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The prepaid electric meter: Rights, relationships and reification in Unguja, Tanzania

Journal Paper
Veronica Jacome and Isha Ray
World Development. DOI: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2018.01.007
Publication year: 2018

Abstract

Sustainable Development Goal 7, with the light bulb and power button as its symbols, in effect promotes the universal right to basic electricity services. Access for all demands both affordability and cost-recovery, and utilities (and donors) increasingly require users to shoulder the greater burden of cost-recovery. We argue that the electricity system is underpinned by a set of relationships among user, provider and the service itself: these relationships are mediated by the meter, the technology of commodification. Using a constant-comparison approach, and based on a year of interviews and document analysis, we compare postpaid and prepaid meter regimes in Unguja, Tanzania. We ask: what difference does the mode of payment make to the (residential) user, the utility, and to the prospects for meeting SDG 7? We find that the prepaid meter becomes reified with its automated monitoring and measurement mechanism, rendering the once-familiar meter reader obsolete, and shutting off the flow of electricity as soon as the customer’s “units” have run down. Reification makes the utility more invisible to the customer, who now blames the meter rather than the utility for poor service or high bills. Our interviews reveal broad support for the prepaid meter, however, because economically vulnerable users expressed greater fear of debt than of the dark, and were willing to cede control of their consumption to the new meter. These findings undermine the common accusation of a “culture of nonpayment” in Africa. We also find that prepaid meters may incentivize the partial return to biomass-based fuels when cash is not available – exactly the behavior that universal access to electricity is supposed to prevent. We conclude that, if access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa becomes entirely contingent on payment prior to use, this is not fully compatible with a commitment to universal basic access.

The global risks of increasing reliance on bottled water

Journal Paper
Alasdair Cohen & Isha Ray
Nature Sustainability, 1: 327 – 329
Publication year: 2018

The rapid growth of bottled water use in low- and middle-income countries, and its normalization as a daily
source of drinking water, does not provide a pathway to universal access. Generous and sustained investment in
centralized and community utilities remains the most viable means for achieving safe water access for all.

Recovery and adaptation after the 2015 Nepal earthquakes: a smallholder household perspective

Journal Paper
Epstein, K., J. DiCarlo, R. Marsh, B. Adhikari, D. Paudel, I. Ray and I. E. Måren
Ecology and Society 23 (1):29
Publication year: 2018

Abstract

Communities reliant on subsistence and small-scale production are typically more vulnerable than others to disasters such as earthquakes. We study the earthquakes that struck Nepal in the spring of 2015 to investigate their impacts on smallholder communities and the diverse trajectories of recovery at the household and community levels. We focus on the first year following the earthquakes because this is when households were still devastated, yet beginning to recover and adapt. Through survey questionnaires, focus group discussions, open-ended interviews, and observations at public meetings we analyze physical impacts to farming systems and cropping cycles. We investigate respondent reports of loss and recovery through a new social-ecological recovery assessment instrument and find that diversification of livelihoods and access to common resources, alongside robust community institutions, were critical components of coping and recovery. There was widespread damage to subsistence farming infrastructure, which potentially accelerated ongoing transitions to cash crop adoption. We also find that perceptions of recovery varied widely among and within the typical predictors of recovery, such as caste and farm size, in sometimes unexpected ways. Although postdisaster recovery has material and psychosocial dimensions, our work shows that these may not change in the same direction.

Participatory modeling and development practice: artisanal fishers in Nicaragua

Journal Paper
Christian E. Casillas & Isha Ray
Development in Practice, DOI: 10.1080/09614524.2018.1519012
Publication year: 2018

ABSTRACT

Development plans with insufficient knowledge about local realities, and that do not share technical or planning details with the target communities, bedevil development practice. This study used a form of participatory modelling in three fishing communities in Nicaragua to enable fishers to explore their economy and the potential impacts of fishery-based development projects. Co-designing a model of the fishing economy in the form of a board game created a forum in which facilitators and participants could arrive at a shared understanding of local fishing practices and the costs and benefits of strategies for addressing the fishers’ priorities.

Measuring User Compliance and Cost Effectiveness of Safe Drinking Water Programs: A Cluster-Randomized Study of Household Ultraviolet Disinfection in Rural Mexico

Journal Paper
Fermín Reygadas, Joshua S. Gruber, Lindsay Dreizler, Kara L. Nelson & Isha Ray
American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene
Publication year: 2018

Abstract

Low adoption and compliance levels for household water treatment and safe storage (HWTS) technologies have made it challenging for these systems to achieve measurable health benefits in the developing world. User compliance remains an inconsistently defined and poorly understood feature of HWTS programs. In this article, we develop a comprehensive approach to understanding HWTS compliance. First, our Safe Drinking Water Compliance Framework disaggregates and measures the components of compliance from initial adoption of the HWTS to exclusive consumption of treated water. We apply this framework to an ultraviolet (UV)–based safe water system in a cluster-randomized controlled trial in rural Mexico. Second, we evaluate a no-frills (or “Basic”) variant of the program as well as an improved (or “Enhanced”) variant, to test if subtle changes in the user interface of HWTS programs could improve compliance. Finally, we perform a full-cost analysis of both variants to assess their cost effectiveness (CE) in achieving compliance. We define “compliance” strictly as the habit of consuming safe water. We find that compliance was significantly higher in the groups where the UV program variants were rolled out than in the control groups. The Enhanced variant performed better immediately postintervention than the Basic, but compliance (and thus CE) degraded with time such that no effective difference remained between the two versions of the program.

From intermittent to continuous service: Costs, benefits, equity and sustainability of water system reforms in Hubli-Dharwad, India

Journal Paper
Zachary Burt, Ayşe Ercümen, Narayana Billava & Isha Ray
World Development, 109: 121 – 133
Publication year: 2018

Abstract

Urban service provision falls somewhere on the continuum of lower-cost, lower-quality, unreliable and intermittent to higher-cost, higher-quality, reliable and continuous. Piped water services in India are generally in the former category, but efforts are underway in some cities to shift to continuous supply. We use a matched-cohort research design to evaluate one such effort: an upgrade to continuous water service in a pilot zone of Hubli-Dharwad, India, while the rest of the city remained on intermittent services. We conducted a survey of ∼4000 households with four rounds of data collection over 15 months. We evaluated the household-level net benefits, the equity of their distribution, and the affordability of water access under continuous supply. We also evaluated the project at the system-level (household and utility), estimating the net present value of the upgrade and the feasibility of scale-up to the entire city. We found positive net benefits for households overall, but uneven distribution of these benefits across socio-economic strata. We also found that the costs of supply augmentation, a necessary step for scale-up, significantly reduced the project net present value. The potential for scale-up is thus unclear.

Flows, leaks and blockages in informational interventions: A field experimental study of Bangalore's water sector

Journal Paper
Tanu Kumar, Alison E.Post & Isha Ray
World Development, 106: 149 – 160
Publication year: 2018

Abstract

Many policies and programs based on informational interventions hinge upon the assumption that providing citizens with information can help improve the quality of public services, or help citizens cope with poor services. We present a causal framework that can be used to identify leaks and blockages in the information production and dissemination process in such programs. We conceptualize the “information pipeline” as a series of connected nodes, each of which constitutes a possible point of blockage. We apply the framework to a field-experimental evaluation of a program that provided households in Bangalore, India, with advance notification of intermittently provided piped water. Our study detected no impacts on household wait times for water or on how citizens viewed the state, but found that notifications reduced stress. Our framework reveals that, in our case, noncompliance among human intermediaries and asymmetric gender relations contributed in large part to these null-to-modest results. Diagnostic frameworks like this should be used more extensively in development research to better understand the mechanisms responsible for program success and failure, to identify subgroups that actually received the intended treatment, and to identify potential leaks and blockages when replicating existing programs in new settings.

“It has to be done only at night”: human waste disposal in Bangalore

Journal Paper
CS Sharada Prasad & Isha Ray
Economic and Political Weekly, v(LIII), 13-21
Publication year: 2018

India’s National Urban Sanitation Policy and its flagship programme, the Swachh Bharat Mission, strongly recommend mechanical technologies for safe faecal sludge management. But, how do septic tank cleaners live and work, and why are their practices not “safe”? An evening spent in observation of their work and in conversation with cleaners and truck drivers in Bengaluru aka Bangalore is recounted.

