STEPS Centre - return to home

Water & Sanitation

Water and Sanitation domain convenor: Lyla Mehta

The STEPS Water and Sanitation Domain aims to examine the politics and pathways of mainstream water and sanitation policy and practice; to develop alternative approaches to sustainable, socially just and equitable water and sanitation practices able to embrace complex local dynamics, and to promote decision-making processes and institutional arrangements that embrace diversity and meet the priorities of poorer disenfranchised groups.

Globally, billions lack access to safe water and sanitation. Despite widespread recognition that the situation is unacceptable, the tragedy of this failure persists. Increasingly, the development world is realising that a long series of pronouncements, declarations of principles and global conferences are as much a part of the problem as the solution: they aid in the persistence of myths, prop up half-truths and let politicians off the hook.

For over five years, researchers at the STEPS Centre have been asking why progress has not been swifter or more effective. Part of the answer is that the interplay betweenthe social, technological and ecological dimensions of water and sanitation – what we call “Liquid Dynamics” – is not sufficiently recognised.

A briefing outlining the first five years of STEPS work in this domain is available below. Over the next two years, to 2013, we are concentrating on two themes:

1) Waste and environmental health in rapidly changing urban spaces
We are engaging in activities which seek to break down the silos around water and sanitation, waste and supply, health and development and also address new challenges arising due to rapid urbanisation, climate change and new governance arrangements. We also want to look at how to bring together environmental and social justice concerns in issues concerning environmental health.

2) Water security
Water security as a concept has been around for at least three decades, but in the last 10 years has risen to particular prominence, spurred by both water ‘crisis’ narratives and physical changes linked to global social and economic processes. We are exploring the new market arrangements and politics emerging, and to bring to the burgeoning water security debates some sense of position, scale and local-level perspective, interrogating implications for social justice.

Key resources

World Water Day 2013media, articles, publications and more from the STEPS water team

Water grabbing? Focus on the (re)appropriation of finite water resources

A special issue of the open-access journal Water Alternatives, guest edited by Lyla Mehta, STEPS water domain convenor, with Gert Jan Veldwisch and Jennifer Franco.

Briefing: Liquid Dynamics

This briefing covers the first five years of the STEPS Centre’s water domain and shows how the concept of “Liquid Dynamics” has been applied to our research.

IDS Bulletin: Some For All? Politics and Pathways in Water and Sanitation

This IDS Bulletin looks back at the legacy of the UN’s New Delhi 1990 global consultation and the Dublin Conference that followed, assessing their meaning and significance, and challenging the wider global water and sanitation community to rethink approaches and emphases, shifting from targets and pronouncement to sustainability and local knowledge, in the context of 2015, the 6th World Water Forum and Rio+20 in 2012. See all resources from STEPS for World Water Day 2012

Film: Water and Justice: Peri-urban pathways in Delhi

This STEPS Centre film shows the ingenuity and determination of three people – a grandmother, a farmer and an activist – who have taken action to access better water in peri-urban Delhi. More about our films