Urban Water Provisioning Systems and Household Water Security Grant uri icon


  • Water security remains a major challenge for rapidly growing urban areas of the developing world and impoverished areas in developed countries where unregulated and informal domestic water provisioning practices persist despite increases in household access to piped water. Urban water provision is an assemblage of water vendors, networked pipes, plastic jugs, standpipes, water meters, rainwater and greywater collection tanks, and water trucks that convey and manage domestic water provision to help households cope and meet needs of everyday life. This project examines how and why urban households obtain water through these hybrid infrastructure systems and tests their efficacy in terms of household water security, defined as reliable, adequate and affordable water for a healthy life, using a scaled metric developed by the investigator. The project will be conducted in metropolitan Fortaleza, Brazil, where domestic water provision reflects typical configurations of water provision in the developing world. Research outcomes will provide meaningful insights as to the benefits and limitations of hybrid water-provisioning systems and inform development interventions, technological innovations for water provision, and infrastructure investments. Investigators will create a publicly available online portal to disseminate project information and photos, research findings, and a computational tool to standardize the household water security metric for cross-regional comparisons, allowing researchers to examine impacts of household water insecurity on diverse areas such as public health and water infrastructure planning. The project will also deepen research networks between Brazilian and US researchers, broaden participation of underrepresented groups in science through its research design, and contribute to the development of a globally competitive STEM workforce by training one computer science undergraduate and one geography graduate student.The emergence of regulated and unregulated water provisioning systems begs the question of its efficacy for human development and water security: Do hybrid urban water systems increase or decrease household water security? What particular configuration of formal and informal technologies and practices enhances or reduces household water security? How do different hybrid water-provisioning systems compare in terms of household water security? The major social scientific contribution of this project is to answer these questions by employing a mix of qualitative (observation; open-ended and semi-structured interviews), participatory (photovoice), and quantitative (survey) methods. The investigator will describe and develop a typology of water provision, assess how households interact with the existing systems, and measure household-level water security in selected urban communities. The household water security metric calculated from the survey data can be used to statistically test and model the relationship of water insecurity to several factors, including water-provisioning type, income, education, and health. This project will provide new empirical data to engage larger theoretical debates on the benefits of coexistence, the efficacy of centralized, piped water networks as the modern ideal of water provision, and urban water governance, more broadly.

date/time interval

  • 2016 - 2020