‘When You Start Doing This Work, It Is Hard to Eat Dal’ - Life and Work of Manual Scavengers

Journal Paper
C S Sharada Prasad & Isha Ray
LIII(32), 25-27
Publication year: 2018

In 2013, manual scavenging, or the cleaning of “dry” latrines with unprotected hands, was abolished in India. Yet, millions of dry latrines are still manually serviced by Dalit labour. The Prime Minister’s Swachh Bharat Mission has put little effort into the health and dignity of sanitation workers relative to its efforts on subsidising and encouraging latrine-building. A few days spent with the Valmiki community in Lucknow are recounted.

User preferences and willingness to pay for safe drinking water: Experimental Evidence from Rural Tanzania

Journal Paper
Zachary Burt, Robert M Njee, Yolanda Mbatia, Veritas Msimbe, Joe Brown, Thomas F Clasen, Hamisi M Malebo & Isha Ray
Social Science and Medicine, 173:63 – 71
Publication year: 2017

Abstract

Almost half of all deaths from drinking microbiologically unsafe water occur in Sub-Saharan Africa. Household water treatment and safe storage (HWTS) systems, when consistently used, can provide safer drinking water and improve health. Social marketing to increase adoption and use of HWTS depends both on the prices of and preferences for these systems. This study included 556 households from rural Tanzania across two low-income districts with low-quality water sources. Over 9 months in 2012 and 2013, we experimentally evaluated consumer preferences for six “low-cost” HWTS options, including boiling, through an ordinal ranking protocol. We estimated consumers’ willingness to pay (WTP) for these options, using a modified auction. We allowed respondents to pay for the durable HWTS systems with cash, chickens or mobile money; a significant minority chose chickens as payment. Overall, our participants favored boiling, the ceramic pot filter and, where water was turbid, PuR™ (a combined flocculant-disinfectant). The revealed WTP for all products was far below retail prices, indicating that significant scale-up may need significant subsidies. Our work will inform programs and policies aimed at scaling up HWTS to improve the health of resource-constrained communities that must rely on poor-quality, and sometimes turbid, drinking water sources.

Towards sustainable urban sanitation: A capacity-building approach to wastewater mapping for small towns in India

Journal Paper
NC Narayanan, Isha Ray, Govind Gopakumar, & Poonam Argade
Journal of Water, Hygiene and Sanitation for Development
Publication year: 2017

Abstract

Decentralized technologies and city-based governance are being actively promoted for urban sanitation in low-income countries. At the same time, municipal agencies in developing countries have little technical or financial capacity for sanitation planning. This paper develops an approach to sanitation planning that leverages citizen engagement and fosters local capacities. It presents an empirical study from two small towns in India, where collaborations among the research team, local academics and students, and the municipal government, produced planning-oriented sanitary maps of each town. The maps were built upon a social and spatial understanding of the diverse sanitation practices that already exist, coupled with Google Earth and free GIS software. The ‘waste watersheds’ and ‘sanitation zones’ identified through the mapping process provide a basis on which sanitation interventions can be assessed and weighed, so that sustainable solutions can be prioritized. The paper identifies three features for system interventions: first, making local municipal government the locus of sanitation interventions; second, engaging community-based organizations and academic institutions to develop local capacity; and finally, recognizing the fragmented nature of cities by developing a socio-spatial approach to sanitation zoning.

Public Spaces, Private Acts: Toilets and Gender Equality

Other Writings
Isha Ray
ITEMS | Launching paper for Just Environments series | May 30
Publication year: 2017

Isha Ray’s contribution, the first of several essays in our “Just Environments” series, examines gender equality through the lens of access to basic sanitation. Moving beyond what the United Nations and others have proposed, Ray argues that in-home toilets are inadequate because they fail to account for those without homes, or those who are not home all day. Rather, if we are to make sanitation truly accessible, we must explicitly design and construct infrastructure that meets the needs of the most marginalized—including the low-income woman whose dignity and mobility rests on the presence of clean, safe facilities outside of the home.

Predictors of Drinking Water Boiling and Bottled Water Consumption in Rural China: A Hierarchical Modeling Approach

Journal Paper
Alasdair Cohen, Qi Zhang, Qing Luo, Yong Tao, John M Colford, Jr. & Isha Ray
Environmental Science and Technology
Publication year: 2017

Abstract

Approximately two billion people drink unsafe water. Boiling is the most commonly used household water treatment (HWT) method globally and in China. HWT can make water safer, but sustained adoption is rare and bottled water consumption is growing. To successfully promote HWT, an understanding of associated socioeconomic factors is critical. We collected survey data and water samples from 450 rural households in Guangxi Province, China. Covariates were grouped into blocks to hierarchically construct modified Poisson models and estimate risk ratios (RR) associated with boiling methods, bottled water, and untreated water. Female-headed households were most likely to boil (RR = 1.36, p < 0.01), and among boilers those using electric kettles rather than pots had higher income proxies (e.g., per capita TV ownership RR = 1.42, p < 0.01). Higher-income households with younger, literate, and male heads were more likely to purchase (frequently contaminated) bottled water, or use electric kettles if they boiled. Our findings show that boiling is not an undifferentiated practice, but one with different methods of varying effectiveness, environmental impact, and adoption across socioeconomic strata. Our results can inform programs to promote safer and more efficient boiling using electric kettles, and suggest that if rural China’s economy continues to grow then bottled water use will increase.

 

Photo-Essay: Where There are no Sewers - The Toilet Cleaners of Lucknow

Other Writings
CS Sharada Prasad & Isha Ray
India Water Portal, Mon, 2017-11-20
Publication year: 2017

November 19 is World Toilet Day. Enormous progress has been made in the global effort to provide safe and affordable toilets for the world’s poorest citizens since World Toilet Day was first declared in 2001. Significant strides have been made in “reinventing” toilet designs for low-income, water-short, unsewered urban zones; celebrities such as Bill Gates and Matt Damon have brought this once-taboo topic into the open; and the Prime Minister of India–the country with the highest number of people still practising open defecation–has publicly declared that his country needs toilets over temples.

Well over two billion people today lack access to basic sanitation facilities, according to the World Health Organization; about 760 million of them live in India. The goal of this Day is to make the global community aware of their right to safe and dignified sanitation and to support public action and public policy to bring this right closer to those who do not enjoy it today. On this World Toilet Day, we focus on the back-end of the sanitation chain, on those who clean out latrines where there is no flush or sewer to carry away the waste. When this work is done without mechanical equipment and without protective clothing, scooping out faeces from ‘dry’ latrines and overflowing pits, it is called “manual scavenging”.

It’s an ancient profession and India, which made the practice illegal in 1993, still has over one million such cleaners (the exact number is unknown, and declining). They service low-income urban households and railway tracks and army barracks; they come from the lowest strata of the Hindu caste system, and about 90 percent of them are women. Despite valiant civil society (and several governments) efforts to train them for other professions, breaking out of this denigrated caste-based profession remains very difficult. Many mehters live in the shadows of society, invisible yet reviled, taunted yet essential, trapped in an unconstitutional practice without viable alternatives.

In a real sense, 70 years after Indian independence, this is a community still waiting for its freedom. In this photo-essay, we explore the daily lives of the toilet-cleaners: their homes, their hopes, their work, and their determination to get their children out of it. If World Toilet Day is about expanding access to clean toilets, it must also be about those who have to clean the toilets.

Measuring household consumption and waste in unmetered, intermittent piped water systems

Journal Paper
Emily Kumpel, Cleo Woelfle-Erskine, Isha Ray & Kara Nelson
Water Resources Research, 53: 302 – 315
Publication year: 2017

Abstract

Measurements of household water consumption are extremely difficult in intermittent water supply (IWS) regimes in low‐ and middle‐income countries, where water is delivered for short durations, taps are shared, metering is limited, and household storage infrastructure varies widely. Nonetheless, consumption estimates are necessary for utilities to improve water delivery. We estimated household water use in Hubli‐Dharwad, India, with a mixed‐methods approach combining (limited) metered data, storage container inventories, and structured observations. We developed a typology of household water access according to infrastructure conditions based on the presence of an overhead storage tank and a shared tap. For households with overhead tanks, container measurements and metered data produced statistically similar consumption volumes; for households without overhead tanks, stored volumes underestimated consumption because of significant water use directly from the tap during delivery periods. Households that shared taps consumed much less water than those that did not. We used our water use calculations to estimate waste at the household level and in the distribution system. Very few households used 135 L/person/d, the Government of India design standard for urban systems. Most wasted little water even when unmetered, however, unaccounted‐for water in the neighborhood distribution systems was around 50%. Thus, conservation efforts should target loss reduction in the network rather than at households.

