PhD Profile: Visiting Scholar Isabela Battistello Espindola

Hello, my name is Isabela Battistello Espindola, I’m 29 years old and I am a PhD visiting researcher here at King’s Geography. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Economics from FACAMP (Faculty of Campinas), Brazil, and a master’s degree in Environmental Sciences from Federal University of Sao Carlos (Sao Carlos, Brazil). Now, I am doing my doctorate in Human Geography at the Department of Geography, University of Sao Paulo (Sao Paulo, Brazil). I received a fellowship from the Foundation for Research Support of the State of São Paulo to develop my doctorate studies. And due to that fellowship, I could apply to receive an international doctorate fellowship to develop my research studies abroad. And I ended up coming to King’s to do that. I am really excited to be in King’s, to be part of King’s Water and to be in London! I think this is a huge opportunity for me.

You might be asking what I am studying.  My PhD research focuses on the management of transboundary water resources in South America and it takes the La Plata Basin as a study case. South America has almost 30% of the world’s water reserves (Did you know that?), with 25 out of 310 transboundary river basins. More than half of South America’s territory is covered by such basins (Quite amazing, isn’t it?). Despite its wealth of water, South America is not exempt from water-related conflicts (Yeah, sadly we have those). The La Plata Basin is one of the main South American river basins, being shared between Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay. With an area of 3.1 million km², the La Plata Basin is the fifth largest river basin on the planet. The second largest in South America (The first is the Amazon basin, but I think that you already know that). The La Plata basin has more than 75 large dams spread across its territory, and an estimated population of over 100 million.

My research focuses on the La Plata basin management, importance and recognition before the States and regional institutions (such as MERCOSUL, U.N.), using possible contributions from the Intergovernmental Committee of the Countries of The La Plata Basin (CIC), it’s own international river organization, for the development of institutional and legal frameworks for South American transboundary waters management. (The photo above is with the Secretary of CIC).

Water issues are relevant to any State’s agenda. This is common fact. Water is a natural resource of high importance to all living beings, gaining social, economic and political relevance in our society. Its quantitative distribution is not homogeneous and the maintenance of its quality to meet the different demands has been compromised by the diverse uses and inefficiency of water management systems. In the case of transboundary waters, the problem is even greater, as they need exclusive legal treatment, since they are located in two or more countries, causing consequences for all those who share. This is the case of South America.

Why come to research at King’s? One of the main strands of analysis and studies of geopolitics and international relations around transboundary waters is hydropolitics. This aspect permeates aspects of international conflicts and cooperation related to transboundary water resources. Through a bibliometric survey (shown in the partial report presented to the Foundation for Research Support of the State of São Paulo for Process 2017/17997-9), I discovered that King’s College London stands out in terms of productivity on the subject of hydropolitics. In addition, Dr. Naho Mirumachi is one of the main references on the subject. The TWINS matrix, a methodology for the analysis of conflict relations and international cooperation related to transboundary water resources, developed by Professor Mirumachi, is a novelty and has not yet been applied to the case of the La Plata Basin.

The Department of Geography excels through a critical approach to development theories, ideologies, practices and policies, conducting empirical research on a variety of geographical configurations and scales from the international to the local. With respect to research, the department brings together a number of themes linked to the issue of development, such as water resources management, vulnerability to disasters, global health policies, modernism and decolonization, environmentalism, consumer practices, migration and livelihoods urban. It is a world reference center.

King’s Water specializes in both the environment and development, covering the social and physical sciences to explore the challenges of water governance, from global to local scales. It is an interdisciplinary group that works on the biophysical, political, socioeconomic, development and institutional aspects of water resources and their management. Among the main themes are research on conflict, cooperation and water security, as well as institutions for allocation and access to water. Research through King’s Water ranges from theoretical discussions, socio-political analysis of water interactions and innovation to methods and tools related to remote sensing, hydrological policy support systems and ecotoxicology. These themes, particularly on the political and institutional aspects of water conflict and cooperation intersect with my research.

