IWA Publishing is pleased to announce a new initiative spotlighting the work of our latest cohort of Open Access Ambassadors

Our OA Ambassadors raise awareness in their local communities about global OA movements as well as related opportunities through IWA Publishing. They are representatives of both the International Water Association and IWA Publishing and our joint goals to empower the next generation of water leaders and to shape the future of the water sector. These blog posts highlight their specialty and research focus, as well as expressing the importance of Open Access publishing. 

This blog post comes once again from Helen Barbosa, a PhD researcher on MAR system at Södertörn University, and this short blog is based on an ongoing article as part of Helen's MSc research fieldwork in Cabo Verde Santa Cruz. Helen is an environmental scientist and water manager, interested in water and development, organization sustainability, and climate change adaptation. Connect with Helen on LinkedIn.

A big thank you again to Helen for participating! 

* This article is inspired from an online fieldwork that aimed to better understand Water Use Practices - Institutional Analysis, author, 2021.


Water organizations and state policies decide where and to whom water flows, which often does not analyze water scarcity beyond natural explanations. In fact, those decisions are highly influenced by the commercial interest and financial sustainability national and international discourse, which highly contrast with the SDG6 intentions. Instead, the water connection is done for those who belong to the legal urban grid and affordability aspect. Those who are off urban formal grid are not qualified to get water connection and might wait for each electoral period to negotiate their votes. The manufactured water scarcity is created by how water connection practices are done and according to the political preferences of Sao Paulo Residents in Island of Santiago, Cabo Verde. Hence, water connection practices are designed to maintain unhealth relation people-politician and lock people within water disconnection. It is important to critically reflect water scarcity within a water practices context and as a complex phenomenon that intimately contains social-political relation that is beyond natural forces.

I intend to captiously reflect on the international water community goals, especially after the UN water conference event. This, bring a more practical view of what means water for all from a water utilities perspective. I hope this article post will allow a conversation with colleagues to discuss the resource scarcity and historical entanglement with the socio-political context on shaping water connection practice in many places in the world.

Manufactured scarcity and Infrapolitics

I use the concept of manufactured scarcity and Infrapolitics inspired from Mehta (2001) and Anand (2011). Mehta (2001) argues that scarcity is both a biophysical phenomenon and a powerful discursive construct. The understanding of water scarcity in a widespread understanding tends to be simplistic and direct attention to the lack of water supply rather than socio-political considerations. In this sense, I found interesting to use this concept on Sao Paulo's Settlement case; once there is an explicit consensus found from interviews, the raining pattern is dwindling. However, they think the scarcity is being produced by water company and those with enough power relations within the state. For water utilities, images of dwindling rainfall and increasing drought serve to legitimize and justify their water distribution plan and certain water practices to illegal settlement. One example is the state announcement of a water crisis emergency in 2018- 2019. Large industries were not affected at all. Only the household with less power and agency to contest the water connection and consequently its quantity was the most affected.

The concept of infrapolitics aid showing how the relationship of infrastructure and politics shapes the practice of establishing in-house water connections. The politics of water supply infrastructure cannot be understood separately from the infrastructure of Sao Paulo’s politics. Residents of the informal settlement consider leveraging their votes for water connection as being a necessary evil. For example, Fatima, a resident of Sao Paulo said “ I know they are here to manipulate us, but what else we can do, take it or stay out of the list of the beneficiaries for water connection.”

Sao Paulo illegal Settlement and the water access

My mother was the first woman to move to this hill. She decided not to live on rent anymore but construct her own house. Our family went through penury of water 20 years ago, but now I am optimistic about the government project contemplating 100 families with in-house connections. Ely Community leader SP1

Through online fieldwork, I begin to talk with the community leader, coinciding that they were the first family moving to Sao Paulo’s hill. She explains that her mission is to continue to work for the settlement as a legacy left from her mother. I asked her to tell me about the water connection system in Sao Paulo. As an active community leader, she instantly starts talk comfortable and confidently. She seems to know a lot related to land distribution procedures and infrastructure connections. What triggered my attention was not the problem of access to the road, electricity, but the water connection, which has been the same for more than twenty (20) years now living in the settlement. Even though they had more than two (2) years with the main pipe passing nearby, they never got in-house connections. However, with the election period, the government is financing the water extension network in this settlement that only includes 100 families.

A history of (dis)connections.

I don't think water is scarce, I believe it is about bad distribution and maintenance, from my house I always see water leaking as a flood while we are waiting for the inhouse connection. On VIP zones the water is constantly flowing, and Trindade company is taking all our water.

