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Water for Survival, Water for Pleasure – A Biopolitical Perspective on the Social Sustainability of the Basic Water Agenda

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This article explores the social sustainability of the basic water agenda. It does so through a biopolitical analysis of water narratives from eThekwini municipality, South Africa, where a policy of Free Basic Water (FBW) has been implemented. The
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  www.water-alternatives.org Volume 10 | Issue 1 Hellberg, S. 2017. Water for survival, water for pleasure  –  A biopolitical perspective on the social sustainability of the basic water agenda. Water Alternatives 10(1): 65-80 Hellberg: Social sustainability of the basic water agenda Page | 65 Water for Survival, Water for Pleasure  –   A Biopolitical Perspective on the Social Sustainability of the Basic Water Agenda Sofie Hellberg School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden; and School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa; sofie.hellberg@globalstudies.gu.se ABSTRACT: This article explores the social sustainability of the basic water agenda. It does so through a biopolitical analysis of water narratives from eThekwini municipality, South Africa, where a policy of Free Basic Water (FBW) has been implemented. The article addresses the question of what water 'is' and 'does' and shows that water and water governance are productive of lifestyles, people’s self  -understanding and how they view their place in the social hierarchy. The analysis brings to light that a differentiated management system, that provides different levels of water services to different populations and individuals, becomes part of (re)producing social hierarchies and deepens divisions between communities. Based on these findings, the article argues that while the basic water agenda has brought successful results globally and remains important in terms of guaranteeing health and survival for the most vulnerable, it should not be confused with efforts of social sustainability. Social sustainability would not only involve a situation where basic needs are met but would also have to address effects of water systems on the relationships between individuals and populations in society. KEYWORDS: Social sustainability, water, basic needs, biopolitics, South Africa I NTRODUCTION   Policy discourses of sustainable water management for household use, within the broader framework of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) as well as the Millennium Development Goals (the MDGs) and the Sustainable Development Goals (the SDGs), largely focus on improved access to water for basic needs. This typically includes water use around 20 litres per capita per day (lpcd) (Hall et al., 2014: 850) for drinking, hygienic, food preparation and other domestic purposes. Even if we should be wary of aggregated numbers as a way of describing reality (Fukuda-Parr et al., 2014), there is clear evidence of progress of the basic water agenda in terms of an increased access to improved water sources globally. The water dimension of the MDG target 7C, which focused on halving "by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water", was met five years ahead of schedule (UN, 2016a). The SDGs, in turn, are ambitious as the 6.1 goal sets out to "By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all" (UN, 2016b). This means that an additional 663 million people need to be provided with improved drinking water sources (WHO and UNICEF, 2015: 4). While the MDGs and the SDGs are important tools for promoting a basis for health and survival for the world’s most vulnerable, concerns have been raised about the narrow focus o f the water for basic needs agenda (Hall et al., 2014). According to Hall et al., the focus on safe and clean water for domestic uses is limiting in terms of the impact on people’s livelihoods since it does not recognise water for productive uses, such as for example subsistence farming (see also van Koppen et al., 2009). Similarly, this article makes the case that there needs to be a deeper understanding of the role of water in people’s lives. Drawing on literature in critical geography that focuses on the  questions of "what water  Water Alternatives - 2017 Volume 10 | Issue 1 Hellberg: Social sustainability of the basic water agenda Page | 66 is" (Linton, 2010; Budds and Linton, 2014: 179; see also Strang, 2004) and "what water does" (Hellberg, 2015a: 2), this article addresses the role of water and the basic water agenda in terms of its social effects. The aim of this article is to explore social sustainability  –  a concept rarely discussed in the water management literature  –  in relation to the basic water agenda as it is implemented in the local context of eThekwini municipality. The analysis encompasses indicators of social sustainability that focuses on the betterment of the conditions of an individual  , such as increased access to water, and on the   relationships between individuals and populations in a given society, such as social integration and reduction of social and spatial fragmentation. Methodologically, this is done through an analysis of water narratives from a context of a water technology system that differentiates between water for basic needs and water for other uses. The narratives are explored from a biopolitical perspective, which places the governing of the conditions of life on the level of populations at the centre (Foucault, 1998; Dean, 1999). The text draws on srcinal fieldwork conducted in