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This content will become publicly available on April 22, 2023

Title: Water insecurity in the Global North: A review of experiences in U.S. colonias communities along the Mexico border
Since the late 1970s, the term “colonias” (in English) has described low-income, peri-urban, and rural subdivisions north of the U.S.-Mexico border. These communities are in arid and semi-arid regions—now in a megadrought—and tend to have limited basic infrastructure, including community water service and sanitation. Recent scholarship has demonstrated how colonias residents experience unjust and inequitable dynamics that produce water insecurity in the Global North. In this review, we explain why U.S. colonias are an important example for theorizing water insecurity in the United States and beyond in the Global North. Tracing the history of water infrastructure development in U.S. colonias, we show how colonias are legally and socially defined by water insecurity. We draw on the published literature to discuss key factors that produce water insecurity in U.S. colonias: political exclusion, municipal underbounding, and failures in water quality monitoring. We show that water insecurity had led to negative outcomes—including poor water access, risks to physical health, and mental ill-health—in U.S. colonias. We present four possible approaches to improving water security in U.S. colonias: (1) soft paths & social infrastructure for water delivery, (2) decentralized water treatment approaches, such as point-of-use, point-of-entry, and fit-for-purpose systems; (3) informality, including infrastructural, economic, and more » socio-cultural innovations; and (4) political, policy, and law innovations and reforms. At the same time, we reflect seriously on how water security can be ethically achieved in partnership and aligning with the visions of U.S. colonias residents themselves. « less
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WIREs Water
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National Science Foundation
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  1. Abstract

    U.S. border colonias are peri-urban settlements along the U.S.–Mexico border. Residents often face substandard housing, inadequate septic and sewer systems, and unsafe or inadequate household water. As of 2015, an estimated 30% of over 5 million U.S. colonia residents lacked access to clean drinking water, suggesting health complications. This scoping review identifies a very limited existing set of research on water and sanitation insecurity in U.S.–Mexico border colonias, and suggests value in additional focused research in this specific context to address health challenges. Preliminary health data indicates that due to water insecurity, colonia residents are more likely to contract gastrointestinal diseases, be exposed to carcinogenic compounds from contaminated water, and experience psychosocial distress. These widespread health issues in colonias are exacerbated by historical and ongoing socioenvironmental injustices in the U.S.–Mexico border region and their relation to the poor health outcomes.

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