Frontline worker compliance with transparency reforms: Barriers posed by family and financial responsibilities

Journal Paper
Christopher Hyun, Alison E. Post & Isha Ray
Governance, 31: 1 - 18
Publication year: 2017

Abstract

Significant development funding flows to informational interventions intended to improve public services. Such “transparency fixes” often depend on the cooperation of frontline workers who produce or disseminate information for citizens. This article examines frontline worker compliance with a transparency intervention in Bangalore’s water sector. Why did compliance vary across neighborhoods, and why did workers exhibit modest rates of compliance overall? Drawing on ethnographic observation and an original data set, this article finds that variation in workers’ family responsibilities and financial circumstances largely explains variation in compliance with the intervention. Furthermore, workers often prioritize long‐standing responsibilities over new tasks seen as add‐ons, leading to modest rates of compliance overall. Perceptions of “core” jobs can be sticky—especially when reaffirmed through interactions with citizens. This article represents one of the first multimethod companions to a field experiment, and illustrates how the analysis of qualitative and observational data can contribute to impact evaluation.

Determinants of the use of alternatives to arsenic-contaminated shallow groundwater: an exploratory study in rural West Bengal, India

Journal Paper
Caroline Delaire, Abhijit Das, Susan Amrose, Ashok Gadgil, Joyashree Roy & Isha Ray
Journal of Water and Health, 15.5: 799 – 812
Publication year: 2017

Abstract

Shallow groundwater containing toxic concentrations of arsenic is the primary source of drinking water for millions of households in rural West Bengal, India. Often, this water also contains unpleasant levels of iron and non-negligible fecal contamination. Alternatives to shallow groundwater are increasingly available, including government-built deep tubewells, water purchased from independent providers, municipal piped water, and household filters. We conducted a survey of 501 households in Murshidabad district in 2014 to explore what influenced the use of available alternatives. Socioeconomic status and the perceived likelihood of gastrointestinal (GI) illness (which was associated with dissatisfaction with iron in groundwater) were the primary determinants of the use of alternatives. Arsenic knowledge was limited. The choice amongst alternatives was influenced by economic, social, and aesthetic factors, but not by health risk perceptions. The use of purchased water was rarely exclusive and was strongly associated with socioeconomic status, suggesting that this form of market-based water provision does not ensure universal access. Demand for purchased water appeared to decrease significantly shortly after free piped water became available at public taps. Our results suggest that arsenic mitigation interventions that also address co-occurring water problems (iron, GI illness) could be more effective than a focus on arsenic alone.

Coping Strategies of Smallholder Farming Communities after the 2015 Nepal Earthquake: Insights into Post-Disaster Resilience and Social–Ecological Change

Journal Paper
Kathleen Epstein, Jessica DiCarlo, Robin Marsh, Isha Ray & Inger Måren
Case Studies in the Environment.
Publication year: 2017

Abstract

Environmental disasters, such as hurricanes, landslides, and earthquakes, are pervasive and disproportionately affect rural and poor populations. The concept of resilience is typically used in disaster scenarios to describe how a community or person is able to “bounce back” from a disaster event. At the same time, resilience theory also contends that disasters, or environmental shocks, can produce or initiate profound changes in social and ecological systems. This case uses a post-disaster resilience assessment to examine how the series of earthquakes that hit central Nepal in 2015 impacted farming communities. Mid-montane smallholder farming communities near the epicenters of the earthquakes were the most affected and the associated damages impeded traditional and subsistence agricultural practices. Our results show how some aspects of the Nepali farming social–ecological system (SES) bounced back more quickly than others and how farmers used various types of coping strategies, including the adoption of labor-saving cash crops as part of their post-disaster recovery. The increased interest in cash crops after the earthquake accelerates an ongoing transition toward more market activities in subsistence communities and illustrates the potential of environmental shocks to transform and change SESs.

Towards Gender Equality through Sanitation Access

UN Discussion Paper
Zachary Burt, Kara Nelson & Isha Ray
United Nations Women Discussion Paper
Publication year: 2016

This discussion paper reviews the extensive literature on sanitation to show that inadequate access to this basic service prevents the realization of a range of human rights and of gender equality. We recognize that “dignity” is a highly culture- and gender-specific term; we therefore argue that sanitation for all—sanitation that serves all genders equally—must be designed and planned explicitly for the unique needs of women and girls.

We cover sanitation design, planning and financing for hygienic defecation, and for relieving oneself during the day at work or school. These needs are sometimes euphemistically referred to as nature’s “long call” (defecation) and “short call” (urination); the absence of safe facilities for these needs disproportionately affects women and girls. In addition, women and adolescent girls menstruate, and they need safe sanitation services to manage, hygienically and with dignity, this “monthly call”. We review the findings of the small but rapidly growing literature on menstrual hygiene management, with emphasis on menstruation management and a girl’s right to education. Finally, we review the work and life conditions of those working the “back-end” of the sanitation system, such as manual scavengers and sanitation workers. The paper concludes that safe sanitation is a gateway service for dignity, health and gender equality. In particular, sanitation in public or shared spaces must become a priority-planning sector for sustainable development.

This paper was featured at an event on Emerging Issues in Gender and WASH held during the 60th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women in 2016.

Investing in Gender-Equal Sustainable Development

UN Discussion Paper
Isha Ray
United Nations Women Discussion Paper
Publication year: 2016

This paper develops an agenda for investing in sustainable development, with particular emphasis on local priorities, poverty alleviation and gender equality.

Sustainable development can take many different pathways, even within the dominant ‘three-pillar’ paradigm (economy-environment-society) of sustainability. The paper thus argues that any sustainable development pathway must include an explicit commitment to gender equality in both its conceptualization and implementation. It highlights four ‘mundane’ sectors in which investments at scale could be potentially transformative and should therefore be substantially increased: domestic water, safe sanitation, clean(er)-burning cookstoves, and domestic electricity services.

This paper was produced for UN Women’s flagship report the World Survey on the Role of Women in Development 2014: Gender and Sustainable Development. It is now also released as part of the UN Women discussion paper series.

Upgrading a piped water supply from intermittent to continuous delivery and association with waterborne illness: A matched cohort study in urban India

Journal Paper
Ayşe Ercümen, Benjamin F. Arnold, Emily Kumpel, Zachary Burt, Isha Ray, Kara Nelson, & John M. Colford, Jr
PLoS Medicine, 12(10): e1001892.
Publication year: 2015

Abstract

Background

Intermittent delivery of piped water can lead to waterborne illness through contamination in the pipelines or during household storage, use of unsafe water sources during intermittencies, and limited water availability for hygiene. We assessed the association between continuous versus intermittent water supply and waterborne diseases, child mortality, and weight for age in Hubli-Dharwad, India.

Methods and Findings

We conducted a matched cohort study with multivariate matching to identify intermittent and continuous supply areas with comparable characteristics in Hubli-Dharwad. We followed 3,922 households in 16 neighborhoods with children <5 y old, with four longitudinal visits over 15 mo (Nov 2010–Feb 2012) to record caregiver-reported health outcomes (diarrhea, highly credible gastrointestinal illness, bloody diarrhea, typhoid fever, cholera, hepatitis, and deaths of children <2 y old) and, at the final visit, to measure weight for age for children <5 y old. We also collected caregiver-reported data on negative control outcomes (cough/cold and scrapes/bruises) to assess potential bias from residual confounding or differential measurement error.

Continuous supply had no significant overall association with diarrhea (prevalence ratio [PR] = 0.93, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.83–1.04, p = 0.19), bloody diarrhea (PR = 0.78, 95% CI: 0.60–1.01, p = 0.06), or weight-for-age z-scores (Δz = 0.01, 95% CI: −0.07–0.09, p = 0.79) in children <5 y old. In prespecified subgroup analyses by socioeconomic status, children <5 y old in lower-income continuous supply households had 37% lower prevalence of bloody diarrhea (PR = 0.63, 95% CI: 0.46–0.87, p-value for interaction = 0.03) than lower-income intermittent supply households; in higher-income households, there was no significant association between continuous versus intermittent supply and child diarrheal illnesses. Continuous supply areas also had 42% fewer households with ≥1 reported case of typhoid fever (cumulative incidence ratio [CIR] = 0.58, 95% CI: 0.41–0.78, p = 0.001) than intermittent supply areas. There was no significant association with hepatitis, cholera, or mortality of children <2 y old; however, our results were indicative of lower mortality of children <2 y old (CIR = 0.51, 95% CI: 0.22–1.07, p = 0.10) in continuous supply areas. The major limitations of our study were the potential for unmeasured confounding given the observational design and measurement bias from differential reporting of health symptoms given the nonblinded treatment. However, there was no significant difference in the prevalence of the negative control outcomes between study groups that would suggest undetected confounding or measurement bias.

