Uit de Ivoren Toren

Van Wie is het Water? [Who Owns the Water?]

May 18, 2022 Centre for Sustainability Season 4 Episode 7
Uit de Ivoren Toren
Van Wie is het Water? [Who Owns the Water?]
Show Notes Transcript

De Nederlandse overheid zorgt voor toegang tot drinkwater voor al haar inwoners. Maar hoe is dat eigenlijk geregeld in een land als India, dat geregeld te kampen heeft met extreme hitte en droogte?

We vragen het aan Neha Mungekar. Ze doet bij Drift in Rotterdam onderzoek naar urban water governance (oftewel stedelijk water beheer) en reist geregeld naar haar geboorteland om nieuwe theorieën in de praktijk te testen. en te praten met de lokale bevolking.

Welke machtsdynamiek komt er kijken bij het verdelen van waterbronnen in (rurale) gebieden in India? En van wie is het water eigenlijk?

Dit interview is  opgenomen in het Engels.

Host: Deborah Sumter

Meer informatie: Website Centre for Sustainability

Productie: Klaenk
Artwork: Visual Friday

Neha Mungekar: So in that area, a lot of people have come together, schools and the school principals have come together and they are conserving water... water bodies with the help of students, with the help of active citizens. And there is a very good know how. There is also a lot of water rituals, you know, like when the rain falls and the water tank is full, a holiday is declared. There are new water cultures being created. These things are also happening and it's beautiful.

Deborah Sumter: Je luistert naar Uit de Ivoren Toren. Een tijd geleden las ik de nieuwsbrief van onderzoeksintituut Drift. Mijn aandacht ging gelijk uit naar het artikel van Neha Mungekar, omdat ze met een compleet andere bril naar het waterprobleem kijkt in haar geboorteland India. Ik vraag aan haar hoe ze te werk gaat en wat haar grootste uitdagingen zijn als action researcher. Ik ben Deborah Sumter. Dit is aflevering 7 van seizoen 4: Van wie is het water?

Deborah Sumter: Neha, thank you for joining us and being part of the podcast. I'm jumping in right away, as I always do. Can you tell a little bit more about yourself? Like, so who are you like? What do you do?

Neha Mungekar: Yeah. Firstly, thank you so much for having me on the podcast and it's a great platform for me as well to voice as a researcher and also someone coming from India and coming here and doing this research. So I'm Neha Mungekar and I'm a researcher from India. So I did my initial training in architecture and urban design. I worked for six years, and then I came to Netherlands to do my second master's in water management and governance from IHE Delft (Institute for Water Education). And the studies over there were very much focused on governance, and it totally changed my perspective from being a spatial person to a researcher to a social scientist. And that's what piqued my interest to do a PhD here in the Netherlands or for an Indian project as a governance expert.

Deborah Sumter: What do you do in your PhD? Can you tell us a little bit more?

Neha Mungekar: Yeah. So I am currently an Indian citizen who is working as a Dutch researcher and employed by Drift within.... affiliated to Erasmus University. So it's a project called Water for Change and this is an initiative by the government of India where they want to try and understand this paradigm called water sensitive cities and how it will work for the secondary cities of India. And I'm working on... I'm focusing on governance frame of things. So how... what kind of governance will enable this change towards this water... water sensitive city paradigm? So yeah, so I'm working within that capacity interest.

Deborah Sumter: I have directly. A couple of questions because you were mentioning third or second secondary cities. What are third or secondary cities?

