Overcoming an Infrastructure Regime

The Patiño Aquifer
 

Maria Peroni (MAUD ‘19)

urban water cycle-01.png

Source: UNESCO, Urban Water Cycle Processes and Interactions. (Taylor and Francis) 4.

The evolution of infrastructural networks often catalyzed the progress of modernization. The construction of the modern ideal of a networked city involves an array of integrated infrastructures in a variety of contexts and throughout different disciplines, promoting the “infrastructure ideal” as the central precept of an equitable future in the city. The modern ideals of the city and its infrastructures materialized historically through homebased consumption, is controlled through energy, water, transportation and communication grids, and perpetuates the aspirations of the modern nation states in providing public infrastructure monopolies throughout its territory (Graham and Marvin, 2001). This attempt to “equalize life conditions at a national scale” (Brenner, 1998a, 445) remains one of the main issues in countries in the global south, where the cost, time and bureaucratic implementation that these infrastructural grids require becomes endless.[i] In a Latin American context, the consequences of such long-term fixed infrastructure solutions forces people into resorting to informal solutions. Often, many of these ad-hoc solutions contribute to the unsustainable social, environmental and economic development of these cities.

Paraguay, a land-locked country of 7 million in South America is blessed with abundant superficial and underground sweet water. It contains numerous underground reservoirs including the Patiño Aquifer, an unconfined aquifer[1] that lies underneath the capital Asuncion[2] and its metropolitan region. The Patiño aquifer is a crucial reservoir for the area, due to its extension which overlaps with 22 cities within the greater region. Its hydrological characteristics as an unconfined aquifer means that it has a higher risk of contamination due to its proximity and vulnerability to the surface (Monte Domecq and Baez, 2014). Growth in population as well as rural migration into the city has led to uncontrolled regional urban sprawl, where low density and lack of zoning has empowered citizens to occupy land with activities that encourage contamination and exploitation of the reservoir, like slaughterhouses, gas stations, bottled water companies, amongst others (Nogues and Villalba, 2014). In parallel, the government, led by a small political elite, rules with corruption, nepotism and prebendalism resulting in the lack of public services which instantly leads to the privatization of public infrastructure services limiting the access of services to only those who can afford them and fragmenting the region into areas of economic segregation (Graham and Marvin, 2001). Nevertheless, the Patiño aquifer plays a crucial role for the city, given that it provides water consumption through individual wells[3] for more than 60% of the population of the metropolitan region of Asuncion. Within this same area, 77% of the population lacks sewage infrastructure and uses latrines or discharge cesspools[4] as an alternative sewage method, emitting waste directly into the reservoir. The absence of infrastructural support in terms of water provision and sewage networks has led to the contamination, overconsumption and exploitation of this precious resource. These overlapping informal schemes generate a huge risk for its consumers, not only in terms of public health, but also in jeopardizing the future of the aquifer given it’s both the main source of water as well as the receptor of liquid discharge. The case of the Patiño aquifer highlights the importance of considering not only visible infrastructural grids, but also those vital systems that are invisible to our eyes yet extremely critical for a city’s vitality. This case also helps us distinguish how essential the agency of design is in the process of urbanization and how there is an urgent need to design systems that are feasible within the socio-political realities of a country. These design systems hold the capacity to create synergy between urban tissue and other geographies. There is an opportunity to imagine an alternative method of development, where the paradigms of urbanization are not dependent on fixed infrastructural systems, but rather on accessible, sustainable, and transitionary solutions (Mehrotra, 2008) that can mitigate and improve the present while we evolve into a permanent solution for the future. 

[1] Unconfined aquifer: meaning where there is no confining layer in between the aquifer and the surface

2 Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay. Asuncion’s metropolitan region is composed by 22 cities with a population of 2.887.087 people (2012 census). The average density is 26.4 people per hectare.

3 Water extraction through wells refers to one well per household or for low income communities access to potable water through private water well distributors

4 Cesspools: underground reservoir for liquid waste.

 

[1] Unconfined aquifer: meaning where there is no confining layer in between the aquifer and the surface

[2] Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay. Asuncion’s metropolitan region is composed by 22 cities with a population of 2.887.087 people (2012 census). The average density is 26.4 people per hectare.

[3] Water extraction through wells refers to one well per household or for low income communities access to potable water through private water well distributors

[4] Cesspools: underground reservoir for liquid waste.

Bibliography:

  1. Brenner, Neil. "Global Cities, Glocal States: Global City Formation and State Territorial Restructuring in Contemporary Europe." Review of International Political Economy 5, no. 1 (1998): 1-37.
  2. Graham, Stephen, and Marvin, Simon. Splintering Urbanism: Networked Infrastructures, Technological Mobilities and the Urban Condition. London; New York: Routledge, 2001.
  3. Huyssen, Andreas. Other Cities, Other Worlds: Urban Imaginaries in a Globalizing Age. North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2008.
  4. Mehrotra, Rahul. Negotiating the Static and Kinetic Cities: The Emergent Urbanism of Mumbai. Page 205.
  5. Monte Domecq, Roger and Baez, Julian. Estudio de Políticas y Manejo Ambiental de las aguas subterráneas en el Area Metropolitana de Asunción. (Acuífero Patiño). 2007.
  6. Nogues, Juan Pablo and Villalba Cynthia. “Mapeo de la Vulnerabilidad y Riesgo de Contaminación del Agua subterránea del Gran Asunción”. Facultad Politécnica. Universidad Nacional de Asunción. 2014