Conclusions

Continuous water supply had no significant overall association with diarrheal disease or ponderal growth in children <5 y old in Hubli-Dharwad; this might be due to point-of-use water contamination from continuing household storage and exposure to diarrheagenic pathogens through nonwaterborne routes. Continuous supply was associated with lower prevalence of dysentery in children in low-income households and lower typhoid fever incidence, suggesting that intermittently operated piped water systems are a significant transmission mechanism for Salmonella typhi and dysentery-causing pathogens in this urban population, despite centralized water treatment. Continuous supply was associated with reduced transmission, especially in the poorer higher-risk segments of the population.

Safe Drinking Water for Low-Income Regions

Journal Paper
Susan Amrose, Zachary Burt & Isha Ray
Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 40:9.1 – 9.29
Publication year: 2015

Abstract

Well into the 21st century, safe and affordable drinking water remains an unmet human need. At least 1.8 billion people are potentially exposed to microbial contamination, and close to 140 million people are potentially exposed to unsafe levels of arsenic. Many new technologies, water quality assessments, health impact assessments, cost studies, and user preference studies have emerged in the past 20 years to further the laudable goal of safe drinking water for all. This article reviews (a) the current literature on safe water approaches with respect to their effectiveness in improving water quality and protectiveness in improving human health, (b) new work on the uptake and use of safe water systems among low-income consumers, (c) new research on the cash and labor costs of safe water systems, and (d) research on user preferences and valuations for safe water. Our main recommendation is that safe water from “source to sip” should be seen as a system; this entire system, rather than a discrete intervention, should be the object of analysis for technical, economic, and health assessments.

Microbiological evaluation of household drinking water treatment in rural China shows benefits of electric kettles: A cross-sectional study

Journal Paper
Alasdair Cohen, Yong Tao, Qing Luo, Gemei Zhong, Jeff Romm, John M Colford, Jr. & Isha Ray
PLoS ONE, 10(9): e0138451
Publication year: 2015

Abstract

Background

In rural China ~607 million people drink boiled water, yet little is known about prevailing household water treatment (HWT) methods or their effectiveness. Boiling, the most common HWT method globally, is microbiologically effective, but household air pollution (HAP) from burning solid fuels causes cardiovascular and respiratory disease, and black carbon emissions exacerbate climate change. Boiled water is also easily re-contaminated. Our study was designed to identify the HWT methods used in rural China and to evaluate their effectiveness.

Methods

We used a geographically stratified cross-sectional design in rural Guangxi Province to collect survey data from 450 households in the summer of 2013. Household drinking water samples were collected and assayed for Thermotolerant Coliforms (TTC), and physicochemical analyses were conducted for village drinking water sources. In the winter of 2013–2104, we surveyed 120 additional households and used remote sensors to corroborate self-reported boiling data.

 

Findings

Our HWT prevalence estimates were: 27.1% boiling with electric kettles, 20.3% boiling with pots, 34.4% purchasing bottled water, and 18.2% drinking untreated water (for these analyses we treated bottled water as a HWT method). Households using electric kettles had the lowest concentrations of TTC (73% lower than households drinking untreated water). Multilevel mixed-effects regression analyses showed that electric kettles were associated with the largest Log10TTC reduction (-0.60, p<0.001), followed by bottled water (-0.45, p<0.001) and pots (-0.44, p<0.01). Compared to households drinking untreated water, electric kettle users also had the lowest risk of having TTC detected in their drinking water (risk ratio, RR = 0.49, 0.34–0.70, p<0.001), followed by bottled water users (RR = 0.70, 0.53–0.93, p<0.05) and households boiling with pots (RR = 0.74, 0.54–1.02, p = 0.06).

Conclusion

As far as we are aware, this is the first HWT-focused study in China, and the first to quantify the comparative advantage of boiling with electric kettles over pots. Our results suggest that electric kettles could be used to rapidly expand safe drinking water access and reduce HAP exposure in rural China.

Field efficacy evaluation and post-treatment contamination risk assessment of an ultraviolet disinfection and safe storage system

Journal Paper
Fermin Reygadas, Joshua S. Gruber, Isha Ray & Kara L. Nelson
Water Research, 85: 74 – 84
Publication year: 2015

Abstract

Inconsistent use of household water treatment and safe storage (HWTS) systems reduces their potential health benefits. Ultraviolet (UV) disinfection is more convenient than some existing HWTS systems, but it does not provide post-treatment residual disinfectant, which could leave drinking water vulnerable to recontamination. In this paper, using as-treated analyses, we report on the field efficacy of a UV disinfection system at improving household drinking water quality in rural Mexico. We further assess the risk of post-treatment contamination from the UV system, and develop a process-based model to better understand household risk factors for recontamination. This study was part of a larger cluster-randomized stepped wedge trial, and the results complement previously published population-level results of the intervention on diarrheal prevalence and water quality. Based on the presence of Escherichia coli(proportion of households with ≥1 E. coli/100 mL), we estimated a risk difference of −28.0% (95% confidence interval (CI): −33.9%, −22.1%) when comparing intervention to control households; −38.6% (CI: −48.9%, −28.2%) when comparing post- and pre-intervention results; and −37.1% (CI: −45.2%, −28.9%) when comparing UV disinfected water to alternatives within the household. We found substantial increases in post-treatment E. coli contamination when comparing samples from the UV system effluent (5.0%) to samples taken from the storage container (21.1%) and drinking glasses (26.0%). We found that improved household infrastructure, additional extractions from the storage container, additional time from when the storage container was filled, and increased experience of the UV system operator were associated with reductions in post-treatment contamination. Our results suggest that the UV system is efficacious at improving household water quality when used as intended. Promoting safe storage habits is essential for an effective UV system dissemination. The drinking glass appears to represent a small but significant source of recontamination that is likely to impact all HWTS systems.

The Drinking Water Disparities Framework: On the origins and persistence of inequities in exposure

Journal Paper
Carolina Balazs & Isha Ray
American Journal of Public Health | Framing Health Matters, 104: 603 – 611
Publication year: 2014

Abstract

With this article, we develop the Drinking Water Disparities Framework to explain environmental injustice in the context of drinking water in the United States. The framework builds on the social epidemiology and environmental justice literatures, and is populated with 5 years of field data (2005–2010) from California’s San Joaquin Valley. We trace the mechanisms through which natural, built, and sociopolitical factors work through state, county, community, and household actors to constrain access to safe water and to financial resources for communities. These constraints and regulatory failures produce social disparities in exposure to drinking water contaminants. Water system and household coping capacities lead, at best, to partial protection against exposure. This composite burden explains the origins and persistence of social disparities in exposure to drinking water contaminants.

Storage and non-payment: persistent informalities within the formal water supply of Hubli-Dharwad, India

Journal Paper
Zachary Burt & Isha Ray
Water Alternatives, 7: 106 – 120
Publication year: 2014

Abstract

Urban water systems in Asia and Africa mostly provide intermittent rather than continuous water supplies; such systems compromise water quality and inconvenience the user. Starting in 2008, an upgrade to continuous (24/7) water services was provided for 10% of the twin cities of Hubli-Dharwad, India, through a process of privatisation and formalisation. The goals were to improve water quality, free consumers from collecting and storing water, and reduce non-revenue (i.e. unpaid for) water. Drawing on household surveys (n = 1986) conducted in 2010-2011 in the 24/7 zones, as well as on a range of interviews, we find that, even with ‘formal’ 24/7 water service, most consumers continue the supposedly ‘informal’ practices of in-home storage and water use without payment of bills. We argue that multiple unaccounted-for factors – including a history of distrust between the consumer and the utility, seemingly small infrastructural details, resistance to higher tariffs, and valuing convenience above water quality – have kept these informal practices embedded within the formalised delivery system. Our research contributes to understanding why formalisation may only partially supplant informal practices even when the formal system is functional and reliable.

