| 10.05.2021

Defence: Global water problems are deeply rooted in social power structures

Unequal access to drinking water in different geographical contexts is embedded in political, racialized, classed, and gendered hierarchies. Technologies and innovations aimed at solving drinking water problems only tend to gloss over the bigger issues.

In her doctoral thesis entitled ”Global Thirst for Governing Water: Technologies, Innovations and Drinking Water Governance in India and Ethiopia” Linda Annala Tesfaye studies how waters are governed through global political reforms and technological interventions.

- In the city of Ahmedabad, close to 90% of its residents treat their drinking water themselves. Individual households are made responsible for solving the problem of water quality on their own. In this process, those households with economic possibilities would turn to the private market to find solutions – such as reverse osmosis water filters which I studied - to their drinking water problem. In Ethiopia, the Finnish bi-lateral development cooperation has promoted community-managed rural drinking water governance since early 1990s. I personally worked in the Community-Led Accelerated WaSH (COWASH) project (funded by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland and Government of Ethiopia) for two years and wanted to do research on the topic. On a global scale, Ethiopia remains among those with the least access to safe drinking water for the population.

Annala Tesfaye’s thesis centers the extended participation of communities and individuals in drinking water provision through the governance discourses of co-production and co-creation. Co-production refers to state, private sector actors, and citizens jointly co-producing public services. The need for consensus and agreement across a range of varied actors tends to depoliticize unequal power relations and lead to exploitation.

In her thesis, Annala Tesfaye finds that the vocabulary of community management can be appropriated to (re)produce power structures and strengthen state power in relation to local communities in Ethiopia. In order to avoid reinforcing and reproducing already-existing power relations among co-producing actors, government actors and development practitioners could pay more attention to the language of community management. Talking about 'non-awareness' or 'lack of capacity' or even 'capacity building' (indicating that there is a lack of capacity in the first place) invoke appropriation and encourage objectivation.

The thesis also contributes to the emerging scholarship on frugal innovations. Frugal innovations are typically framed as innovations driven by scarce resources and regional circumstances of poverty. A typical example would be Mitticool, a clay refrigerator that does not require electricity and costs less than 50 USD. Linda Annala Tesfaye finds with her colleague Martin Fougère that the way of talking on co-creating frugal innovations between corporations and ‘the poor’ contributes to governing and exploiting the poor. The emancipatory potential of the original grassroots articulations of frugal innovations could be regained by shifting the discourse away from corporate actors.


You can read the doctoral thesis in full here.

The event will be held virtually.

You can join the Teams meeting here. The link will go online at 12:00 noon on 12 May.

Contact details:

Linda Annala Tesfaye
Telephone: +358 50 376 5720
E-mail: linda.annala@hanken.fi