This paper examines and problematises ongoing changes in the relationship between citizens, markets and states around access to key public services. We document the promotion and emergence, over roughly the last ten years, of microcredit services to leverage household access to drinking water.
We argue that water-microcredit arrangements imbricate with highly problematic elements of contemporary market-oriented inclusive development, which raise vexing questions about rights and equity. Water-microcredit arrangements require poor and low-income people to use loans to buy access to water services or construct their own supply. To be served, they must adopt an entrepreneurial form of agency, embrace debt, and cultivate self-responsibility, or otherwise risk being excluded and/or subjected to behaviour-change initiatives.
We find that therefore the ‘inclusion’ promised by ‘inclusive markets’-based approaches to water, in particular water-microcredit arrangements, is at best conditional, while also being highly differentiating and unequalising. Despite their promise to tackle iniquities, water-microcredit arrangements threaten to deepen the marketisation and depoliticisation of the water access question, exacerbate inequalities, and effectively undermine rights-based approaches.