Water plays a pivotal role in economic activity and in human well-being. It is essential to food production and in domestic use (drinking, washing, and cooking). Yet the social relations which determine access to, and use of, water are poorly understood. Conflict over water may have far-reaching consequences on social change. This article introduces a framework for analysing different factors in accessing water and applies it to three related issues in Bangladesh. First, extraction of groundwater for irrigation has made many drinking-water hand pumps run dry. Second, increasing use of groundwater for drinking has been associated with the poisoning of 20 million people through naturally occurring arsenic in groundwater. Third, access to water has been changed by the rise of shrimp aquaculture for export. This article highlights new directions for the analysis of connections between water, class, and gender. For example, women often have responsibility for accessing water for the household, and poorer households may not have access to clean, high quality water. It moves away from focussing on gender analysis for government policy purposes only, and begins to outline arising questions to understand better the broader context of social change.
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