Beyond Access: Comparative Analysis of Non-Material Dimensions of Water Insecurities in South Africa

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It is well established that water insecurity impinges on a range of important considerations, from public health, to educational achievement, social status and gender equity. Studies and interventions related to Household Water Insecurity (HWI) rely heavily on material metrics and proxies (e.g., distance to infrastructure, coverage area). Few studies attend to non-material aspects of hydro-social relations, focusing on socio-political and emotional-affective dimensions (e.g. stress, worry, or senses of exclusion), that might impinge on, or result from, water insecurities. Our project aims to address this gap to better capture and understand non-material aspects that might be important as ‘conversion factors’ to enable capabilities and entitlements to overcome household water insecurity, while also connecting an extended understanding of HWI to linked debates on participation and engagement. Our research design relies on visual, narrative, participatory methods in a multi-sited case study framework.

Building on longstanding work in South Africa, Brazil and water insecure locales in British Columbia (likely including for First Nations), we aim to:

  1. Advance conceptualisation and empirical evidence for non-material elements of water insecurity.
  2. Examine theoretical and empirical linkages between household water (in)security and citizen engagement and participation across case study sites (e.g. South Africa, Brazil, Canada).
  3. Develop and extend narrative, visual, and comparative methods for water insecurity studies.

While water access is crucial (mentioned in MDGs & SDGs), current research often overlooks its social and emotional impacts. We aim to explore these non-material aspects (stress, worry) alongside the physical ones (distance to water). This will help us understand how these factors influence people’s ability to overcome water insecurity. We’ll use visual, storytelling, and participatory methods in different locations (South Africa, Brazil, Canada) to gain a deeper understanding. This builds on our existing research experience in these areas.

More details regarding the project are available on the University of British Columbia’s website.