Challenges and Achievements in Millennium Development Goals for Water and Sanitation for Women and Girls

Other WritingsUN Discussion Paper
Isha Ray
UN Women Expert Group Briefing Paper
Publication year: 2013

A stepped wedge, cluster-randomized trial of a household UV-disinfection and safe storage drinking water intervention in rural Baja California Sur, Mexico

Journal Paper
Joshua S. Gruber, Fermin Reygadas, Ben Arnold, Isha Ray, Kara L. Nelson & John Colford, Jr
American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 89: 238 – 245
Publication year: 2013

Abstract

In collaboration with a local non-profit organization, this study evaluated the expansion of a program that promoted and installed Mesita Azul, an ultraviolet-disinfection system designed to treat household drinking water in rural Mexico. We conducted a 15-month, cluster-randomized stepped wedge trial by randomizing the order in which 24 communities (444 households) received the intervention. We measured primary outcomes (water contamination and diarrhea) during seven household visits. The intervention increased the percentage of households with access to treated and safely stored drinking water (23–62%), and reduced the percentage of households with  contaminated drinking water (risk difference (RD): −19% [95% CI: −27%, −14%]). No significant reduction in diarrhea was observed (RD: −0.1% [95% CI: −1.1%, 0.9%]). We conclude that household water quality improvements measured in this study justify future promotion of the Mesita Azul, and that future studies to measure its health impact would be valuable if conducted in populations with higher diarrhea prevalence.

Poverty and profits in the information age

Journal Paper
Isha Ray & Renee Kuriyan
Information Technology and International Development, 8 (1): iii - viii.
Publication year: 2012

Information Technologies and Economic Capital Since the 2004 publication of C. K. Prahalad’s remarkably influential The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits, the term “BoP” has become commonplace among development practitioners and corporations. This work argued that, rather than relying upon inefficient governments to provide the poor (i.e., the BoP) with necessary goods and services, the for-profit sector, and especially multinational companies, could play a central role in creating demand and supplying low-cost goods (Prahalad, 2004). “The BoP” entered development discourse and practice at about the same time that information and communication technologies for development, or ICTD, rose to prominence as a key tool of poverty alleviation (Prahalad & Hammond, 2001). By the turn of the millennium, corporations and other private actors had joined the poverty alleviation “business”–not as a by-product of their operations, but as an explicit part of it. These institutions, along with traditional international development organizations, converged upon the idea that philanthropy and profitability are not in opposition, and that the private sector can serve the world’s poor efficiently through high-quality, low-cost products and ICT-enabled services (Hart, 2005). Thus, ICTs “for” D emerged in a joint environment of technological optimism, win-win aspirations of all stakeholders in the feld of development, and a strong reliance on sustainable business models (Gurumurthy, 2010; see also Kuriyan, Nafus, & Mainwaring, this issue; Ilahiane & Sherry, this issue). More recently, Porter and Kramer’s (2011) concept of shared value points to the opportunities that arise from serving disadvantaged communities and developing countries. Reminiscent of Prahalad, they argue that re-conceiving products and markets to address societal concerns can yield benefits to the private sector (ibid.). Research on whether, or how, the principles of development-as-business actually work for the poor has yielded mixed findings. On the one hand, several studies from Asia and Africa have reported economic and social benefits of access to information technologies (Arunachalam, 2002; Donner, 2007; Hughes & Lonie, 2007). Yet, as Gillwald points out in the pages of this journal: “There is little non-anecdotal evidence in Africa linking communications sector policy reforms … and lower costs of communications … to poverty alleviation” (2010, p. 80). Overall, case studies on the impact of cell phone ownership and usage among the poor, or at least among the near-poor, have been positive (Donner, 2007; Jensen, 2007), whereas those on the impact of community-based computer kiosks or telecenters have mainly been discouraging (e.g. Kuriyan, Ray, &Toyama, 2008). Recent work has further revealed that low-income individuals may use ICTs in conventional ways, but these ICTs are also key sites of innovation with, and re-purposing of, these technologies (e.g., Heeks, 2009; Maurer, in press). The four articles presented here seek to increase our understanding of poverty and profits in the age of technology-meets-development-meets-business. All four articles use ethnographic methods, sharing the ethnographer’s attention to both the intended and the unintended, and to both the spoken and the strategically unsaid. They cover four broad stakeholder groups: the consumer, the local entrepreneur, the ICTD…

Environmental justice implications of arsenic contamination in California’s San Joaquin Valley: a cross-sectional cluster-design examining exposure and compliance in community drinking water systems

Journal Paper
Carolina Balazs, Rachel Morello-Frosch, Alan Hubbard & Isha Ray
Environmental Health, 11:84 (14 November 2012)
Publication year: 2012

Abstract

Background

Few studies of environmental justice examine inequities in drinking water contamination. Those studies that have done so usually analyze either disparities in exposure/harm or inequitable implementation of environmental policies. The US EPA’s 2001 Revised Arsenic Rule, which tightened the drinking water standard for arsenic from 50 μg/L to 10 μg/L, offers an opportunity to analyze both aspects of environmental justice.

Methods

We hypothesized that Community Water Systems (CWSs) serving a higher proportion of minority residents or residents of lower socioeconomic status (SES) have higher drinking water arsenic levels and higher odds of non-compliance with the revised standard. Using water quality sampling data for arsenic and maximum contaminant level (MCL) violation data for 464 CWSs actively operating from 2005–2007 in California’s San Joaquin Valley we ran bivariate tests and linear regression models.

Results

Higher home ownership rate was associated with lower arsenic levels (ß-coefficient= −0.27 μg As/L, 95% (CI), -0.5, -0.05). This relationship was stronger in smaller systems (ß-coefficient= −0.43, CI, -0.84, -0.03). CWSs with higher rates of homeownership had lower odds of receiving an MCL violation (OR, 0.33; 95% CI, 0.16, 0.67); those serving higher percentages of minorities had higher odds (OR, 2.6; 95% CI, 1.2, 5.4) of an MCL violation.

Conclusions

We found that higher arsenic levels and higher odds of receiving an MCL violation were most common in CWSs serving predominantly socio-economically disadvantaged communities. Our findings suggest that communities with greater proportions of low SES residents not only face disproportionate arsenic exposures, but unequal MCL compliance challenges.

Towards Aspirations as a Development Indicator: The Case of Information and Communication Technologies

Journal Paper
Isha Ray & Renee Kuriyan
Proceedings of the 4th IEEE/ACM International Conference ICTD 2010.
Publication year: 2011

Abstract

This paper examines how changes in aspirations among the poor should be understood in the context of ICTD
interventions. We argue that aspirations associated with ICTs (or with other interventions) can be seen as interim indicators of
development when, and only when, these aspirations stem from enhanced human capabilities rather than simply from stated or
distant desires. This entails understanding if and how ICTs and ICT-enabled services open up pathways by which the aspirations
of the poor can potentially be actualized.

Social disparities in nitrate contaminated drinking water in California’s San Joaquin Valley

Journal Paper
Carolina Balazs, Rachel Morello-Frosch, Alan Hubbard & Isha Ray
Environmental Health Perspectives, 119: 1272 – 1278.13
Publication year: 2011

Abstract

Background: Research on drinking water in the United States has rarely examined disproportionate exposures to contaminants faced by low-income and minority communities. This study analyzes the relationship between nitrate concentrations in community water systems (CWSs) and the racial/ethnic and socioeconomic characteristics of customers.

Objectives: We hypothesized that CWSs in California’s San Joaquin Valley that serve a higher proportion of minority or residents of lower socioeconomic status have higher nitrate levels and that these disparities are greater among smaller drinking water systems.

Methods: We used water quality monitoring data sets (1999–2001) to estimate nitrate levels in CWSs, and source location and census block group data to estimate customer demographics. Our linear regression model included 327 CWSs and reported robust standard errors clustered at the CWS level. Our adjusted model controlled for demographics and water system characteristics and stratified by CWS size.

Results: Percent Latino was associated with a 0.04-mg nitrate-ion (NO3)/L increase in a CWS’s estimated NO3 concentration [95% confidence interval (CI), –0.08 to 0.16], and rate of home ownership was associated with a 0.16-mg NO3/L decrease (95% CI, –0.32 to 0.002). Among smaller systems, the percentage of Latinos and of homeownership was associated with an estimated increase of 0.44 mg NO3/L (95% CI, 0.03–0.84) and a decrease of 0.15 mg NO3/L (95% CI, –0.64 to 0.33), respectively.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that in smaller water systems, CWSs serving larger percentages of Latinos and renters receive drinking water with higher nitrate levels. This suggests an environmental inequity in drinking water quality.