South Africa, an important case in terms of the implementation of the right to water. In South Africa, water is a right recognised in the constitution and the water legislation created in post-apartheid era is seen as one of the most progressive in the world. Since the democratic transition, water issues have however been characterised by several challenges, including redressing not only unequal access to the resource and service delivery protests (Bond and Dugard, 2008) but also water scarcity. At the time of writing this introduction, January 2017, drought conditions are experienced in five provinces, including KwaZulu Natal (The Department of Water and Sanitation, 2017). South Africa is an interesting site for exploring social sustainability because of its adherence to sustainable development generally (Death, 2011), and in the water sector specifically, and, at the same time, because big parts of its population still suffer from inequality patterns established in the apartheid era (Saul and Bond, 2014). The site where data have been collected, eThekwini Municipality, has been argued by global policy institutions, to be a champion in providing sufficient water to sustain human life […and] "serve[s] as a sterling example for the many communities worldwide" (SIWI, 2014). It was here that a policy of free basic water (FBW) of 6000 litres for each household per month, equivalent to 25 lpcd, was developed that, later, became national policy. Much has already been written about the nature of the hydropolitics in the eThekwini (Loftus, 2005a, b, 2006, 2007, 2009; Gounden et al., 2006; Bond and Dugard, 2008; Koenig, 2008; Bond, 2010; Narsiah, 2010; Nash, 2013; Hellberg, 2014, 2015a; Sutherland et al., 2015). This article does not aim to provide yet another review of its policies and practices. Given its role as an exemplary case, there are however still important lessons to be learned from eThekwini. In this article, the eThekwini example is examined in terms of how water and water technology systems may affect people’s perception of themselves, their lifestyles and their place in society. In other words, the article discusses how we can understand what the production of water subjectivities mean for social sustainability. Arguably, such insights have implications for how we evaluate water management systems in relation to sustainable development. The text proceeds as follows: first a discussion of the concept of social sustainability and the way it is approached in this article is provided. Then follows a presentation of the biopolitical perspective used to analyse social sustainability of the basic water agenda. After that the case of eThekwini municipality is presented along with the methodological approach of the article. An analysis of water users’ narratives in relation to conditions of life and lifestyles and to social hierarchies is then presented. The result of the analysis is then, lastly, discussed and concluded in terms of how we can understand this in relation to social sustainability and the basic water agenda.  Water Alternatives - 2017 Volume 10 | Issue 1 Hellberg: Social sustainability of the basic water agenda Page | 67 S ITUATING THE CONCEPT OF SOCIAL SUSTAINABILITY AND ITS RELEVANCE TO WATER   That sustainable development   has become the  global development strategy cannot be better illustrated than with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As has been commonplace when working with the concept of sustainable development, at least since the Rio+20 Summit in Johannesburg in 2002, the 2030 agenda commits to achieve sustainable development in its three dimensions: economic, social and environmental (UN, 2015). Of these three, social   sustainability is arguably the least defined and explored dimension. There is a greater disagreement about the objectives of social sustainability compared to the other pillars (Omann and Spangenberg, 2002; Littig and Grie βler , 2005; Dempsey et al., 2011; Holden, 2012). It has been put forward that surprisingly little attention has been given to social sustainability (Dempsey et al., 2011). It has even been argued that environmental concerns have been prioritised over social concerns when embracing sustainability as a concept (Holden, 2012: 528; see also Vallance et al., 2011). One of the reasons for this can be that it is unclear what the social dimension of sustainable development really means (Holden, 2012). The social sustainability literature has even been described as 'chaotic', 'messy' and even 'contradictory' and 'confusing' (Vallance et al., 2011). Social sustainability also raises difficult, and political, issues of equity (see Littig and Grie βler , 2005) needs, justice and human well-being; issues that for decades have been part of the debate in relation to how we can understand and define the concept 'development'. Hence, academics and practitioners hold different views about what social sustainability is and how it can be reached and assessed. Yet, and arguably, this holds true also for economic and ecological sustainability, as these are also contested and highly political concepts. While there is no consensus on the definition of social sustainability, it is commonly understood as related to a set of indicators or themes such as: quality of life, equity, inclusion, access, a future focus and participatory process (Holden, 2012, based on Partridge, 2005). Most theorists embrace the idea that to create social sustainability there is a need for social integration and a reduction of social and spatial fragmentation (see, for example, Stren and Polèse, 2000; Dempsy et al., 