Cristian Olmos Herrera is an architect and urban designer with a PhD in Development Planning and MSc Building & Urban Design in Development from the Bartlett Development Planning Unit, University College London. His research focus on the hydrosocial territories and indigenous communities in the context of territorial fragmentation due mining expansion in northern Chile. Through the use of visual methods, Cristian has been examined and visualised narratives of everyday water practices in order to reveal spatial networks of people, institutions, and technology making visible the political economy of water, focusing particularly on issues of unequal access. Currently, Cristian is a postdoc researcher on the T2SGS project: Transformations to Groundwater Sustainability, where he is doing an analytical comparison of grass-roots initiatives around groundwater in different case studies (India, Algeria, Morocco, USA, Chile, Peru, Zimbabwe and Tanzania) putting emphasis on practices of knowing, accessing and sharing water.
Currently, I am researching and learning from local initiatives of caring, sharing, and recharging aquifers in the project Transformations to Groundwater Sustainability, focusing on groundwater governance by grass-roots community-based initiatives and engagements with groundwater in 8 countries (We are working India, Algeria, Morocco, Tanzania, Chile, Peru, The US and Zimbabwe).
These initiatives consist of people organizing around the sharing and/or protecting of groundwater in places where threats of depletion and pollution are particularly acute. They represent examples of technological or institutional innovations and bricolage or creative forms of resistance against extreme forms of depletion or resource capture. They are typically spearheaded by marginal groups of actors (small landholders or workers), sometimes in alliances with broader ecological or social movements for change. To date, many of these initiatives remain largely undocumented – at least in the literature concerned with groundwater. This is because they largely escape formal regulation (they happen in the ‘informal’ sphere), but also because their existence defies conventional conceptual categories used to describe and make sense of water governance.
Managing groundwater sustainably is difficult partly because it remains largely invisible to decision-makers and many of these initiatives remain largely undocumented – at least in the literature concerned with groundwater. This is because they largely escape formal regulation (they happen in the ‘informal’ sphere), but also because their existence defies conventional conceptual categories used to describe and make sense of water governance.
I am supporting the T2GS team unpacking and revealing local narratives and voices based on testimonies from community partners of the T2SG project. I am trying to make visible narratives of changes in groundwater governance in a more holistic, spatial-temporal understanding people’s territory, which centres on people’s knowledges, their traditions and worldviews.
For example, drawings have become a storytelling mechanism which I used in different teams of the project to discuss and expand practices of solidarity around water management with the local community, and to understand collectively how we record the world and our encounters with it. Drawing brought to the fore the importance of reciprocal recognition and participation in local decision-making processes around water management, which have significant impact on community development.