Neha Mungekar: So. Yeah, so as I said, this project is focused on secondary cities. So there are three types of cities. Either you call them tier A, tier B, tier C or primary, secondary or tertiary cities. So primary and secondary are essentially the metropolitan cities. The big cities and the secondary cities are in between. Initially, these categorization was formed because of the population, but now it's also by the pace of development, the employment opportunities and many other factors. Interestingly, in India, the secondary cities grow faster than the primary cities. The primary cities are been saturated, so there is a huge amount of growth and a lot of population is coming towards the secondary cities because the rents are lower, the employment opportunities are higher. But then the... the resources for those cities to grow are less. So what happens is the cities grow haphazardly. They have to take short term decisions. They come up with ad hoc city planning. But there is a lot of kind of demand from the people themselves. So this is a kind of a tricky situation. And when it comes to access to natural resources such as water, it creates a huge... a lot of a number of other problems. So therefore, this project looks at secondary cities specifically, especially with the pace of growth and the nature of complexities in the problems, and then what could be done around it to enable or to reach to this sensitivity paradigm.

Deborah Sumter: Talking about water sensitivity. Is it like, oh, I don't dare to go in the water or in the pool or like, what is it?

Neha Mungekar: So it's...it's it's... sensitive. Sensitive word is very concept heavy here. It's not just colloquially sensitive. So, it first... it means that you have to see water in it's cyclic sense. So it's not just linear: a way of like supply of water coming you're using and you're throwing, but also it's going back to the cycle. You're recycling and using it back. And it's not just the supply from the source like rivers, but also water coming, say, from the rains on the road. So it's not coming just from the water body, but also the water which is falling on your own area. That also... the stormwater, water supply and sanitation, all three forming a circle. And then from this cyclic use. So we see that water is forming a cycle and then we work towards it. So it's a more cyclic use of water rather than linear. So first is that and second is the decisions for management are just not taken by experts or government officials only, but also includes community. And community again, there is a lot of contentions with the use community, because then who takes decision for whom? Is it elderly people? Is it men? So are women also part of it? So community is also not a homogeneous thing. So we try to see that the representation is equal, the problems, the issues are being represented. So the community's with its own heterogeneity, with its own cultural thing, is also been represented in management of water. So. these two things go parallelly. So one is the cyclic form of water, the community led management, and third, the boundaries of water. So this management of water is what is falling in your area, in your zone, in your watershed is what we say. So it's not you shouldn't be deciding for water, which is 200 kilometers away, which is actually someone else's water. And that's also something that is happening in India. So we take a lot of immense pride in sending watersaving 700 kilometers away. But where the water is actually falling and if there is a certain farmer who has made a decision to grow certain crop because of the rainfall, he or she does not even have that access to water because a certain privileged urban center has a more kind of power over that water. So in sensitivity, we even speak about micro watersheds. So that means like the.... the distance of where the water drop falls to where it comes to your tap, even that is reduced. So we work with again the cyclic water, community, land and water, which is nearer to you rather than far. So in this, this is what we mean by water sensitive management paradigm.

Deborah Sumter: Can I also say that it's related to water access then?

Neha Mungekar: Yeah. Yeah. So yeah. And also like access, not just physical access. Like what does that access do to you? Like saves time, empowers your education. So a lot of other things that comes with access. Yeah.

Deborah Sumter: I want to jump to your research, because when we spoke to you also shared a little bit more about like your approach. So I'm just going to ask the question like, what is your approach in your research? Like, how do you do your research? Do you do interviews? Do you build models? What's... how do you approach your research?

Neha Mungekar: So I am also an action researcher. So it's not just the desk work. So I have to do two things. So the first thing is, is reading the literature, coming up with a framework to assess what kinds of capacities are required to shift and enable the governance to make this paradigm possible or not, or what are the things that are hindering to.. to change towards this paradigm. So that is a lot of desk work that I have to do. So reading, creating frameworks like typically what you imagine a PhD researcher to do, but this is an action research and I'm called as an action researcher. So once this framework is done, I go on the field and I ask people, I actually test whether my my assumptions of this framework is correct or not. So, what we do is there are five steps to it. So, I have identified certain challenges, as I said, from my desk work and asking people. Then we call all these people on one table and we ask them, so now what do you think are the challenges? So here they come together and they deliberate, they discuss and they formulate a problem. So what happens here is before ...before this engagement, everyone thinks what they think is a problem is the problem.