Interpreting the unknown: Uncertainty and the management of transboundary groundwater

Journal Paper
Anita Milman & Isha Ray
Water International, 36: 631 – 645
Publication year: 2011

This paper shows how uncertainty undermines collaborative transboundary groundwater management. Focusing on the Santa Cruz Aquifer, spanning the United States–Mexico border between Arizona and Sonora, the authors describe the uncertainties within the aquifer using interviews and hydrologic studies. We discuss how data requirements and ambiguous interpretations exacerbate these uncertainties, and explain how each country’s water-management culture combines with this uncertainty to create contrasting views on groundwater availability and abstraction impacts. As a result, water managers in both countries predict different impacts from pumping and recharge, and each uses that information discursively to support unilateral policies rather than to promote collaborative management.

Influencing attitudes towards carbon capture and sequestration: A social marketing approach

Journal Paper
Gabrielle Wong-Parodi, Hadi Dowlatabadi, Tim McDaniels & Isha Ray
Environmental Science and Technology, 45: 6743 – 6751
Publication year: 2011

Abstract

Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), while controversial, is seen as promising because it will allow the United States to continue using its vast fossil fuel resources in a carbon-constrained world. The public is an important stakeholder in the national debate about whether or not the U.S. should include CCS as a significant part of its climate change strategy. Understanding how to effectively engage with the public about CCS has become important in recent years, as interest in the technology has intensified. We argue that engagement efforts should be focused on places where CCS will first be deployed, i.e., places with many “energy veteran” (EV) citizens. We also argue that, in addition to information on CCS, messages with emotional appeal may be necessary in order to engage the public. In this paper we take a citizen-guided social marketing approach toward understanding how to (positively or negatively) influence EV citizens’ attitudes toward CCS. We develop open-ended interview protocols, and a “CCS campaign activity”, for Wyoming residents from Gillette and Rock Springs. We conclude that our participants believed expert-informed CCS messages, embedded within an emotionally self-referent (ESR) framework that was relevant to Wyoming, to be more persuasive than the expert messages alone. The appeal to core values of Wyomingites played a significant role in the citizen-guided CCS messages.

Public versus private: Does it matter for water conservation? Insights from California

Journal Paper
Giorgos Kallis, Isha Ray, Julian Fulton & James McMahon
Environmental Management, 45: 177 – 191
Publication year: 2010

Abstract

This article asks three connected questions: First, does the public view private and public utilities differently, and if so, does this affect attitudes to conservation? Second, do public and private utilities differ in their approaches to conservation? Finally, do differences in the approaches of the utilities, if any, relate to differences in public attitudes? We survey public attitudes in California toward (hypothetical but plausible) voluntary and mandated water conservation, as well as to price increases, during a recent period of shortage. We do this by interviewing households in three pairs of adjacent public and private utilities. We also survey managers of public and private urban water utilities to see if they differ in their approaches to conservation and to their customers. On the user side we do not find pronounced differences, though a minority of customers in all private companies would be more willing to conserve or pay higher prices under a public operator. No respondent in public utility said the reverse. Negative attitudes toward private operators were most pronounced in the pair marked by a controversial recent privatization and a price hike. Nonetheless, we find that California’s history of recurrent droughts and the visible role of the state in water supply and drought management undermine the distinction between public and private. Private utilities themselves work to underplay the distinction by stressing the collective ownership of the water source and the collective value of conservation. Overall, California’s public utilities appear more proactive and target-oriented in asking their customers to conserve than their private counterparts and the state continues to be important in legitimating and guiding conservation behavior, whether the utility is in public hands or private.

Back-End Users: The Unrecognized Stakeholders in Demand-Driven Sanitation

Journal Paper
Ashley Murray & Isha Ray
Journal of Planning, Education and Research, 36: 94 – 102
Publication year: 2010

Inadequate wastewater and fecal sludge treatment, disposal, and end use systems are arguably the greatest obstacles to achieving sustainable urban sanitation in unserved regions. Strategies for planning and implementing urban sanitation are continually evolving. Demand-driven sanitation with household and community participation is broadly thought to be the way forward. We are skeptical that more time and resources spent garnering household and community demand for sanitation will amount to the much-needed improvements in the treatment and end use components of sanitation systems. We propose shifting the incentives for sanitation from “front-end users” to “back-end users,” thereby leveraging demand for the products of sanitation (e.g., treated wastewater, fertilizer, alternative fuel) to motivate robust operation and maintenance of complete sanitation systems. Leveraging the resource value of wastewater and fecal sludge demands a reuse-oriented planning approach to sanitation, an example of which is the Design for Service approach presented in this commentary.

Wastewater for agriculture: A reuse-oriented planning model and its application in peri-urban China

Journal Paper
Ashley Murray & Isha Ray
Water Research, 44: 1667 – 1679
Publication year: 2009

Abstract

The benefits of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) are widely known but its recommendations remain thinly implemented. Designing wastewater treatment plants for reuse in irrigation is a particularly underutilized IWRM opportunity that could potentially increase agricultural yields, conserve surface water, offset chemical fertilizer demand, and reduce the costs of wastewater treatment by eliminating nutrient removal processes. This paper presents a novel planning model, consisting of a reuse-centric performance assessment and optimization model to help design wastewater treatment plants for reuse in agriculture. The performance assessment and optimization model are described, and their coupled application is demonstrated in the peri-urban district of Pixian, China. Based on the results of the performance assessment, two reuse scenarios are evaluated: wastewater to supplement business as usual (BAU) irrigation, and wastewater to replace BAU irrigation. The results indicate that wastewater supplementation could increase profits by $20 million (M) annually; alternatively, wastewater replacement could conserve 35 Mm3 of water in local rivers each year.

Urban water supply in India: Status, reform options, and possible lessons

Journal Paper
David McKenzie & Isha Ray
Water Policy, 11: 442 – 460
Publication year: 2009

Abstract

Large numbers of households in cities around the developing world do not have access to one of the most basic of human needs–a safe and reliable supply of drinking water. This paper uses the experience of India as a lens through which to view the problems of access to water in urban areas and the various options available for reform. Using two sets of data from the National Family Health Survey, as well as published and unpublished secondary sources, the paper presents the status of access to drinking water in urban India, the performance of India’s urban water sector compared to other Asian metropolitan regions and the reform efforts that are under way in several Indian cities. A review of these ongoing reforms illustrates some of the political economy challenges involved in reforming the water sector. Based on this analysis, we draw out directions for more effective research, data collection and policy reform. While each country faces unique challenges and opportunities, the scope and range of the Indian experience provides insights and caveats for many low-income nations.

The role of social factors in shaping public perceptions of CCS: Results of multi-state focus group interviews in the US

Journal Paper
Judith Bradbury, Isha Ray, Tarla Rai Peterson, Sarah Wade, Gabrielle Wong-Parodi & Andrea Feldpausch
Energy Procedia 1: 4665 – 4672
Publication year: 2009

Abstract

Three of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnerships analyzed community perspectives on carbon capture and storage (CCS) through focus groups and interviews in five communities. These perspectives were analyzed in the context of each community’s history and its social and economic characteristics. The results were considered for their insights into specific concerns within each region, as well as to assess inter-region commonalities. In all cases, factors such as past experience with government, existing low socioeconomic status, desire for compensation, and/or perceived benefit to the community were of greater concern than the concern about the risks of the technology itself. This paper discusses the findings from the joint review of the focus groups and the potential lessons for application to CCS deployment.

Outsourcing the state? Public-private partnerships and information technologies in India

Journal Paper
Renee Kuriyan & Isha Ray
World Development, 37: 1663 – 1673
Publication year: 2009

Summary

This paper examines public–private partnerships (PPPs) for development through the example of telecenters in two Indian states. How might a developmental state position itself with respect to civil society under a PPP model of service delivery? We find that each state’s political economy is reflected in its PPP strategy, but that in both states the emerging middle classes rather than the poor benefit most from ongoing telecenter projects. Outsourcing development services to private entities need not “privatize” the state but does alter the way in which citizens “see” the state. Service delivery through telecenters becomes a symbol of government efficiency and responsiveness.

