Contested Urban Waterscapes

About CUW

Contested Urban Waterscapes (CUW) is a platform that explores water inequalities in urban contexts from an interdisciplinary perspective. It particularly unravels how inequalities can be productively conceptualized and explained through contestations that emerge over the control and access to water in cities. Excavating the social power relations behind these contestations becomes imperative for understanding why water inequalities still persist in many cities in the world despite technical and managerial efforts.

!O Comemos o Pagamos!
While the international community discusses the importance of securing the human right to water during the Seventh Inter-American Dialogue on Water Resource Management (D7), low-income households in Medellín are denied access to this essential resource for non-payment of bills or because they are located in so-called “high-risk” zones. ¡O comemos o pagamos! puts a lens to the invisible everyday practices of low-income households as they attempt to secure access to water in a city of privilege hydrological conditions that owns one of the most efficient water public companies in Latin America.

Directors: Marcela López/Miodrag Kuč
Length: 22 mins
Year: 2015
Country: Colombia/Germany

From continuous flow to prepaid drops

One of the main goals of this platform is to develop different formats and educational material that present complex scientific information in a way that is visually stimulating and understandable to better engage a broad public. As a result, a visual strategy was created and presented in conferences, exhibitions and published in magazines to facilitate the involvement of academic and non-academic audiences in the discussion of sensitive and controversial issues such as the right to water and its commodification.

This visual strategy was designed in cooperation with the Berlin based studio ParaArtFormations. Results are available as a mobile exhibition (Four pages in DIN A2 format) and illustrate the economical, political, social and ecological dimensions of water inequalities in urban contexts.

The following posters were submitted to the international competition Out of Balance-Critique of the Present organized by the ARCH+ Magazine and the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation in 2013 and obtained the second price.

Transnational connections and local disconnections

Detail Board 1

The first poster introduces a historical and multi-scale analysis. Such a perspective offers the possibility to explain how the competitive logic of EPM and its rapid insertion into the global market has legitimized particular forms of circulating water through the city with outcomes that are detrimental for low-income households.

Governing the hydro-social cycle

The second poster illustrates how the monopoly in all basic public services by EPM facilitates particular forms of controlling the city. The circulation of water as a commodity combined with the already existing conditions of inequality reflected in the socio-economic stratification of the city (Strata 1 poorest and Strata 6 richest) provide a suitable ground for reinforcing inequalities in access to water.

Decommodifying the waterscape

The third poster analyses different informal practices deployed by disconnected households to secure access to water on an everyday basis. To capture this complexity the project classifies desconectados in three groups according to the nature and length of disconnection: suspended (non-payment of 2 to 7 bills), cut off (non-payment of more than 7 bills) and unserved (excluded from the formal water network because of illegal land tenure status).

From disconnection to self-disconnection

The fourth poster illustrates the struggle of Don Mario and his family to secure access to water even though they are entitled with this fundamental right. Additionally, it portraits how prepaid meters are presented as the “only viable solution” to reduce water inequalities while being deployed as a tool to re-educate low-income households into a “culture of payment”.


Waterscapes: Forms, Meanings and Transformations. 2014
Gallery of Contemporary Art Paul Bardwell, Colombo Americano Medellín
7th – 14th of April

The exhibition ¨Waterscapes: Forms, Meanings and Transformations¨ explores the contested character of water. Currently, access to water has become a highly contested issue as it has being denied to marginalized communities to serve the interests of capital, thus, creating unequal waterscapes. This exhibition brings to the forefront the following questions: How are water resources managed? Who takes decisions about access and distribution? Who wins? and Who loses?

The exhibition invites us to follow the flows of water through three distinct waterscapes: (1) disconnection for non-payment, (2) hydroelectric power plants, and (3) rural territories. In each of these waterscapes, we can see how different social actors, infrastructures, discourses, regulations and laws intertwine to create forms, meanings and transformations that generate conditions of inequality, injustice and resistance.

Download Exhibition postcard. [Exhibition postcard.jpg]

Medellín – Human Right on Water. 2016
German Pavilion of the UN-HABITAT III Conference in Quito, Ecuador
15th – 20th of October
Part of the exhibition “Planetary Urbanism: The Transformative Power of Cities”
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