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Special Issue Call for Papers

Water Policy Special Issue Call for Papers: Service Modalities for Water and Sanitation Services in Small Towns in the Global South


Over the past decades attention to water supply and sanitation provisioning has mainly focused on either large megacities (including peri-urban areas) or the rural hinterlands (de Boeck et al, 2009: iii, Lynch, 2005; Owusu, 2005). Human settlements that fall 'in-between' these clear urban centers or otherwise rural settlements received far less consideration from academia or development agencies (de Boeck et al., 2009). These small urban centers typically have a mix of rural socio-economic context while they require urban-type technology (Hopkins and Satterthwaite, 2003; WSP, 2011). For water supply services small town water supply systems ‘exceed the requirements for a 'rural' approach in terms of population and development, whilst also not having the scale and density required for the implementation of typical 'urban approaches' (Pilgrim et al., 2004:3). In other words, parts of small towns accumulate sufficiently dense population concentration to be served through piped systems, but also include dispersed areas that are not deemed profitable for the exploitation of centralized urban systems (Mugabi and Njiru, 2006 and Pilgirm et al., 2004; Moriarty et al., 2002).  As a result of these circumstances, coverage of basic public services in small towns is neither adequate nor far-reaching (Brockerhoff and Brennan, 1998 in Cohen, 2006). This is reflected in the level of services in small urban centers in the Global South. In Mozambique, small towns exist in which the recorded access to piped water is as low as 3% (VEI, 2012). In Indonesia, 52% of small towns still rely on unimproved sources of water (WSP, 2011). In Mexico or Thailand, service coverage in the main metropolitan areas is markedly higher than in the small-towns (Ferre et al., 2012).  For sanitation, when available[1], the figures show even lower progress. In Kenya, averages of access to improved sanitation do not exceed 55% (AfDB, 2009). In Nigeria, the records show 15% access or 26% in Latin America and the Caribbean (Rosenweig et al, 2002 and Chukwudumebi Nwosah, 2003). Given the emphasis on universal access to water and sanitation in SDG6, the question of how to service small-towns will become of increasing importance in the near future.

Peer reviewed literature of the first half of the 20th century highlights some of the technical peculiarities of water systems and water provisioning in small urban centers (Dillery, 1945; Wilson, 1942) but it does not enter into the broader discussion of governance and management issues of these systems. In fact, at the end of the 1980s Choguill (1989: 274) reflects, from incipient research in Tanzania, "how little we actually know about the dynamics of small town growth, about local decision-making and about what people really want in their towns". At the turn of the century increased attention was brought to water service provisioning in small urban centers. The Water, Engineering and Development Center (WEDC) at Loughborough University in cooperation with the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) of the World Bank organized an e-conference that initiated the discussion around water provisioning in these settlements. In June 2002, and as a result of the WEDC and World Bank (documentation) efforts, the topic was raised again in the International Conference ‘Water Supply and Sanitation Services in Small-Towns and Multi-Village Schemes’ in Addis Ababa. Following this event documentation of small town cases increased significantly with a few reference pieces (Hopkins and Sattherwaite, 2003, Pilgrim et al., 2004 and Pilgrim et al., 2007). Despite these efforts, however, the topic has not been broadly picked up by academia barring a few exceptions (Mugabi and Njiru, 2006; Njiru and Samson, 2002). Reflections on the water services in small towns currently appears to be the domain of development and advocacy agencies (Moriarty et al., 2002, Carone and Fonseca, 2006; Ryan and Adank, 2010; WSP, 2002, WaterAid/BDP, 2010; WaterAid, 2014). As Adank (2013) explain: 'literature on all towns shows a striking degree of unanimity, indeed it seems that [...] there is a tendency for multiple authors and institutions to draw and recycle a limited number of primary sources' (Adank, 2010: 4).

The approach taken in this Special Issue of Water Policy is based on the understanding that water and sanitation service provisioning encompasses social, technological, financial and organizational systems which are strongly interdependent and which together form a specific service delivery system. Particular configurations of this socio-techno-financial-organizational system represent service modalities which characterize service delivery in a given small town. In many small towns in the Global South, service provisioning is characterized by a mix of service modalities, meaning that inhabitants of a small town have access to service through different modalities usually with consequences in terms of quantity and quality of the water they receive, price that is charged and the convenience of accessing water.  

In investigating different service modalities in small towns, this Special Issue takes a constructive but critical approach to experiences with these service modalities. We invite papers that analyze different service modalities, the functioning of these modalities and the impact these service modalities have on the ground.

Workshop in Delft, the Netherlands

As part of developing this Special Issue of Water Policy we would like to organize a 2 day workshop in Delft, the Netherlands. For this workshop, the authors of the abstracts that were accepted for the Special Issue will be invited.

Invited authors will have two tasks. Firstly, they will present their own paper (which they are to submit about 6 weeks before the workshop). Secondly, we will distribute the submitted papers to different authors and ask each author to peer-review the paper of two or three other authors in the month prior to the workshop. These peer-reviews will be presented following the presentation of that paper at the workshop. The presentation and the peer-review comments will form the basis for a discussion amongst the participants. The peer-review and the discussion will then provide inputs to finalize the paper.

Funds are available to cover travel costs and accommodation of invited authors.

Tentative Dates

Launch of the call: 15 April
Submission of abstracts: 1 June
Notification of authors: 15 June
Draft papers: 15 September
Workshop: 3 and 4 November
Final papers: 1 January 2017

Guest Editors

Mireia Tutusaus                             
Klaas Schwartz                                
Adriaan Mels                          

Submission of abstracts

Interested authors are invited to submit a detailed abstract of their proposed paper of approximately 1,000 words by 1 June. Abstracts should be submitted by e-mail to Mireia Tutusaus.

UNESCO-IHE Water Policy Special Issue Service Modalities for Water and Sanitation Services in Small Towns in the Global SouthVitens Evides International Water Policy Special Issue Service Modalities for Water and Sanitation Services in Small Towns in the Global South


[1] Usually data is currently collected and reported as urban and rural, and very seldom explicitly for small towns. The numbers may show inaccuracies as some small towns will be considered urban or rural depending on the country

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