Coupled human-water interactions in formal-informal dynamics

Author Identifier

Rakhshinda Bano

Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - ECU Access Only


Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Engineering

First Supervisor

Mehdi Khiadani


Urban water supply systems in developing world are complex due to the involvement of numerous stakeholders, compounded by poor management, exacerbated by the impacts of population and economic growth as well as climate change. As a result, there is a need to comprehensively comprehend the complex interactions between humans and water, especially as formal-informal water supply dynamics continue to emerge. This understanding is crucial in informing policy decisions that support the advancement of sustainable urban water systems. Therefore, analysing the coevolving dynamics and feedbacks associated with water systems where formal and informal components coexist is essential.

To better comprehend the intricacies of human-water interactions in developing countries, an integrated System Dynamics (SD) model has been developed. This model employs both qualitative and quantitative systems modelling techniques. Causal Loop Diagrams (CLDs) are utilized to display the relationships and identify system behaviour patterns, which are also known as system archetypes. Meanwhile, stock and flow diagrams are used in Stella Architect to quantify interlinkages. To verify the model, expert consultations, re-evaluation of data from government and private research organizations, statistical data analysis, and mapping of land use and land cover change (LULC) are utilized.

The findings indicate that the coexistence of formal and informal water systems can give rise to common system patterns or archetypes that have implications for the future of urban water management. These archetypes include 'fixes that fail', 'shifting the burden', 'limits to growth/success', and 'growth and underinvestment'. Quantification of these interactions revealed a weak association between informal demand and lower formal tariff recovery rates, with household income playing a significant role. The financial balance of the formal water supply system (FWSS) seems to be less influenced by tariff recovery rates and more dependent on infrastructure condition.

The presence of informal water supply systems is observed to decrease the reliability of the overall system due to higher inflation rates, increased theft by informal suppliers, and lower informal supply capacity. The supply-demand gap is further exacerbated by seasonal water supply changes and competing agricultural demands, which could be addressed by improving agricultural efficiency. To achieve integrated urban water management, it is essential to understand the boundaries of the system and the interactions among its components, in order to make changes to the urban water balance.

To achieve our goal of providing a comprehensive and integrated approach to evaluating formal-informal water supply dynamics at the urban level, we aggregated our assessments at multiple levels, thereby minimizing heterogeneities such as differences among socio-economic groups in evaluating household demand, variations in non-domestic users such as commercial and industrial, types of informal suppliers, and water quantity and quality. This study primarily aims to provide a general overview of how formal and informal water supply systems at a broader level contribute to defining urban water supply reliability and how this reliability is impacted by other variables in the system over time.



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