2013 Winner: What is Water Equity?

Project Information
What is Water Equity?
Social Sciences
In recent years, ‘equity’ has become a buzz-word which scholars and development agencies have latched on to and promoted as a goal of domestic water governance. Yet major policy guidelines still seem to understand it as little more than the ‘Human Right to Water’: a minimum quantity of potable water per capita per day. Some guidelines include collection time and distance. In this paper I argue that despite increasingly complex understandings of water equity, major development organizations like the World Health Organization maintain the fundamental view that equity or inequity is a direct outcome of quantity of water accessible. I argue that defining equity in a formulaic, quantity-based manner may be pragmatic for engineering projects and global policy arguments, but in the long run this formulation is simplistic and fails to account for the different contexts in which water is used, and for the hybrid nature of water arising from the coproduction of society and nature. A freedoms and capabilities approach (Sen 1999) provides insight into how local understandings might better define water equity and the democratization of water governance.
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  • Matthew Goff (Kresge)