Deborah Sumter: Yeah

Neha Mungekar: But what happens with this collective discussion is they... they and we, all of us realize that maybe it was a symptom that we were saying and not a problem. And when we hear each other out, when we have that kind of an empathetic space to hear and listen, that is when we start prioritizing and collectively formulating a problem, and that is what happens. So earlier, what you think is,is a problem. Then it becomes, oh, no, maybe there's a root issue to this symptom so that.... that gets framed. And to enable this discussion is what my earlier fieldwork and my earlier desk work helps. So my research feeds into this creating of these engagement platforms. So that is step one of creating these various platforms to understand. So therefore, what could be the problem? So once this collective problem has been formulated, the second step is to create this dream. So create a vision. So again, calling these people and saying, so what do you think should be the vision? And again, everyone has their own capacity, right? Because an engineer thinks in one way, a hydrogeologist thinks in one way, a user want something else. So, then when everyone hears each other out, also some sense of empathy again comes into picture and then a vision is created. Then the step three is to create transition pathways like how do you enable this vision? What steps needs to be taken? And in this, particularly as a transition researcher, we do back casting and not forecasting. So forecasting is a right now the current practice to enable a vision, which is like 50 years ahead. So what happens in forecasting is it's like the people who are there in the room, they think through their capacities of how do you reach to this vision? And we miss out on engaging with different kinds of people and different kinds of resources as well. So when you backcast, we ask this question otherwise, like we ask in order to make this vision possible, who all are are required. So, in this we also think of expanding of our typical set of people. So we want to engage with different kind of people. We also expand our field of inquiry. So, maybe this is not something that we want to do. Maybe these are the real questions. So, that's where the expansion happens. That's where you start thinking about the entire system rather than just one myopic problem. So, that's where backcasting helps and that's how we create the pathways to reach to this vision. So, once the pathways are being decided, again, this is a iterative process. Nothing is final. We start experimenting certain strategies and see like, you know, where do we need to tweak it? You know, there are a lot of political system dynamics that are happening, so then that needs to get accommodated. So, therefore these experiments help to keep things more inclusive. And once after this, we whatever are the learnings, we scale up. So all these processes are very democratic. We call people it's very collective. So like, so my...the force of my role is two part. So, then in.... Throughout this process, I'm getting my learnings. So, I'm writing, I'm assessing, I'm researching and I'm giving it back as a researcher to this process. So, my role here is also something called as knowledge broker. So, I am brokering knowledge between practicioners and academics, because both of them talk in their own languages and there needs to be some kind of facilitation that needs to happen between academia and practice. So, that's something also what I'm doing.

Deborah Sumter: How is it to have all the different roles? Because I hear you saying you're an action researcher, you're a knowledge broker, you build frameworks. So it seems like a lot of roles. How... yeah, how do you deal that... deal with that and change all this different the... all the different roles.

Neha Mungekar: So for me, actually, this is a very comfortable space because this is what I have always been. So, even when I did my architecture in urban design, I worked as a public engagement officer in my previous job. So, my role was to, you know, have that spatial spatial plan and speak to people, understand what are the requirements, you know, appropriate it and give it back. And in this, you need to do a translation of what has been decided to the people. Also, translate what people's requirements are to those meta level governance experts or decision makers. And these are two different languages, and that's where facilitation helps. And so as a practitioner, I used to work as a knowledge broker and a facilitator, but now since I'm a researcher and I get to work in these two spaces simultaneously, and that's where we call it action research. So yeah, so for me it's all linked and it's actually somewhere in between. And I'm someone right now who is very comfortable being that invisible force who connects different dots together.

Deborah Sumter: Can you maybe list some of the main learnings from that stage? So maybe three main learnings from your stay there with those people?