Finally… do I like my research? For sure! I believe that this is an extremely relevant and urgent, once it seeks to discuss the problematic surrounding the issue of transboundary waters, taking the La Plata Basin in South America as a study case, considering aspects of geopolitics, hydropolitics, international relations, among others in its analysis and discussions.

… and what happens next? Plans for the future? For sure is to finish my PhD and start my postdoc as soon as possible. Also, I would like to return to teaching, because I really like it and miss it.

If you want to learn more about Isabela’s research, contact her at or King’s Water Research Assistant, Veronica Horvath, at

Keep up to date with her research via google scholar here.

PhD Researcher Profile: Meng Zhang

Meng Zhang graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering from Tianjin University of Technology, China, and a master’s degree in Pollution and Environmental Control from the University of Manchester, UK. After years of study in the field of environmental science, Meng has a broad understanding and grasp of environment knowledge in water, atmosphere, solid waste, environmental monitoring and assessment. However, Meng is most interested in water environment and water ecosystem. During his master’s degree, he practiced water quality monitoring and microbial analysis in the Peak District and Prays Mountain.
Meng is now pursuing a doctorate in water pollution at the Department of Geography, King’s College London., supervised by Dr. Michael Chadwick.
Meng’s study had three main directions. First, the effects of nitrogen, phosphorus and dissolved organic carbon on water quality in time and space, and explore the relationship between their effects and land use types. Second, explore the uptake and regeneration of nitrogen, phosphorus and dissolved organic carbon at the sediment-water interface. This is crucial to the current water quality and water ecological restoration. Many studies have shown that when exogenous pollution of water bodies is effectively controlled, the water bodies may still be polluted by the release of nutrients from sediments to the overlying water. Third, explore the metabolism of river ecosystem through the change rate of dissolved oxygen.
China is facing the challenges of urban river pollution control, Meng chooses Beijing for his study. He is also doing experiment with tributaries of the Thames River in London to provide richer data on potential comparisons between the water quality of urban rivers in the two capitals.
Meng’s three water words:
For more about research opportunities with King’s Water, check out our website. To keep up to date, follow us on Twitter!

Welcoming our new staff Dr. Jane Catford to King’s Water!

Dr Jane Catford joined King’s Geography about 6 months ago. She is plant ecologist interested in interactions between vegetation and global environmental change – and approaches the topic of water from that perspective. She’s particularly interested in biological invasions and how exotic plant invasions can be both a symptom and cause of environmental change, including hydrological change. She mostly works in rivers, wetlands and grasslands.

After completing a BA/BSc at Monash University in Australia, Jane spent a year researching effects of urbanisation on benthic microalgae in streams, and then worked as an environmental consultant for a couple of years. This work was freshwater-focused, with projects including river restoration, environmental impact assessment, water-sensitive urban design, including the design of constructed wetlands. Her PhD at the University of Melbourne examined drivers of vegetation change in floodplain wetlands of the River Murray, Australia’s largest river system. Through hydrological modelling, vegetation surveys and plant traits (and a bunch of other things!), she found that the switch from native- to exotic-dominated vegetation was driven by river regulation and associated changes in wetland flooding regimes.

Since finishing her PhD, she’s worked as a vegetation specialist on a project funded by the Australia-China Environment Development Program that developed and trialled a rapid river health and environmental flows assessment protocol for China. The project was run in collaboration with the Chinese Ministries of Water Resources and Environmental Protection and the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences, and involved fieldwork and training in southern, central and northern China (where the tofu is mind blowing!). She has also been involved in projects that examine the impacts of climate change, and climate change adaptation, on freshwater and riparian systems, and has investigated the impact of invasive plants and animals on hydrological ecosystem services. She’s in involved in a industry-research linkage grant funded by the Australian Research Council that aims to quantify the interactive effects of flood regime restoration, native vegetation plantings, and removal of understorey vegetation in restoring degraded wetland forests. Some of her PhD students have worked on wetland restoration following river regulation and agriculture, and have quantified the amount of carbon stored in wetlands, the drivers of that storage, including the influence of plant traits.