Equity reexamined: A study of community-based rainwater harvesting in Rajasthan, India

Journal Paper
Jaquelin Cochran & Isha Ray
World Development, 37: 435 – 444
Publication year: 2009

Summary

Equity is central to community-based development efforts, but community perspectives on equity are seldom examined in the development literature. This study investigates how equity in a rainwater harvesting program is understood, and practiced in two Rajasthani communities. Drawing on Bourdieu’s concept of symbolic capital, we find that the symbolic capital accrued from contributing to the project is as central to community understandings of equity as the distribution of benefits from the project. We find that a continuing sense of community despite heterogeneity is itself a form of symbolic capital. Community-based valuations of equity thus enable a more catholic approach to costs, and benefits that broadens our knowledge both of equity, and of development.

E for “Express”: Seeing the Indian State Through ICTD

Journal Paper
Renee Kuriyan & Isha Ray
Proceedings of the 3rd IEEE/ACM International Conference ICTD 2009: 66 – 73
Publication year: 2009

Abstract:

This paper examines how, in their attempts to liberalize and modernize their operations, Indian states are using ICTD e-governance services to represent themselves in a new way to their citizens. It reveals how states come to be seen by their citizens through their everyday interactions at ICTD telecenters. The research finds that, with its e-governance services, the state is trying to recast its image to fit market-friendly principles such as economic efficiency, accountability and effectiveness. Citizens simultaneously trust the government as credible and are disillusioned with it as inefficient. Telecenter-provided e-governance services are partially re-shaping the boundaries between state, civil society and markets.

Community perceptions of carbon sequestration: Insights from California

Journal Paper
Gabrielle Wong-Parodi & Isha Ray
Environmental Research Letters, 4
Publication year: 2009

Abstract

Over the last decade, many energy experts have supported carbon sequestration as a viable technological response to climate change. Given the potential importance of sequestration in US energy policy, what might explain the views of communities that may be directly impacted by the siting of this technology? To answer this question, we conducted focus groups in two communities who were potentially pilot project sites for California’s DOE-funded West Coast Regional Partnership (WESTCARB). We find that communities want a voice in defining the risks to be mitigated as well as the justice of the procedures by which the technology is implemented. We argue that a community’s sense of empowerment is key to understanding its range of carbon sequestration opinions, where ’empowerment’ includes the ability to mitigate community-defined risks of the technology. This sense of empowerment protects the community against the downside risk of government or corporate neglect, a risk that is rarely identified in risk assessments but that should be factored into assessment and communication strategies.

An innovative sustainability assessment for urban wastewater infrastructure and its application in Chengdu, China

Journal Paper
Ashley Murray, Isha Ray & Kara Nelson
Journal of Environmental Management, 90: 3553 – 3560
Publication year: 2009

Abstract

Sustainability assessments are an increasingly common tool for measuring progress towards sustainable development. Despite their popularity, sustainability assessments and the indicators that compose them are said to have had little impact on the policy arena. In this paper we discuss four attributes that we contend will improve the use of sustainability assessments to guide decision making: non-compartmentalization, site specificity, built-in guidance for target setting, and ability to measure active sustainability. We present a novel assessment tool for wastewater treatment infrastructure that illustrates these attributes. The assessment is composed of two-dimensional indicators we call “burden to capacity” ratios, that reveal and quantify the local value of resources embodied in wastewater and treatment byproducts, and the tradeoffs between designing systems for disposal versus reuse. We apply the sustainability assessment framework to an existing treatment plant in Chengdu, China and discuss the result

Women and water in the developing world

Other Writings
Isha Ray
March 20, 2008. In: Encyclopedia of Earth, Cutler J. Cleveland (ed). Washington, D.C.: Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for Science and the Environment
Publication year: 2008

The Contested Commons: Conversations Between Economists and Anthropologists

Book
Pranab Bardhan & Isha Ray
Malden and Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Publication year: 2008

The Contested Commons explores the theme of common environmental resources from the dual perspectives of economics and anthropology, with a focus on developing countries

  • Contributed readings written by senior scholars in the fields of Economics, Anthropology, and Sociology
  • Looks at the challenges of interdisciplinary work in the social sciences, illustrating the variation in approaches/methodology
  • Focuses on economic security, ecological sustainability, identity formation, and participatory decision-making, particularly in the developing world

Information and communication technologies for development: The bottom of the pyramid model in practice

Journal Paper
Renee Kuriyan, Isha Ray & Kentaro Toyama
The Information Society, 24: 93 – 104
Publication year: 2008

The currently influential model for information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D) is based on increasing the well-being of the poor through market-based solutions, and by using low-cost but advanced technologies. Using ethnographic methods, we chart out the contradictions that could arise when such a development-through-entrepreneurship model is implemented. We examine the Akshaya project, a franchise of computer-service kiosks in Kerala, India, which strives simultaneously for social development through access to computers and financial viability through cost recovery and entrepreneurship. We show that tensions within the state and among entrepreneurs and perceptions of public versus private among consumers make it challenging to meet the twin goals of commercial profitability and social development.

How to use technology to spur development

Other Writings
Renee Kuriyan, Isha Ray & Daniel Kammen
Issues in Science and Technology, Winter 2008: 70 – 74
Publication year: 2008

Merging technology and entrepreneurialism to meet the needs of the poor and improve their productivity has obvious appeal, but such efforts need more careful study and planning to deliver on their potential.

Environmental non-government organizations' perceptions of geologic sequestration

Journal Paper
Gabrielle Wong-Parodi, Isha Ray & Alexander Farrell
Environmental Research Letters, 3.
Publication year: 2008

Abstract

Environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been influential in shaping public perceptions of environmental problems, their causes and potential solutions. Over the last decade, carbon capture and storage (CCS) has emerged as a potentially important technological response to climate change. In this paper we investigate how leading US NGOs perceive geologic sequestration, a potentially controversial part of CCS. We examine how and why their perceptions and strategies might differ, and if and how they plan to shape public perceptions of geologic sequestration. We approach these questions through semi-structured interviews with representatives from a range of NGOs, supplemented by content analysis of their documents. We find that while all the NGOs are committed to combating climate change, their views on CCS as a mitigation strategy vary considerably. We find that these views are correlated with NGOs’ histories of activism and advocacy, as well as with their sources of funding. Overall, most of these NGOs accept the necessity of geologic sequestration, while only a small fraction do not.

An integrated method for evaluating community-based safe water programs and an application in rural Mexico

Journal Paper
Carol de Wilde, Anita Milman, Yvonne Flores, Jorge Salmeròn & Isha Ray
Health Policy and Planning, 23: 452 – 464
Publication year: 2008

Abstract

The burden of diarrhoeal disease remains high in the developing world. Community-based safe drinking water programmes are being promoted as cost-effective interventions that will help reduce this illness burden. However, the effectiveness of these programmes remains under-investigated. The primary argument of this paper is that the biological exposure reductions underlying safe water interventions vary tremendously over space and time, and studies that only report results of intent-to-treat analyses cannot reveal why such programmes succeed or fail. The paper develops a stepwise evaluation framework to characterize, and so analyse, the technical, financial, social and behavioural factors that underlie exposure and mediate the impact of safe water investments. Relevant factors include physical performance of the water system, community capacity to maintain and manage the systems, and the time and budget constraints of households participating in the programme. The approach draws on the public health, community-based resource management, and household choice literatures to identify modifiable points of failure along the causal pathway to programme impact. The evaluation framework is used to assess the performance and impact of UVWaterworks, a community-based water purification system in rural Mexico, 5 years after the programme began. No impact on diarrhoea incidence was found in this case. The assessment method revealed that (a) household priorities and preferences were a key factor in maintaining exposure to safe drinking water sources, and therefore (b) user convenience was a primary leverage point for programme improvement. The findings indicate that a comprehensive examination of the many factors that influence the performance and impact of safe water programmes is necessary to elucidate why these programmes fail or succeed.

Women, water and development

Journal Paper
Isha Ray
Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 32: 421 – 449
Publication year: 2007

Abstract

That women play a central role in the provision, management, and safeguarding of water is one of the four internationally accepted principles of water management. This principle is especially important for the developing world where millions of women lack access to water for their basic needs. The objectives of this chapter are to summarize what is known about women with respect to water and about water with respect to women as well as to provide a sense of the current debates around these themes. A review of the literature suggests that the lack of gender-disaggregated data on the impacts of water policies, and underlying disagreements on how gender and development should be theorized, makes it difficult to reach robust conclusions on which policies can best assure poor women reliable access to water for their lives and livelihoods.

