Fluid Lives

Malaria, dengue and health in contemporary South Asia

Casting off – Fluid lives in a South Asian megacity

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At some point in most summers, water-shortages and an unpredictable supply make the headlines in Delhi. Soaring temperatures and often a late monsoon fray already shortened tempers, aggravating relationships between North Indian federal states and boosting the profits of private water tanker operators, as the struggle to access water preoccupies residents across the city. As the level of the River Yamuna fell, water pressure across the distribution network may drop. At the same time, power outages frequently prevent the use of booster pumps to suck water from the pipes or from illicit boreholes in informal, ‘unauthorised’ neighbourhoods on the rapidly urbanising margins of the network. One summer recently, after several days of receiving little to no water at all protests in one such neighbourhood turned violent, as residents vented their frustration at their lack of formal recognition and incorporation into the state’s distribution network by stoning government buses. Yet the struggle for water in Delhi is far from exceptional and shapes the everyday lives of the city’s 17million residents. Waiting for water disrupts the patterns of daily life and requires local politicians to be petitioned for a greater, cleaner or timelier allocation of water. Meanwhile, buying in supplementary water supplies is a substantial drain on often insubstantial household incomes.

[Updated 2014] This blog began to provide an informal research notebook for my new research project which at that point was to explore how people in Delhi negotiate the slippery issue of water in their everyday lives. Can attention to the history and development of water infrastructure shed light on contemporary issues? How do different narratives and discourses about shape understandings of water, wellbeing and the city and illustrate the social and political relations within which water is embedded at different scales? In particular what can attention to water tell us about the pressing wider questions of health in a ‘global city’ under conditions of rapid urbanisation?

While this research has come to focus on dengue fever as a complex, multiscalar entry point to undersand the interrelationships between disease, health and the socio-enviornment of the city, many of my concerns discussed here persist. Understanding Delhi’s water network as an assemblage of different kinds of relations, be they social, political, historical, technical, structural etc (in a more Ong & Collier sense, than a D&G or specifically Latourian sense – you can interview humans after all), this project will explore some of these issues through a number of strategic spatial and temporal locations. Some of these explorations I plan to discuss here. This work builds on my earlier research exploring the spatial dimensions of the politics of development in Delhi through the lives of resettlement neighbourhood residents; people who survived the demolition of their houses by the state nearly 40 years ago, rebuilding their lives on what was once the periphery of the city. Here too questions of water, access to it, entitlement to it, played out against a wider backdrop of debates about the place of the urban poor in the city.

Posts may take the form of reflections on debates in the literature, contemporary concerns in development circles, observations on Delhi happenings, and other interesting things. Crucially all these thoughts and posts are provisional. As Teo Ballvé eloquently puts it: ‘This blog is my motley space for commentary, summary, research notes, study, and whatever else I might want to do.

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