Neha Mungekar: Yeah. So one thing, I realized that whenever all theseparadigm shifts, discussions happen, all these discussions are being articulated from the Global North. And so whenever I did my secondary research, it was as if nothing was happening in, in the global south countries, especially in India. And it was as if the North had the answers for the South. So, when I went, I actually saw a lot of being... a lot of those activities already being done in India. So, because we have a centralized water system happening, although our policies have ratified, decentralized and hybrid water systems, we have ratified IWRM integrated water resource management as a management process to manage water in India. However, it did not happen... it's not happening, it's not, it's not translating on the ground. So there are a lot of actors who have taken it on themselves who are motivating a bunch of people. Like one of our cities is in Kutch, which is in a very extreme western point in India, which is semi-arid. So, in that area, a lot of people have come together, schools and the school principals have come together and they are conserving water... water bodies with the help of students, with the help of active citizens. And there is a very good know how. There is also a lot of water rituals, you know, like when the rain falls and the water tank is full, a holiday is declared. So, you know, a lot of that every day. There are new water cultures being created so that the conservation practice could be institutionalized. So, there are these things also happening and it's beautiful. And that's what we need to, you know, amplify it rather than saying this is what the North has said. And this is... I mean, by saying this, we are actually, again, colonizing it.

Deborah Sumter: Can you like really shortly explain like what's... what's the Global North? What's the Global South?

Neha Mungekar: Yeah. So this is also something which is not a, like a perfect textbook answer, but Globlal North essentially means like the Americas, the Europe and Australia. So the, the industrialized powerful houses where the academics, who also fund a lot of academics and a lot of these papers are also coming from these areas. And Global South essentially means the Asian, the South America, the South American and the African. And again, India falls in the industrialized or industrializing developing economies. So yeah, so that's that's what I meant by Global South. And all these water management paradigms say IWRM and water sensitive cities. Then there is...

Deborah Sumter: What is IWR?

Neha Mungekar: IWRM: Integrated Water Resource Management. So there are many of these management paradigms of telling how water should be managed. It came mostly from the European countries. So again, so these ideas are coming from the Europe and telling the Southern countries like India or Africa where there is like... or South Africa, you know, like how do you manage water? So now imagine these countries are facing issues. India is facing pollution, India is facing floods, India is also facing droughts. So when these things happen, there are also these motivated actors come together and formulate certain solutions. And these solutions are something that we need to understand how they are being made. And that is what needs to be amplified. So this is something when I went to the field, I saw one of the important conceptual tools that I'm using is informality. So when I say informality, it's not something which is binary, like opposite of formal is informal. No, it's actually more than that. Informality for me are these processes that for a certain activity, how the activity is broken and who all come together to make their activity possible. And to make that activity possible, you need to have personal networks. You need to have sense of motivation, you know. So these kind of things make that activity possible. So that form is informality. So when there are these formal tools, so when we say policy, let's break it down and say there are formal scriptures. It's telling you ways to do things. And these ways to do things do not... is too generalize. dSometimes it misses out on this nuanced issues on the ground. And that is the time when there's all these local actors, they know it. So, even the government actors, you know, the local instituted government actors know those incapabilities. Certain formal tools cannot, you know, find solutions to the local problems.

Deborah Sumter: Yes. So I want to move now from your research and what you've been telling us about your approaches to, yes, some final questions. One of them is, so the LDE alliance exists for ten years this year and the theme is "the next ten years". And I wanted to ask, like you, what do you think the most important breakthrough thing is that should happen within your research domain?

Neha Mungekar: Should happen? I think it's already happening for me. It's an acknowledgement of process based research, because I also came from a background of creating solutions, creating outputs. As an architect, my job was to do things. But after coming here, I realize we need to work on the mechanisms as well. Like we need to work on how to enable that change for that output to be positioned, to be anchored in. And that is something that is... I'm glad to be placed in DRIFT because we work on transitions and these kind of designing mechanisms and that is something that needs to be done. And that's why you also need different kinds of professions, you need different disciplines. And when you actually start working on mechanisms, you realize that it's not a linear problem. For one problem, you have one kind of solution and one medicine. No, it's not like that. You need a set of people to assess and... and say, what is the diagnose of a problem? So the framing of the problem is one thing. Thinking of the mechanism is one thing, and creating a solution is another. So you, therefore need different professions, different disciplines to come together and think of this mechanisms.