Private Public Partnerships and Information Technologies for Development in India

Journal Paper
Renee Kuriyan & Isha Ray
Proceedings of the 2nd IEEE/ACM International Conference ICTD 2007: 310 – 320
Publication year: 2007

Abstract:

This paper critically examines the theory and practice of public-private partnerships (PPPs) through the example of information and communication technologies and development (ICT4D) in India. The paper compares the roles of, and relationships between, the state and small scale entrepreneurs in ICT4D efforts in Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. Through this comparison it shows how the political economy within which PPP models operate, and in particular the state’s relative emphasis on financial versus social goals, determines who benefits most from current ICT4D projects. It finds that, despite pro-poor intentions, and regardless of levels of state involvement in projects, the benefits of these projects are mainly captured by the middle classes. Micro-entrepreneurs who run ICT enabled businesses and maintain close connections with the state are also likely to benefit from PPPs through increased incomes. The paper further argues that, through these ICT4D projects, states in India are trying to reshape themselves into market friendly, efficient entities that traditionally defined the private sector. It finds that in this negotiation, the state is not dasiaprivatizedpsila, but retains a sense of its own development agenda and remains necessary for the credibility of PPPs in civil society.

Outcomes and processes in economics and anthropology

Book ChapterJournal Paper
Isha Ray
Economic Development and Cultural Change, 54: 677 – 694
Publication year: 2006

The premise of this article is that outcomes of economic models and process analyses of anthropology are both essential for understanding social phenomena, including those surrounding the commons. An explanation of any model outcome is invariably about process and structure—the outcomes of several models are compatible with many different causal processes. Anthropologists also pay equal attention to exclusions and inclusions, to the said as well as the unsaid. In that spirit, one must ask if models of resource management that are silent on, for example, influence or the desire for dignity implicitly suggest that these factors are less important to cooperation than economic and ecological factors. This article argues that policy advice has to take into account the explicit findings of a model as well as its silences. Finally, anthropologists are critical of economic models for their simplicity and allegedly obvious outcomes. But models of common‐pool resources can and do provide anthropologists with points of departure for their own research. Additionally, models can surprise us with counterintuitive results, especially with respect to emergent phenomena. Such results should be an invitation to anthropologists to investigate new social processes that were hitherto not anticipated.

Methodological Approaches to the Question of the Commons

Book ChapterJournal Paper
Pranab K Bardhan & Isha Ray
Economic Development and Cultural Change, 54: 655 – 676
Publication year: 2006

In this essay we argue that the key barriers to interdisciplinary work between economists and anthropologists are differences of methodology and epistemology—in what the two disciplines consider important to explain and how they evaluate the criteria for a good explanation. The essay is an introduction to three articles, on economics, anthropology, and the question of the commons, that illustrate some of these differences and that suggest both the potential and the pitfalls of trying to bridge these methodological gaps. Our goal is not somehow to resolve the differences. Rather, we are motivated by the belief that understanding what is important to the other discipline, and seeing the differences in the light of that understanding, is important for interdisciplinary work and for respectful conversation. We have highlighted three dichotomies that are emblematic of some of these differences: autonomy versus embeddedness, outcomes versus processes, and parsimony versus complexity. We hope that our discussion leads economists and anthropologists to reexamine the assumptions and modes of analysis that prevail within the disciplines and to open up new conversations in new directions.

Integrating Social Development and Financial Sustainability: The Social and Political Challenges of Kiosks

Journal Paper
Renee Kuriyan, Kentaro Toyama, & Isha Ray
Proceedings of IEEE International Conference ICTD 2006: 121 – 130
Publication year: 2006

Abstract:

This paper examines the social and political challenges related to the implementation of information and communication technology (ICT) kiosk projects for rural development in India. Specifically, the paper focuses on the Akshaya project, a franchise of rural computer-service kiosks, which was implemented in Kerala as a public-private sector collaboration. The Akshaya project has the twin goals of social development through increased access to computers for rural people and financial viability through market-driven entrepreneurship. Using interview and participant observation methods, we examine the challenges that state actors and entrepreneurs face in simultaneously addressing social and financial sustainability. The preliminary evidence suggests that there is a tension between these goals at a macro level (within the state) and a micro level (for entrepreneurs and potential consumers) that makes it difficult to run a financially self-sustaining ICT kiosk project that also meets social development goals. The paper demonstrates that the implementation of ICTs for development is not simply a technical process of delivering services to the poor, but is a highly political process that involves tradeoffs and prioritization of particular goals to attain sustainability. Branding this project is a challenge for the state and entrepreneurs due to consumer perceptions of what development is, with particular expectations of state provided services, versus what business is

Glossing over the complexity of water

Other Writings
Giorgos Kallis, Michael Kiparsky, Anita Milman & Isha Ray
Science Letters 314: 1387 – 1388, 1 December 2006.
Publication year: 2006

Get the prices right: Water prices and irrigation efficiency

Journal Paper
Isha Ray
. Economic and Political Weekly, August 13 2005: 3659 – 3668
Publication year: 2005

Economists are right when they point out that irrigation water prices are absurdly low compared with their scarcity value, and that at such low prices there is no incentive to conserve. However, it does not follow that raising water prices is the natural next step for developing countries such as India. There are two broad reasons for this conclusion: first, in the near to medium term, canal water prices probably cannot be raised to the point where they significantly affect water demand. The negative impact on farm revenues would be too drastic and the policy would not find broad public support. Second, low water prices are often not the main reason behind the farmers’ water-inefficient crop choices. Moreover, farm-level inefficiencies appear not to be the most significant ones on existing canals, nor are water prices the most significant prices driving irrigation demand. A better first step would be to enforce simple allocation rules – such as per-hectare rations – that would make the scarcity value of water immediately obvious. The analysis in this article is based on a study of one canal system in Maharashtra.

Locational asymmetry and the potential for cooperation on a canal

Journal Paper
Isha Ray & Jeffrey Williams
Journal of Development Economics, 67: 129 – 155
Publication year: 2002

Abstract

Illegal water diversions and lax rule-enforcement are common on irrigation canals. We present a mathematical programming model of a watercourse, calibrated to a canal in Maharashtra on which farmers voted to cooperate to control water theft. The model solution computes the crop choices and profits of individually optimizing farmers who differ in their location. It reveals the spatial distribution of gains and losses from cooperation. It illuminates why voluntary bargaining will rarely achieve an efficient water allocation. It also shows that landless laborers might well be against local cooperation, if the expropriated water nurtures labor-intensive crops.

More from less: policy options and farmer choice under water scarcity

Journal Paper
Isha Ray & Serap Gül
Irrigation and Drainage Systems, 13: 361 – 383
Publication year: 1999

Abstract

In much of the world, fresh water is scarce and getting scarcer. Growing populations, increasing industrialization, and environmental concerns have all put pressure on the water consumed by agriculture. This paper addresses the economic consequences of a permanent reduction in canal water for irrigation. Using detailed cost-of-cultivation data from the Gediz Basin, Turkey, the key questions are: How can farmers best respond to reduced surface water supplies? How can the canal management authorities best distribute this limited water? And,can the demand for water be reduced through input and output price policy? These questions are answered with scenario comparisons under several water availability,crop pattern, price and investment assumptions, for the short and medium time horizons.

Keeping productivity high and water use low requirescoordination between farmers and the water managementauthorities. The analysis shows that, in this region,farmers should keep all their land irrigated at loweryield levels, rather than reduce their cropped areas.The canal managers should opt for a short irrigationseason, rather than an extended season with long dryintervals. Sensitivity analysis on a range of pricesindicates that crop, rather than water prices, affectthe efficiency of water use. The scenarios areevaluated using AGWAT, a spreadsheet-based farm-budgetprogram which is simple and widely applicable. Therange of policy choices considered establishes aframework of analysis for other, potentiallywater-short basins, beyond the Gediz or Turkey.

Evaluation of price policy in the presence of water theft

Journal Paper
27. Isha Ray & Jeffrey Williams
American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 81: 928 – 941
Publication year: 1999

Abstract

Mathematical programming models of “representative” farms are commonly used to evaluate policies such as input subsidies and output price supports. On canals in India, upstream farmers routinely use more irrigation water than allotted. In such circumstances, the programming model should encompass farmers’ locational heterogeneity. Here, a representative watercourse with thirty farms is calibrated to the eight crops, fifteen irrigation turns, yield responses to water, and seepage in Maharashtra. Not only does water “theft” increase the social cost of price policies, but the policies’ increased inducement to theft by upstream farmers leaves those downstream with less water and lower incomes.