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Can Informal Water Vendors Deliver on the Promise of A Human Right to Water? Results From Cochabamba, Bolivia


  • Wutich, Amber
  • Beresford, Melissa
  • Carvajal, Cinthia


We examine the role of informal water vendors in the urban poor’s efforts to secure safe and affordable water in the squatter settlements of Cochabamba, Bolivia. Using an economic justice framework, we evaluate (1) how informal water markets operate, (2) differences in client and vendor perceptions of distributive, procedural, and interactional (in)justice, and (3) how cooperation among water vendors impedes or assists in achieving justice in water delivery. The research includes a comparative institutional analysis of three key data sets: long-term participant-observation in water-scarce squatter settlements; interviews with 12 water vendors; and interviews with 41 clients from 23 squatter settlements. We find that informal water vendors organize themselves to safeguard distributive justice (e.g., fair pricing, good water quality), but clients are distressed by procedural and interactional injustices (e.g., unreliable and inequitable service). Our research also shows that unionized vendors are more effective than non-unionized vendors in creating and enforcing rules that advance distributive, procedural, and interactional justice. We make concrete recommendations for improving justice in informal water markets, including a larger role for unions and community consultation. We conclude that, despite challenges, the informal economy may play an important role in advancing the human right to water.

Suggested Citation

  • Wutich, Amber & Beresford, Melissa & Carvajal, Cinthia, 2016. "Can Informal Water Vendors Deliver on the Promise of A Human Right to Water? Results From Cochabamba, Bolivia," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 79(C), pages 14-24.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:wdevel:v:79:y:2016:i:c:p:14-24
    DOI: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2015.10.043

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Dobson, Stephen & Ramlogan-Dobson, Carlyn, 2012. "Why is Corruption Less Harmful to Income Inequality in Latin America?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 40(8), pages 1534-1545.
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    3. Hailu, Degol & Osorio, Rafael Guerreiro & Tsukada, Raquel, 2012. "Privatization and Renationalization: What Went Wrong in Bolivia’s Water Sector?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 40(12), pages 2564-2577.
    4. Gerlach, Esther & Franceys, Richard, 2010. "Regulating Water Services for All in Developing Economies," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 38(9), pages 1229-1240, September.
    5. Fox, Sean, 2014. "The Political Economy of Slums: Theory and Evidence from Sub-Saharan Africa," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 54(C), pages 191-203.
    6. Cohen-Charash, Yochi & Spector, Paul E., 2001. "The Role of Justice in Organizations: A Meta-Analysis," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 86(2), pages 278-321, November.
    7. Berg, Sanford V & Mugisha, Silver, 2010. "Pro-poor water service strategies in developing countries: promoting justice in Uganda’s urban project," MPRA Paper 32888, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    8. Crane, Randall, 1994. "Water markets, market reform and the urban poor: Results from Jakarta, Indonesia," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 22(1), pages 71-83, January.
    9. Hennie Boeije, 2002. "A Purposeful Approach to the Constant Comparative Method in the Analysis of Qualitative Interviews," Quality & Quantity: International Journal of Methodology, Springer, vol. 36(4), pages 391-409, November.
    10. Travis Driessen, 2008. "Collective Management Strategies and Elite Resistance in Cochabamba, Bolivia," Development, Palgrave Macmillan;Society for International Deveopment, vol. 51(1), pages 89-95, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Meran, Georg & Siehlow, Markus & von Hirschhausen, Christian, 2018. "Pipes, Taps and Vendors: Managing and Regulating the Unconnected Water Market," Annual Conference 2018 (Freiburg, Breisgau): Digital Economy 181584, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    2. repec:eee:wdevel:v:110:y:2018:i:c:p:75-87 is not listed on IDEAS


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