2011). Different types of social sustainability have however been identified in the literature. Vallance et al. (2011) discuss three types; 'development sustainability', which focuses on basic needs, inequality and poverty reduction; 'bridge sustainability', which addresses human behaviour and their relations to environmental goals and lastly; 'maintenance sustainability', which concerns the preservation of sociocultural practices. This article addresses indicators and issues that first and foremost belong to 'development sustainability'. Important for the argument of this article is that indicators within this type of social sustainability can be divided between those that focus on betterment of the conditions of an individual  , such as access to water and quality of life, and those that focus on the relationship between individuals and populations in a given society such as social integration and reduction of social and spatial fragmentation. To a large extent, the basic water agenda works with the first-mentioned set of indications through its focus on quantities of water for survival and on life conditions of poor communities. As mentioned, the sustainable development goal number 6.1 focuses on achieving "universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking  water for all" (UN, 2016b, my italics). In this article, an analysis of social sustainability in relation to both the above-mentioned types of indicators is provided. So far, little attention has been paid explicitly to the concept of social sustainability in the water literature. However, there is a vast and closely related water literature that places questions of equity and the right to water at the centre (see Barlow and Clarke, 2002; McDonald and Pape, 2002; McDonald and Ruiters, 2005; Swyngedouw, 2005; Bakker, 2005, 2007, 2010; Sultana and Loftus, 2014). In such critical water literature, we for example learn that socioeconomic differences can be exacerbated even with what is understood to be progressive water policies (Birkenholtz, 2010),  Water Alternatives - 2017 Volume 10 | Issue 1 Hellberg: Social sustainability of the basic water agenda Page | 68 which also have been shown in South Africa (see for example, Loftus, 2005a; Dugard, 2010; Bond and Dugard, 2008; Hellberg, 2014). When analysing the basic water agenda from a social sustainability perspective, I build especially on literature that places emphasis on the question of "what water is" (Linton, 2010; Budds and Linton, 2 014: 179) and "what water does" (Hellberg, 2015a: 2). This involves seeing water’s productivity beyond its capacity to sustain life, focusing on the importance of water for livelihoods (van Koppen et al., 2009; Hall et al., 2014) as well as the impact of water and water technology on the way that people view and identify themselves and the role they play for their lifestyles (see, for example, Kooy and Bakker, 2008; von Schnitzler, 2008; Dawson, 2010; Hellberg, 2014; Rodina and Harris, 2016). A NALYSING ( SOCIAL )  SUSTAINABILITY FROM A BIOPOLITICAL PERSPECTIVE   In order to place emphasis on the different ways that different water users are governed and the impact of water on people’s lives and lifestyles, this article applies a biopolitical perspective. Biopolit ics refers to the regulation and administering of the conditions of life (such as mortality, health, longevity, lifestyles) at the level of the population (Foucault, 1998; Dean, 1999). Biopolitics, in a Foucuadian sense, is part of neoliberal governmentality, which in turn is a term that describes how government is put to work in practice through a variety of techniques, ranging from biopolitical measures to governing of the self (Lemke, 2002). From such a Foucauldian understanding of neoliberal governance, it should be seen not as a political philosophy but as a practical 'art of government', that uses the agency of 'free' subjects to reach its goals (Dean, 1999). A biopolitical perspective makes possible an inquiry into how different populations and different forms of lives are governed and the distinctions made between them (Duffield, 2007; Reid, 2013). This can be understood through Agamben’s problematisation of the relationship between zoë , referring to "the simple fact of living common to all living beings" (Agamben, 1998: 1) and bios , meaning "the form or way of living proper to an individual or a group" (ibid.). Using this perspective, I address water governance in a sustainable development regime as a form of biopolitics that has certain ways of governing people depending on what kind of population they belong to (see also Hellberg and Knutsson, 2016). Hence, governing logics of sustainable development can be understood as involving a "biopolitical division" (Duffield, 2007: 68) between different forms of life. However, if we are interested not only in the rationality of governing but also in their 'effects' in terms of social sustainability, we need to look into how individuals produce themselves as subjects in response to strategies of governing (Hansson et al., 2015; Hellberg, 2015b). According to a Foucauldian conceptualisation of power, biopolitical techniques work together with other power techniques, both disciplinary (directed at the individual body) and sovereign (exercised though the law) (Foucault, 2003: 242). These power techniques, in turn, are connected to how individuals internalise power through what Foucault termed 'technologies of the self' (Foucault, 1988: 18). Technologies of the self are ways for the individual to set rules for conduct and to transform themselves and their lives in relation to certain