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Mark Usher

While it may no longer be particularly controversial to highlight water as a matter of politics, to describe water’s matter as political still challenges mainstream understandings of natural resource management. Indeed, water provides a sticky medium for the formation and consolidation of broader social, economic and discursive relations, which are enabled or constrained by the production history or ‘cultural biography’ of the commodity. This has been widely demonstrated in relation to capitalist urbanization and neoliberal accumulation in the field of political ecology, with both processes shown to be dependent on the prior commodification of water. This chapter will provide an original perspective on water commodification by demonstrating how desalination technology has allowed for the commercialization and ‘worlding’ of the water sector in Singapore, elucidating the close linkage between economic clustering and resource management. Before the 2000s, when desalination and recycled water were introduced, Singapore was dependent on imported water from Malaysia, requiring ongoing and contentious diplomatic negotiations. The politicized character of the supply network prevented the restructuring and commercialization of the sector, but with the fourfold increase in privately manufactured desalinated water, the Singapore government could apply its cluster development policy to the embryonic industry. The sector, now home to 180 water companies and 26 research centres, has been designated a key growth frontier, with water acting as an agent of worlding in the global knowledge economy.

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David Saurí, Santiago Gorostiza and David Pavón

This chapter traces the origins of desalination in Spain in the 1960s which we relate to the parallel emergence of nuclear power. Contrary to the latter, however, desalination did not take off because of its high costs, and, more importantly, because of the preference of Spanish water planners for conventional hydraulic works such as dams, reservoirs and aqueducts. After decades of obscurity, desalination resurfaced in the 1990s, when a series of droughts hit the country, and especially after 2004, when social opposition to conventional hydraulic solutions (the Ebro water transfer) made this alternative the selected option for Eastern and Southeastern Spain through the so-called AGUA Programme. The crisis of 2007 and its devastating effects on the urbanization of the Mediterranean coast showed the limits of the ambitious AGUA Programme with many desalination plants canceled or working at very low capacities amidst accusations of overspending and corruption.

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Jamie McEvoy

In the last 40 years, environmental governance broadly, and water governance more specifically, has been influenced by a set of policy principles emphasizing decentralization, private sector involvement, and public participation. Simultaneously, growing water demands and uncertainty about climate change and the future quality and quantity of water supplies have led to an increased interest in desalination technology to augment water supplies in many regions. In coastal northwestern Mexico, desalination technology has been identified as a solution to address regional water scarcity. Using two large-scale desalination projects in the state of Baja California Sur (BCS) as case studies, this chapter examines how desalination fits within the contemporary water governance framework. The chapter concludes that the adoption of desalination technology in BCS facilitates some policy principles (e.g., semi-decentralized and semi-privatized), but also deviates in important ways (e.g., lacks genuine stakeholder participation).

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Tapping the Oceans

Seawater Desalination and the Political Ecology of Water

Edited by Joe Williams and Erik Swyngedouw

Increasingly, water-stressed cities are looking to the oceans to fix unreliable, contested and over-burdened water supply systems. Desalination technologies are, however, also becoming the focus of intense political disagreements about the sustainable and just provision of urban water. Through a series of cutting-edge case studies and multi-subject approaches, this book explores the political and ecological debates facing water desalination on a broad geographical scale.
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Colin White

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Michael H. Morris, Susana C. Santos and Xaver Neumeyer

While extensively explored as a solution to poverty at the base of the pyramid, this is the first in-depth examination of entrepreneurship and the poor within advanced economies. The authors explore the underlying nature of poverty and draw implications for new venture creation. Entrepreneurship is presented as a source of empowerment that represents an alternative pathway out of poverty.
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Erik Swyngedouw and Joe Williams

This concluding chapter returns to the overarching purpose of the book, which is to move beyond the reductionist and techno-managerial framings which have hitherto dominated debates on seawater desalination, and to make a concerted appeal for greater attention to be paid to the implications of desalination for the wider politics of water. Furthermore, we identify five areas for further political and intellectual engagement, particularly around the social and ecological contradictions of desalination, its implications for relative resource scarcities, the politics of supply-side water management, and unequal access to water services.

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Eran Feitelson

With declining costs and rising water stress desalination may seem a panacea. However, desalination is imbued with contradictions. This chapter identifies these contradictions on the basis of the Israeli experience. To this end, the direct and indirect implications of desalination are outlined as they have been played out in Israel. The first contradiction is between supply augmentation and water conservation – desalination reduces perceptions of scarcity and hence readiness to conserve water. A second contradiction is environmental – desalination increases greenhouse gas emissions and affects marine life, while allowing more freshwater to be retained in nature and reducing vulnerability to climate change. A third contradiction regards control. While desalination has the potential to change zero-sum into positive-sum games, it alters power relations thereby generating opposition from parties that lose advantageous positions. Finally, while desalination is intended to alleviate shortages to households, it may preclude access by the weakest strata due to its price effects, thereby aggravating inequities.

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Joe Williams and Erik Swyngedouw

The opening chapter of this book makes the intellectual and political argument for a more critical understanding of seawater desalination as an emerging phenomenon of water governance. Its purpose, in this sense, is to politicise seawater. The chapter provides an overview of the historic and contemporary development of desalting technologies and the global desalination industry. We argue that, rather than seeing desalination as a water management ‘solution’, it should instead be understood as a socio-technical and political ecological ‘fix’, which allows cities, regions and countries to overcome some of the hydrological barriers to growth and accumulation, while creating or intensifying other social and ecological contradictions. These contradictions, we demonstrate, revolve around the governance of water, privatisation and commercialisation, the water-energy nexus, and marine ecology. Finally, we summarise the substantive chapters included in the book.

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A History of the Global Economy

The Inevitable Accident

Colin White

Providing an exceptional overview and analysis of the global economy, from the origins of Homo sapiens to the present day, Colin White explores our past to help understand our economic future. He veers away from traditional Eurocentric approaches, providing a truly global scope for readers. The main themes include the creative innovativeness of humans and how this generates economic progression, the common economic pathway trodden by all societies, and the complementary relationship between government and the market.