructure is the conceptual arc of my whole endeavor in research to unlock water and sanitation solutions. Each of the following chapters of my dissertation uncovers various aspects of invisible infrastructure (summaries below). The chapters are quite distinct from one another in that they: focus on various regional contexts, draw from various theories and disciplines, and use different data sources and analytical approaches. However, the common goal is the provision of water and sanitation services with an overarching message that certain stakeholders—in particular from marginalized groups—and social dynamics have been rendered invisible. Hence, I consider the chapters as reports of missing persons in innovation and infrastructure to achieve water and sanitation for all. Chapter 1: Significant development funding flows to informational interventions intended to improve public services. Such “transparency fixes” often depend upon the cooperation of frontline workers who produce and disseminate information for citizens. We study frontline worker compliance with a transparency intervention in Bangalore’s water sector, providing one of the first multi-method companions to a field experiment. We examine why workers exhibited modest overall rates of compliance and why compliance varied across neighborhoods. Drawing on ethnographic observation and an original dataset, we find that it is essential to understand how workers prioritize new responsibilities relative to longstanding ones. Perceptions of “core” jobs can be sticky—especially when reaffirmed through interactions with citizens. When family responsibilities take time away from their positions, new tasks are even more neglected. While the street-level bureaucracy and principal agent literatures suggest attributes such as race and education influence compliance, we highlight the importance of financial and familial circumstances. Chapter 2: Sanitation research focuses primarily on containing human waste and preventing disease; thus, it has traditionally been dominated by the fields of environmental engineering and public health. Over the past 20 years, however, the field has grown broader in scope and deeper in complexity, spanning diverse disciplinary perspectives. In this chapter, we review the current literature in the range of disciplines engaged with sanitation research in low- and middle-income countries. We find that perspectives on what sanitation is, and what sanitation policy should prioritize, vary widely. We show how these diverse perspectives augment the conventional sanitation service chain, a framework describing the flow of waste from capture to disposal. We review how these perspectives can inform progress toward equitable sanitation for all (i.e. Sustainable Development Goal 6). Our key message is that both material and nonmaterial flows—and both technological and social functions—make up a sanitation “system.” The components of the sanitation service chain are embedded within the flows of finance, decision making, and labor that make material flows of waste possible. The functions of capture, storage, transport, treatment, reuse, and disposal are interlinked with those of ensuring equity and affordability. We find that a multilayered understanding of sanitation, with contributions from multiple disciplines, is necessary to facilitate inclusive and robust research toward the goal of sanitation for all.Chapter 3: The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed underlying inequities and inadequacies of infrastructure that require immediate attention. It has underscored the needs of marginalized groups, particularly those who depend on public spaces for their livelihood and on public infrastructure for access to water and sanitation. Throughout Indian history, prominent figures have made the case for accessible and well-maintained sanitation facilities in public spaces such as marketplaces, railways, and low-income areas, but this call has gone largely unheeded. As a result, during the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of migrant workers and their families crowded buses, trains, stations, and streets—or were locked down in low-income areas—with no access to clean sanitation facilities. In this chapter, I trace how distress related to epidemics has been linked to advocacy for public sanitation across India’s history. I show how disease and war constrained but also inspired past advocates to see their visions fulfilled. Informed by these lessons from the past, I recommend concrete actions for Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban in order to improve its effectiveness for the poor by focusing on public sanitation. I argue that we learn from history that pandemics are precisely when we should prioritize sanitation, especially in public spaces and particularly for the poor.


Sustainability, Public policy, Urban planning, India, infrastructure, innovation, planning, sanitation, water

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