At King’s, Jane’s “watery’ activities include: coordinating and teaching Applied Aquatic Sciences with Mike Chadwick next year; co-supervising Stefanie Kaupa (with Mark Mulligan), a NERC DTP PhD student, who is researching the impacts of agricultural land abandonment on hydrology in the mountain environments of Nepal and Colombia; supervising two Masters students examining vegetation along Hampshire’s chalk streams; and teaching/research in the Okavango Delta in Botswana as part of PLuS Alliance with the University of New South Wales and Arizona State University. Led by Marije Schaafsma at University of Southampton, Jane, Mark Mulligan, Arnout van Soesbergen and others have just submitted a GCRF proposal to work on the lower Shire River Basin (and the Elephant Marsh) in southern Malawi where human lives and livelihoods, hydrology and ecology are tightly integrated – and all increasingly threatened by ongoing climate and land use change.

If anyone would ever like to talk water and plants, Jane would be delighted!

King’s Water Researcher Profile – Dr. Majed Akhter

Dr Majed Akhter has recently been awarded from the BBC and the AHRC. The jointly-run program works with ten scholars, called “New Generation Thinkers“, to develop their broadcast skills and to create programming for BBC Radio 3. Part of the application process involved a full-day “audition” at the BBC Broadcasting House, where he also had the pleasure of meeting some of the other short-listed applicants and learn about their research.

Majed pitched “Dam Fever”, a program or series of programs that would explore the 20th-century history of large dams with a focus on their ideological, developmental, and socio-ecological impacts and contexts. Over the next year of working with BBC presenters, producers, and the other New Generation Thinkers, Majed aims to translate for a broad radio audience a decade of scholarly research and university teaching on the political and historical geography of rivers and hydraulic infrastructures.

“I’m excited to share my research on the links between state power, uneven development, natural resources and the built environment by telling good stories.”

See profile here.

Plumbing Poverty in the Americas

Dr. Katie Meehan is a new faculty member at King’s Geography and an expert in household water insecurity, urban infrastructure, and water governance and policy in Latin America and the USA. She directs the Plumbing Poverty project, a new research initiative that explores the intersectional nature of infrastructure, space, and social inequality, with a focus on domestic water provision.

In a recent article published by the Annals of the American Association of Geographers, Meehan and her team explore the social geography of domestic water provision in the USA and expose its racialized, classed, and political nature. In the USA, nearly 1.5 million people lack complete household plumbing (the presence of piped water and sewerage). Just 14% of households without complete plumbing are ‘trailers’ or mobile homes.


This phenomenon is neither socially nor spatially random. Across all households, accounting for income and housing type, Native American households are 3.7 times more likely to lack piped water service; Black and Hispanic (Latinx) households are 1.2 times more likely. Meehan’s article begins to map the failure of public policy and local state institutions to provide equal life opportunity in the United States, one of the wealthiest countries in the world.


Check out the article here!

Insights into Dr Margaret Kadiri’s Research

Dr Margaret Kadiri is a Teaching Fellow in the Geography Department at King’s College London. Her research tackles one of the main challenges facing the tidal renewable energy sector which is the lack of understanding of the hydro-environmental impacts associated with tidal renewable energy schemes. Tides are a highly attractive source of renewable energy. The regularity of tides reduces uncertainty over power generation while also reducing carbon emissions and increasing energy security. In the UK, tidal energy presents substantial opportunities for large scale clean energy generation and there has been an increased interest in the generation of electricity from tidal energy sources in recent years, with plans for a tidal lagoon scheme in Wales, the first in the world. Alongside plans for the development of such schemes comes the need to understand their potential impacts on the hydro-environment as this has impeded the growth of the UK’s tidal energy sector. Margaret’s work aims to address some of the hydro-environmental concerns, and to find mitigating measures to minimise the impacts, particularly the risk of eutrophication by nutrient enrichment. Ultimately, this will help in designing schemes which can maximise power output with the least environmental impacts. To this end, Margaret recently returned from a field expedition of the potential site for the proposed tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay in collaboration with colleagues from Swansea University and Imperial College London.

