Wednesday, 15 August 2012

BPD Board Members' Blog Series: Part 1

Welcome to the first of a series of guest posts by BPD’s Board members, which we hope you will enjoy over the coming year. Please share this with others who may be interested and feel free to make comments through the site or by email to info[at]

Conflict and collaboration - water resources in Angola’s post-war cities

by Allan Cain, Director, Development Workshop (an Angolan NGO)

After more than four decades of war, Angola has been in the recovery phase since 2002. The war resulted in mass displacement of people, destruction of infrastructure, and diversion of investments away from maintenance and infrastructure development, which have produced chronic public health problems. In addition, social exclusion, inequality and poverty - problems that originally seeded the conflict - are still rife in the post-war era.

Access to water through informal vendors

Informal water provider in Angola
Informal water provider in Angola
Credit: Tim Hetherington
Access to water reflects the biased distribution pattern of other resources in Angola. The majority of low-income, urban communities still have no permanent access to affordable potable water and are mainly served by informal water vendors. In  Development Workshop's more than thirty years' experience of implementing practical projects in Angola, it has gathered a lot of knowledge on the functioning of this informal water economy that continues to provide the bulk of water services to the population of Luanda, the country’s capital. DW estimates that the annual value of the informal water economy has grown from about US$60 million during the war to almost US$250 million in 2012. 

Turning community conflict over water into collaboration

In this environment of uneven and inequitable access to scarce urban water resources, conflict born out of competition for access to water is inevitable. However, poor communities in Luanda have found collective solutions and built on neighbourhood cooperation and social solidarity to improve their access. These experiences demonstrate the important role that community water management can play in promoting a more equitable distribution of water resources at affordable prices in the poor peri-urban musseque settlements of the city.

Relationships as a ‘currency’ for water

In such an environment, neighbourhood water access and prices are not determined solely by commercial factors - social relationships and community solidarity play an important role. For example, householders who possess a water tank are in a position to choose not only the price but also the neighbours to whom they wish to sell. The price of water often varies, depending on the relationship between the owner of the tank and the buyer, often being lower for people with whom they have built a relationship or mutual solidarity (Lindblom, 2010).

However, home water tank owners do not always have sufficient capital on hand to buy a truckload of water every time their tank becomes empty. Until they can accumulate such a lump sum, they may themselves become consumers of water from other tank owners in the neighbourhood. Social networks evolve locally among neighbours, who may be both buyers and sellers at different times. It thus becomes essential for each water consumer in a poor, unserviced musseque to maintain amicable social relationships with a range of water suppliers within walking distance of their homes.

The above post is an abstract from a chapter of a forthcoming book by Allan Cain. Please email BPD at info[at] for further details.