aesthetic values and criteria and to shape themselves as (ethical) subjects (Ibid: 10-11, 13). In a way, water and biopolitics are notions that converge as they both centre on 'life' and can both be viewed as tools that can be used for a "transformation of (human) life" (cf. Foucault in Luke, 1999: 142, my brackets). In that sense, regulation of access to water is a perfect biopolitical mechanism. Karen Bakker (2010, 2012, 2013) has previously addressed water governance from a biopolitical perspective. According to Bakker, water is biopolitical through the ways in which governments optimise both water resources and water use in order to secure "the health and productivity of the population" (Bakker, 2012: 619). In her work on water as biopolitics, Bakker recognises both formal regulation and self-regulation (Bakker terms it self-policing) as ways of controlling water use (Bakker, 2013). Self-regulation or technologies of the self in the context of water use involve that the water users 'work on themselves' to become particular kinds of water users; for example, 'responsible' or 'sustainable' (see  Water Alternatives - 2017 Volume 10 | Issue 1 Hellberg: Social sustainability of the basic water agenda Page | 69 Hellberg, 2014). Such a focus ties easily to the now rather extensive research theme of water subjectivities (see, for example, von Schnitzler, 2008; Kooy and Bakker, 2008; Sultana, 2009; Dawson, 2010). In this article, a biopolitical perspective is applied to capture the role that water and access to water play for social sustainability. This includes an analysis of the meeting point between governing rationales and the way that the water users internalise these governing logics through the creation of water subjectivities. It also involves a focus on the effects of the water management system’s way o f distinguishing between different populations in terms of social stratification. As we will see further on in this article, the way that the water management system separates those who rely on free basic water from those, more affluent, who can enjoy the free flow of water as long as they pay for it, has effects in terms of how they understand themselves and their place in society. These biopolitical effects are of relevance to how we understand the social sustainability of the water management system in South Africa since they affect the life conditions of the water users and the possibilities for social integration and for the probability of counteracting social and spatial fragmentation, which are characteristics of the country. THE CONTEXT :   S OCIAL SUSTAINABILITY AND WATER IN S OUTH AFRICA AND ETHEKWINI   Exploring the concept of social sustainability in South Africa is particularly pertinent, given that the South African constitution has an "unequivocal focus on justice" and is understood as one of the most progressive in the world because of its inclusion of socioeconomic rights (Dugard, 2010: 179). At the same time, many South Africans are experiencing a decline of formal labour and the increased precariousness of livelihoods (Bank, 2011). Furthermore, scholars have pointed to the limited change achieved by the ANC government in terms of reducing social and economic differentiation (Freund, 2010), and to the patterns of inequality established in the apartheid eras that have continued into the present (Saul and Bond, 2014). Service delivery protests, including a strong focus on water service delivery, have been seen across the country. As mentioned, a heated debate has taken place about the nature of the hydropolitics in the country, not least in relation to the situation in eThekwini municipality (Loftus, 2005a, b, 2006, 2007, 2009; Gounden et al., 2006; Bond and Dugard, 2008; Koenig, 2008; Bond, 2010; Narsiah, 2010; Nash, 2013; Hellberg, 2014, 2015a, Sutherland et al., 2015). eThekwini municipality was created in 2000. It consists of the city of Durban, surrounding peri-urban residential areas as well as rural communities. The Integrated Development Plans (IDPs) describe development challenges within the municipality. Challenges that were listed in the 2006/2007 IDP as well as in the one for 2016/2017 include (but are not limited to) high rates of employment, high levels of poverty, low levels of skills and literacy, limited access to basic household and community services and high levels of crime (IDP, 2006/2007; IDP, 2016/2017). In terms of rolling out of basic water services, the IDP 2016/2017 notes a "tremendous progress" (IDP 2016/2017: 11). When the data for the empirical section of this article were collected, in 2009, the head of eThekwini water and sanitation unit (EWS) Neil Macleod claimed that the EWS had brought water to about 1.2 million people in ten years’ time (Macleod, 2009). According to the latest IDP, the numbers of consumer units that remain without access to basic water services are reportedly 68,957 (IDP, 2016/2017). The areas where the backlogs have been the greatest are township areas, including informal settlement and rural areas (IDP, 2006/2007; IDP, 2016/2017). The eThekwini case is understood both as a success story and best practice example of sustainable water service delivery. As mentioned, the municipality was the place where the free basic water policy was first developed before it became a national policy. Initially, the policy meant that each household received 6000 litres monthly. Considering the number of members of a household as 8, this is equivalent to 25 lpcd. The FBW amount was then raised to 9000 litres in July 2008. The municipality is
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