Access to drinking water in cities of the Global South: sociotechnical reconfigurations based on individualized constellations of service access - Alexandre Gaudry

 In 2017, 39% of the global population lacked access to a "safely managed" drinking water service (UNICEF and WHO 2019).

In so-called "Northern" countries, significant pipe networks developed to ensure universal access to drinking water (Barraqué 2014) through a centralized collective service. In most cities in the Global South, the provision of water services is evolving alongside the slow development of public services, often via the emergence of alternatives in the informal sector (Kjellén and McGrahanam 2006; Kooy and Bakker 2008; Jaglin 2012).

Various challenges can be identified, including high construction and maintenance costs, sustained population growth, lack of trust in network water, and the impacts of climate change. These challenges have prompted researchers to question the relevance of the model of a collective water service via a centralized pipe network in Southern cities, and this for several years (Maria 2007). Recently, donors (Misra and Kingdom 2019; Misra and Kingdom 2022), NGOs and/or companies (1001fontaines et al. 2022), researchers (Prayoga et al. 2021), or a combination of actors (Sachdeva et al. 2023) have taken up the issue and advocate for the complementarity of networked and offgrid models.

The challenge lies in the particular structure of Southern cities, characterized by fragmented and contested metabolic configurations (Schindler 2017), within which off-grid actors and devices can develop. In the Global South, we are not witnessing the fragmentation of an already existing centralized infrastructure (Moss 2022), but rather the normalization of ancient forms of access to services often already decentralized – services hitherto characterized by their unconventional, alternative, and informal nature (as identified in Frenoux's study (2016)).

This normalization marks a shift in the understanding of the water sector, challenging the key foundations of collective piped services: home access in quantity and quality, for all uses, with equalization effects. Can we imagine that some forms of individual-based services might supersede collective services (Pachego-Vega 2019) in certain urban contexts? Perhaps it is time to move away from the idea that the network defines the city (Caprotti et al. 2022), while hypothesizing that this axiological shift leads to sociotechnical reconfigurations: towards a new ideal of the developing city, characterized by individualized constellations of access to drinking water.


Key words: Drinking water, Cities, South, Off-grid, Socio-technical reconfigurations, Individualisation.

Additional Info

  • Contact:

    PhD student:  Gaudry Alexandre
    Phone : 06 50 23 41 56
    E-mail : This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


    Doctoral school: UT2J – Ecole Doctorale TESC (Temps, Espace et Société)
    Thesis Directors: Catherine Baron (LEREPS) and Marine Colon (UMR G-Eau)
    Supervisors: Catherine Baron, Marine Colon and Clément Frenoux (AFD)
    Start date: 11/10/2021
    Defense date: XX/XX/2024

  • Team(s) of Joint Research Unit concerned:


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