Governance Innovations for Access to Basic Services in Urban Slums

Posted: 7 Mar 2016

Date Written: March 4, 2016


With rapid urbanization on a global scale, poverty is increasingly becoming an urban phenomenon. A key component of urban poverty in developing countries is inadequate access to basic services, so understanding the institutional setting for basic service provision is key to addressing this challenge. This paper seeks to explain the institutional and organizational forms of service provision that emerge in developing country cities, where the urban poor living in informal settlements constitute a significant proportion of the urban population. The paper does so by examining the contemporary case of the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan area in Brazil, based on fieldwork conducted over the 2007-2014 period, for three key services: electricity, water, and sanitation (sewerage). I argue that the traditional forms of interaction between the state and informal settlements in Rio, based upon pork-barrel politics, have declined due to the absence of law enforcement and subsequent rise of organized crime in these areas, but also because of the emergence of new actors and organizations, including private service providers. Where the state remains the service provider, the decline of pork-barrel politics and the incentives related to public ownership have resulted in a policy of neglect towards informal settlements, significantly limiting access. In some cases, however, I show that private actors are constructing new approaches to service provision through collaboration with community and nonprofit organizations. These approaches entail collaborative forms of governance that have the potential not only to increase access, but to offer an alternative to the existing institutional setup beyond basic service provision. As such, they are of interest not only to scholars and practitioners interested in basic service provision, but more generally for the broader challenge of urban poverty and exclusion in the developing world.

Keywords: urban informality; slums; water and sanitation; energy; institutions; governance

JEL Classification: O18, O17, R59, L94, L95, L98

Suggested Citation

Rufin, Carlos, Governance Innovations for Access to Basic Services in Urban Slums (March 4, 2016). Available at SSRN: or

Carlos Rufin (Contact Author)

Suffolk University ( email )

120 Tremont St
Room 370G
Boston, MA 02108
United States

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