An Urban Experiment: Moving the Urban Poor to Formal Water Supply in Khulna, Bangladesh

Talk by Sonia Ahmad (City and Regional Planning, Cornell University)

By drawing on ethnographic research conducted with NGOs, utilities, and the urban-poor residents in informal settlements, this talk contributes to the study of water governance and informality by exploring how utilities are experimenting with different strategies to extend water supply to informal settlements in Khulna, Bangladesh. Using a Gramscian framework of Integral State, it will first describe how utilities and NGOs are implementing innovative community-based approaches and water pricing strategies to enroll the poor into the formal water supply program. The talk will then analyze how Khulna’s utility is using these strategies to simultaneously expand the water markets but to also divide the urban poor so they cannot coalesce or contest their water access. It concludes by arguing that divisive strategies generally fail to extend formal water supply in informal settlements, and in the context of climate change, utilities will benefit if more inclusive planning strategies are used to enhance the voices of the urban poor which would allow them to negotiate better terms of engagement.

Dr. Sonia Ahmad recently finished her Ph.D. from the City and Regional Planning department at Cornell University. Her research spans the areas of international development, water, urbanization, and climate justice. She is motivated to understand how diverse change agents from the state and society can be mobilized to shift current ecologically harmful development pathways to one oriented toward climate justice. Her research also draws on her training as an economist and ten years of professional practice at the World Bank, where she worked across local, national, and third-sector organizations on complex urban problems across the Middle East, South-East Asia, and South Asia regions.

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