Fatima, Resident in Sao Paulo2

Cape Verde is a water scarce country, with natural limitations limiting potable water availability that pose challenges to water distribution to its sparsely rural communities. The water company’s manager responsible for water distributions explains in a technocratic way how the water connections should be in terms of location, type of reservoir, inhouse connections, or reservoirs. The scarce rain in time and space justifies their water distribution plan. The majority of the interviewees from resource management emphasized that climate characteristic and geographical positioning is a primary cause influencing water distribution in terms of coverage, access and quantity. On the other hand, the Sao Paulo community's perspective about water availability is related to bad distribution. Metha (2011) highlights that the distribution benefits the powerful actors in a construct scarcity while the poor's needs in water-limited areas are neglected. The limited local management capacity to break down the water losses by category, deal with actual consumption and measured consumption, and understand the real hidden circuits of water distribution and the actual state of distribution networks legitimizes the widespread concept of water scarcity among water managers.

With this situation there are two main groups that are impacted differently. Those that have agency to contest the water such as the Party focal points of the settlement and those that does not have enough agency to contest the situation; therefore they mobilize water through different means. They can get water from a small tank which the water company made available in their settlement. One (1) bucket of 25 L cost 20 $CV, corresponding to 2 euros. There are also individual water trucks that sell water, of which one (1) ton of water costs 1000 ECV$ equivalent to 10 euros. Those trucks buy the water in a zone with abundant spring water called Trindade, from catholic church property. The church has licensed to explore the spring. Fatima, who lives with her older mother, said in a disappointing tone: “…There is a big company exploring the wells for bottling water and producing other types of drinks in that same zone”.

Figure 1 the mobile fountain that supplies Sao Paulo Settlement

The story of the pipe

Sao Paulo is one of the few exceptions of informal settlements having the main pipes installed nearby their settlement, but to avoid illegal connections it remains disconnected. The settlement uses 2 different ways to get water access: First the water trucks, and then the women carries the water up to the hill; from the neighbour pipes when break; from illegal water trucks. Second, by mobile fountain introduced by the water company. All residents need to come to the fountain, to buy water at specific time of the day. Some people prefer to sell water illegally as many people avoid walking long distance to the mobile fountain or the schedule does not fit with their own chores.  

The criteria used to decide where and who gets water connection was explained by operational manager. It is based on the location type based on the urbanization plan (PDM and PDU), water network location schemes, population served, and orography. However, as water exceeds politics and company control, it leaks, evaporates, and everyone can have access to it due to its materiality as Anand (2011) elucidates. The settlement can neither follow the legal aspect of water connection nor be part of the formal city grid, but they still need water to survive. Swyngedow (1997) argues that States attempt to domesticate water to follow the expansion of the urban frontiers needs to be pushed outward in search of new alternatives of water sources because the city's growth could only be sustained first by moving nature’s frontier and then setting the game rules to its access.

The vote story 

The water supply company started operating in 2015 to substitute the previous water and electricity supply, ELECTRA. This institutional arrangement was made to balance commercial ideas with social objectives of water access. For a long time, the investment of household connections has been made only to “formal urban grid’’ excluding the informal settlements. Others, settlement so-called spontaneous houses, they have a special relationship with national parties. In a biparty system, the informal settlement needs to be careful in demonstrating political preference because the preferences might shift accordingly. When the electoral periods approach, they seek support and to support whosoever in power. By supporting them, these individuals enter the system in crioulo dentu sistema to have facilitation on getting water connections, stables jobs, or aid to buy material for house construction. Therefore, the settlement keeps hope on politicians during the electoral campaign, where surprises might always happen. The irony is that one of the central points of the National Strategic Plan for Water and Sanitation (PLENAS) is to promote improved water and sanitation conditions that reduce disparities in access to water and sanitation among different communities. It seems to be operationalized only during electoral periods. The fieldwork coincided with the Presidential electoral campaign. Therefore, according to the community leader, the politics of infrastructure are mobilized to manipulate thirsty minds. Those who have a good connection with the parties or actively participate in community works benefit from the beneficiaries list of water connection.



Anand, N. (2011). Pressure: The politechnics of water supply in Mumbai. Cultural anthropology, 26(4), 542-564.

Mehta, L. (2001). The manufacture of popular perceptions of scarcity: Dams and water-related narratives in Gujarat, India. World development, 29(12), 2025-2041.

Swyngedouw, E. (1997). Power, nature, and the city. The conquest of water and the political ecology of urbanization in Guayaquil, Ecuador: 1880–1990. Environment and planning A , 29 (2), 311-332.

National Strategic Plan for Water and Sanitation (PLENAS), 2015. Retrieved from https://www.fao.org/faolex/results/details/en/c/LEX-FAOC148923/ in April 13


[1] Interview IN1, fictious name, 2021

[2] Interview IN2, fictious name, 2021

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