This paper explores the politics and governance issues underpinning small-scale informal service providers, to extract insights into how water provisioning for the poor works in the periphery of large cities. Drawing on exploratory field research in a large informal settlement at the urban fringe of New Delhi, we show that while informal network water providers fill a gap left by public delivery systems, residents are often captive consumers caught in a low service level trap. Moreover, dominant interests have little incentive to change this situation.
The research indicates however, that a shift to better quality services can be realised and that the seeds of change lie in the evolving relationships between key stakeholders. Three distinct shifts in the balance of relationships are examined, framed by larger changes in the socio-economic and political environment.