Situating everyday water realities: low-income access, informal provision and domestic strategies in urban Ethiopia

George Neville

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

603 Downloads (Pure)


This thesis critically analyses the significance of the local unregulated water market as an underground component of the wider urban waterscape in Ethiopia, specifically a peripheral and low-income sub-city of Addis Ababa called Akaki Kality. Of particular concern are the business strategies employed by informal (and illegal) water providers, and inherently linked to this the everyday procurement and prioritisation of water within the domestic environment. The study therefore focuses on ‘everyday life’ in order to localise the prevailing meta-narrative of water and instead consider the quotidian activities and relations associated with this resource at the community- and household-levels. It will thus add substance to global access statistics, improve understanding of the complex practices and challenges of water in low-income contexts, and subsequently establish if and how everyday realities can be changed for the better.

The thesis argues that water indeed represents an arena of pervasive social injustice. Technical and political obstacles either prevent or inhibit many from accessing sustainable formal water sources in the region, and the significantly more expensive informal providers have become a fundamental supply modality as a result. Embedded within this finding are three key implications. Firstly, low-income consumers depend on and actually appreciate the services of informal water providers, contrary to their alternative and exploitative stereotypes. Secondly, informal households are both able and willing to pay for water, and spend considerably more on this indispensable resource than wealthier urban districts. Thirdly, access to water is a far more fluid concept than its dualistic portrayal suggests, as the everyday reality sees informal providers conduct complex redistribution operations while households oversee calculated and flexible sourcing and consumption strategies. Water informality is ultimately engrained within Ethiopian society, and harnessing its potential could unlock an alternative urban future bereft of water injustice.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Desai, Vandana, Supervisor
  • Boyd, Emily, Supervisor, External person
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Oct 2017
Publication statusUnpublished - 2017


  • Water
  • WASH
  • informality
  • vendors
  • Everyday life
  • Ethiopia
  • Urban
  • Addis Ababa
  • WaterAid
  • water politics
  • Waterscape
  • Poverty
  • informal
  • critical urbanism
  • quotidian
  • Governance
  • Inequality
  • household
  • access
  • affordability
  • Citizenship
  • peri-urban
  • Low-income
  • MDGs
  • SDGs
  • Human rights

Cite this