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Scarce, costly and uncertain: water access in Kibera, Nairobi


  • Crow, Ben
  • Odaba, Edmond


This paper explores three stories in partial answer to the question: why is water scarce, costly and uncertain. First, it describes the ways that households and particularly the women who are the most frequent collectors of water experience scarcity through heavy expenditures of time and money, considerable investments in water storage and routinized sequences of deferred household tasks. Second, the paper describes some of the ‘public private partnerships’ for water supply which have grown up in this stateless location. A history of state antagonism to informal settlements like Kibera and the concomitant absence of property rights, institutions and market regulation have contributed to the growth of these partnerships, which academics call corruption and residents call cartels. Third, the paper describes three experiments in water and social engineering undertaken by sociologists in the Nairobi Water Company. These experiments constitute an attempt to invent municipal institutions and infrastructure in a city the size of San Francisco where mafia-like organizations remain strong.

Suggested Citation

  • Crow, Ben & Odaba, Edmond, 2009. "Scarce, costly and uncertain: water access in Kibera, Nairobi," Center for Global, International and Regional Studies, Working Paper Series qt8c10s316, Center for Global, International and Regional Studies, UC Santa Cruz.
  • Handle: RePEc:cdl:glinre:qt8c10s316

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Davis, Jennifer, 2004. "Corruption in Public Service Delivery: Experience from South Asia's Water and Sanitation Sector," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 32(1), pages 53-71, January.
    2. Matthew Gandy, 2008. "Landscapes of disaster: water, modernity, and urban fragmentation in Mumbai," Environment and Planning A, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 40(1), pages 108-130, January.
    3. Richard Franceys & Almud Weitz, 2003. "Public-private community partnerships in infrastructure for the poor," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 15(8), pages 1083-1098.
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