Deborah Sumter: Yes. So, this season we decided to ask the previous guest to formulate a question for the follow up guest. So we just talked to Anna-Louisa Peeters. She's a researcher from the TU Delft and she's looking at the role of designers in transition. So how can they help design transitions? And she had a question for you.

Anna-Louisa Peeters: What I would love to hear is also with, you know, my background in design and always designing for people is how, how, what your engagement strategies would be for these local communities to... to get that voice that you hope they'll get in decentralizing the water system. So how do you engage those people?

Neha Mungekar: When I spoke to them, I realized how they opened up to me and.. and the kind of safe space that I created for them to open up to me and voice their problems. And that's something I realize that when we say everyone should be empowered and speaking about their problems, sometimes it's not so easy. There are a lot of hidden challenges that are there that stop people from voicing the problem. And that's the complexity that I'm working with in India. So therefore, for me to engage with local people first, I have to understand what is it that is stopping them from voicing it and therefore what kind of platform needs to be created that doesn't hinder that kind of safe space, that gives them that kind of way to, you know, to say it out loud of exactly what is happening. To give you an example. There are times when women have to steal water. Because they have a feeding baby or something. And then if we ask them, what are your water challenges? And if they say, we do not get water, and if I ask them, awesome, then where do you get water from? Then they will have to accept the fact that they are stealing water. And if they do not say that, then we do not know the problem and the problem will not be solved. So, this is a very complex and very delicate situation. So, how should I, as a facilitator, create a space where it will, where there, you know, this position will not be challenged, how it will be only used to understand this problem and look at it very respectfully and then design a solution.

Deborah Sumter: Yes, so Neha i I was also wondering because you're working a lot with, with water and I'm wondering to what extent water can be something that's owned by someone or an institution.

Neha Mungekar: This is a good question because this is something that goes in the back off my mind when I'm working on this. And interestingly, in India, water is a state subject, meaning the state has to decide-make the final decisions for the people. And if we have to reverse this and say it should be private, that did not work well in South America. Like so, I feel water needs to be shared and not owned by people. The question of water, the scale of water of who should be managed should not be at the.... at the scale up, but at the scale down. And not just with people, also with animals, but also with the rest of the things. So, who has a stake in what kind of water? I think that should be shared. And that's how we can be more sustainable and resilient at the same time. So, there's also this one thing that we say that so the decision makers on that table are not the one... should not be the only one. And so the only way how we should be moving ahead in future is have an interesting mix of people coming in. Interesting stakeholders, too, so that your view starts getting more and more broader. Andsecond, extend the table to also have users come in. Why just experts? And these experts are not even using the water. Sometimes a scientist sitting in a different country is forecasting a problem, and maybe the user, an illiterate user, is facing something else. Why can't we have that user also saying... that voice has a huge impact and a huge meaning. So it's not just a double PhD held scientists having just an authority, but along with that it should also be users. Along with that, you should also have these different experts and different experienced people who can also add onto that discussion.

Deborah Sumter: So Neha, thank you for all the interesting information about like water management and what... what things and mechanisms are in play there. Yeah, again, I learned a lot, I have to say, every time. So thank you for being here.

Neha Mungekar: Thank you so much for having me. And I'm yeah, it was a great exercise for me to also speak things simply. And that's also what our speakers PhDs we face this we talk to academically and that's also how me as a knowledgebroker has to keep on changing my language. And it was a great exercise for me. And thank you for these amazing questions because it also helped me reflect on my research. Thanks.

Deborah Sumter: Bedankt voor het luisteren. Tot de volgende Uit de Ivoren Toren! Uit de Ivoren Toren is een podcast van het Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for Sustainability. Meer informatie over onze gasten vind je op onze website. De link vind je in de shownotes. De productie is in handen van Klaenk.