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Infrastructure under pressure: water management and state-making in Southern Iraq

Mason, Michael ORCID: 0000-0002-8831-0593 (2022) Infrastructure under pressure: water management and state-making in Southern Iraq. Geoforum, 132. 52 - 61. ISSN 0016-7185

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Identification Number: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2022.04.006


Water infrastructure is an active element of state-making in southern Iraq, although major failings in water governance have in recent years triggered violent protests. Informed by scholarship on state clientelism and the political ecology of infrastructure, I examine the conflict-affected trajectories affecting public water management in Basra governorate. The degraded water treatment network manifests a post-2003 political system structured by embedded clientelism and politically sanctioned corruption. However, broad categorisations of clientelism can miss context-laden political effects produced by the spatial and technological configurations of infrastructure. I consider the state effects of water infrastructure practices in Basra governorate–how water supply networks and treatment technologies project state (in)capacity by means of volumetric and qualitative control over water flows. The empirical focus is on compact water treatment units (CWTUs), which are the main technology of public water supply in Basra governorate. I undertake an analysis of the deployment and management of CWTUs, as experienced by local actors responsible for, or politically contesting, the workings of water infrastructure in Basra city. Clientelist practices targeting public procurement and maintenance contracts have disrupted and delayed the upgrading of water infrastructure; yet these practices were enabled by neoliberal state-building that promoted the privatisation of public resources. Shortfalls in state capacity to provide clean drinking water in Basra are compounded by the growing hydro-climatic unpredictability of water flows.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2022 The Author
Divisions: Geography & Environment
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
J Political Science > JQ Political institutions Asia
Date Deposited: 21 Apr 2022 13:06
Last Modified: 12 Jul 2024 22:12

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