Wastewater Technopolitics on the Southern Coast of Belize

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After a massive hurricane devastated Belize's south coast in 2001, “sustainable tourism” was the national government's answer to spurring economic redevelopment. Since then, the communities of the Placencia Peninsula, in particular, have engaged in rapid tourism development as an economic strategy for securing local livelihoods, culminating in the arrival of mass cruise tourism in 2016. In a region where environmental resources and services shape the backbone of the tourism industry, controversies have erupted around current and future impacts of tourism on the environment. One of the more polarizing debates to emerge surrounds the role of wastewater management, which is not centralized in the region and has resulted in discharges of untreated or partially treated wastewater into local waterways where many residents and nongovernmental organizations perceive negative consequences for both human and environmental health. Friction between local residents and government technocrats on how to address the issue reveals how infrastructure planning can become a technopolitical practice in which cost–benefit analyses in the form of life cycle costing and environmental impact assessment, presented through the rhetoric of sustainability, are used to influence how water and wastewater are governed in Placencia. More broadly, our findings suggest that the micropolitics of infrastructure design and development can be a powerful force that organizes technocratic governance.

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Economic Anthropology, v. 6, issue 2, p. 277-290