Urban water and sanitation provision is a major contemporary challenge, especially in contexts of rapid urban growth and tightly limited resources. Through ethnographies of urban water and sanitation provision the panel seeks to compare how anthropologists understand and engage with such processes.
The introduction of reliably reticulated potable water, especially in urban areas, has, along with the provision of water-borne sewerage systems, long ago been demonstrated to have had a major positive impact on public health - as has efficient urban drainage systems. Yet in many parts of the early 21st century world, very rapid urban growth has massively outpaced local government's capacity (where such exists) to ensure that such services are provided to city and town residents. A consequence is often poor public health alongside a range of attempts to introduce and/or implement various alternatives to tried and tested systems, especially as regards sanitation provision. Moreover, such alternatives often come in the wake of calls to establish so-called sustainable systems in the face of both climate change predictions and neo-liberal economic policy prescriptions. The purpose of the panel is to bring together anthropologists and others concerned with the social and cultural aspects of contemporary urban water-supply and urban sanitation provision, especially but not only in contexts of rapid urban growth. The goal is twofold: to provide an opportunity for comparisons of detailed ethnographies, from various parts of the world, of the challenges of contemporary urban water-supply, sanitation provision and drainage systems; and to consider, again with an interest in comparison, how and where anthropologists have managed to engage in activities aimed at providing such services/facilities - the extent of their successes and the challenges they have faced.