Reimagining Infrastructure: how is marginalised people's food and nutrition security shaped by a continuum of urban infrastructure assemblages

Lead Research Organisation: Institute of Development Studies
Department Name: Research Department


This research is designed to help improve the lives of the poorest residents of cities in Africa and Asia by focusing on how they are meeting their basic needs and accessing infrastructure, particularly when they are living 'off-grid'. The research is led by a consortium including experts in urban research from Africa and Asia, brought together by the Institute of Development Studies. We will focus on five cities which represent different types of urban environment: Tamale, Ghana, Mossel Bay, South Africa, Epworth, Zimbabwe, Bangalore, India and Colombo, Sri Lanka. They were chosen because, while planning and infrastructure design and provision is improving for some parts of these cities, such provision is not expanding fast enough to keep up with urban growth and provision is not evenly distributed for all. We focus on five main types of infrastructure - water, sanitation, energy, transport and communications. In most poor neighbourhoods people meet their needs in a variety of ways - informal access to formal grids such as illegal energy hook ups; 'off-grid' forms such as latrines or bore-wells; hybrid forms such as reliance on water trucks when urban supplies run dry; or local vehicles providing 'last-mile' connections to public transport. A particular concern in these cities is whether such critical infrastructure is sufficiently robust and stable to weather the multitude of human/political and environmental shocks and stresses facing cities, ranging from droughts and floods to political and financial crises which can literally 'turn off the lights'.

In order to gain a better understanding of these systemic urban issues and how they are affecting the poorest and most marginalised, we focus our research on one key way of measuring whether basic needs are being met - whether people have stable access and availability of sufficient, diverse and nutritious diets - their 'Food and Nutrition Security'. This provides us with a way of researching how these various infrastructures combine at multiple levels, in order to achieve a more 'systemic' understanding of infrastructure provision and the implications for people's lives. This has been little researched to date, but is critically important to understand for urban planners and infrastructure providers. For example, water, energy and sanitation are essential for safe food preparation and disposal of human waste and also have a role to play in urban markets, alongside transport and communication. Inadequacies in access and supply can thus undermine the ability to safely cook, clean, store, supply, manufacture and grow food and add to the vulnerability of people to suffer consequences to their health, wellbeing, livelihoods and ability to care for others.

Our research starts at a city level to identify the most marginal and vulnerable settlements and how planning is envisioned in city-wide processes. At a neighbourhood level, we will pursue statistically robust ways of capturing people's food and infrastructure interactions as well as capture deep and rich testimony of their lives through their own photographs and follow-up interviews. We will also train members of each settlement to 'audit' their own infrastructure provision and present these results for discussion with local officials and providers. A further stage will then 'follow the food' by tracing how food reaches people, e.g. via street and municipal markets, or transport and warehousing, mapping the market infrastructure at each point. Ultimately, our research will contribute to better decisions around infrastructure provision that can facilitate forms of infrastructure access. We will achieve this by engaging directly with urban professionals and infrastructure practitioners, such as engineers and city planners, as well as, importantly, those training the future generation of planners needed for African and Asian cities.

Planned Impact

This project will enhance knowledge and capacity to enable city and national policymakers, urban residents and other key stakeholders to devise and implement strategies to tackle important aspects of vulnerability and marginalisation in contexts of rapid urbanisation. Building understanding of how urban infrastructures, inequity and malnutrition interact will inform practices, policies and innovations to shape more food and nutrition secure cities.

Specifically, through interdisciplinary research partnerships and targeted impact strategies, this project will:

# reframe new concepts on infrastructure interactions which draw on critical literatures on urban infrastructure, socio-material assemblages, informality and food and nutrition governance.

# Pursue research at multiple spatial scales, using flows of food to understand infrastructure interactions in food provision, retail, storage, preparation and consumption as well as design, planning, management and governance.

# Build and enhance multi-stakeholder processes to collaboratively identify and respond to issues affecting poor, vulnerable and marginalised people in five cities.

# Strengthen the knowledge of policymakers, planners, engineers, private actors, and communities on the key drivers of urban vulnerability and marginalisation, and how different infrastructure limitations can increase vulnerability and marginalisation.

# Inform more appropriate and effective policies and interventions around infrastructure which help deliver food and nutrition security for urban poor people.

Through participation in meetings, training, further networking activities and specific targeted products such as training curricula throughout the 3 year project cycle, this project will benefit stakeholders within and beyond a number of cities in Africa and Asia who can contribute to changes that improve the lives of the urban poor:

# City government officials. Mayors, heads of planning, health, housing and other departments, and city development agencies.

# Officials from national and sub-national government concerned with urban policies, including India's Ministries of Urban and Home Affairs, South Africa's National Planning Commission and Ghana's Regional Coordinating Councils.

# Municipal development partnerships, comprising senior local government officials and development partners, aimed at improving government capacities, such as the Municipal Development Partnership for Eastern and Southern Africa.

# Regional policymakers from bodies such as the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States.

# Community and civil society organisations. Groups of city residents set up to deal with local issues, including residents associations in Ghana, and organisations campaigning and acting as intermediaries on issues like access to services, land, tenure rights and affordable housing, such as South Africa's Development Action Group, Sri Lanka's People's Alliance for Right to Land and the National Association of Street Vending India.

# Private sector infrastructure developers, including Arup, Aurecon, Pinsent Masons.

# Professional bodies, including the Engineering Council of South Africa or the Institute of Regional and Urban Planners in Zimbabwe.

# Bilateral donors, multilateral agencies, development banks, and philanthropies working on urban governance, environment, and infrastructure - including the World Bank, African Development Bank, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, UN FAO, and UN-Habitat.

# International non-governmental organisations, such as Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing and StreetNet, working on urban poverty, infrastructure, local economy, governance and rights.

# Academic departments of planning, architecture, engineering, geography, and politics. Networks including Association of African Planning Schools & African Food Security Urban Network.


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