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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Water: Gender and Material Inequalities in the Global South


Because water is pivotal for health and livelihoods, inadequate access to water may be a significant cause of poverty and conflict. Poor access to clean water for drinking causes ill health. Poor access to water for agriculture and other livelihoods may be a cause of material deprivation.

How people get access to water is surprisingly complex and varied. That access involves natural conditions, human tools and social practices. This paper is about modes of access to water, the main social and technical conditions through which people gain command over water. Modes of access have particular characteristics. Some are free, others cost money. Some, like well-water, require work on the part of the water consumer, while other modes of access, like piped water, may entail little work. The potential for change and for sustainable use of water may also vary according to the mode of access.

Water deprivation is widespread, and at the beginning of the twenty-first century it has to be tackled under unpromising conditions. Scarcity is increasing and government action is becoming more constrained. These circumstances demand innovation if water deprivation is to be tackled effectively. That innovation will require us to understand the technical, social and natural dynamics of the main modes of water access.

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