In addition to providing baseline conditions, the water quality data collected during the field expedition will be used to assess the robustness of a novel coastal ocean model which is been developed at Imperial College London ( The aim is for the model to be employed as a reliable tool for water quality impact assessment of prospective tidal renewable energy schemes and to develop a functionality to accurately assess the risk of eutrophication.

Using documentaries for research and public engagement

Lilongwe Water Works? A research documentary on the dynamics of water provisioning and access in informal settlements

Dr. Maria Rusca – a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Research Fellow and Lecturer in Water and Development at our Geography Department at King’s College London – is the Principal Investigator of “Investigating Natural, Historical and Institutional Transformations in Cities (INHAbIT Cities)”, aiming at improving understandings of the dynamics of basic service provision in urban and suburban spaces in the global South. The project particularly investigates the relation between urban infrastructures, distribution of everyday risks and uneven conditions of access to water in Maputo (Mozambique) and Lilongwe (Malawi).

Maria believes that strong connection and commitment to a cause comes with inspiring stories; she has thus decided to engage with larger non-academic audiences and policy makers by disseminating INHAbIT’s research findings through a short documentary.  “Lilongwe Water Works?” tells the stories of women accessing or providing water where the formal utility provides water through public water kiosks (see picture).

In addition to using her documentary intitled “Lilongwe Water Works?” as part of the education curriculum of Water and Development at King’s College London, and Water Governance at IHE Delft, Maria returned to Lilongwe a few weeks ago to share her findings at various events she organised.

The documentary was projected at the Water User Association in one of the informal settlements, where some community members, water users, and contributors to the documentary were able to discover and discuss the final output; the same was done in an informal settlement’s school; another projection was done at the Lingadzi Hotel, with water stakeholders (the World Bank, UNICEF, the Ministry of Water, Lilongwe Water Board, the Economic Justice Network, Lilongwe City Council, WASAMA) and journalists (Zodiac, Reuters, AFP, Free Expression institute, Times Group, Capital Radio, Nyasa Times).

The most impressive moment for Maria was to see how the documentary was able to raise debates and even confrontations in ways she had never experienced before. During these debates, concerns were raised about the role of Water Users Associations: while on the one hand they are considered to be useful in ensuring water supply, they are also causing water to low-income areas to become increasingly expensive and often unaffordable (see referenced papers at the end of the post).

To watch the documentary:


DIRECTOR: Maria Rusca

YEAR: 2017

SYNOPSIS: The water utility in Lilongwe, capital city of Malawi, serves people living in low-income neighbourhoods through a system of water kiosks. The kiosks work like shops, which opening hours when people can go buy 20 litre buckets of water. This documentary tells the stories of the women and men that access water through the kiosks and those who are involved in running them. Their stories reveal both the successes and the failures of providing water through kiosks and call us to question whether this system can ensure the human right to water to the residents of Lilongwe’s peripheries and to others elsewhere in the world.

PRODUCER: Whales That Fly and Hyphen Media

FUNDING: This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 656738


For related peer-reviewed papers:

  1. Tiwale S., Rusca M., Zwarteveen M., The power of pipes: mapping urban water inequities through the material properties of networked water infrastructures. The case of Lilongwe, Malawi, Water Alternatives, Water Alternatives 11(2): 314-335.
  2. Rusca, M., Schwartz K., Hadzovic, L., Ahlers R., (2015), Adapting Generic Models through Bricolage: Elite Capture of Water Users Associations in Peri-urban Lilongwe, European Journal of Development Research, Volume 27, Issue 5, pp 777–792. Doi:
  1. Rusca M., Alda Vidal C., Hordijk M., Kral N., Bathing without water, and other stories of everyday hygiene practices and risk perception in urban low-income areas: the case of Lilongwe, Malawi, Environment and Urbanisation, doi:
  2. Alda Vidal C., Kooy M., Rusca M., (2018) Mapping operation and maintenance: an everyday urbanism analysis of inequalities within piped water supply in Lilongwe, Malawi,Urban Geography, Volume 39, Issue 1, pp. 104- 121 doi:
  3. Rusca M. and Schwartz K., (2018) The Paradox of Cost Recovery in Heterogeneous Municipal Water Supply Systems: Ensuring Inclusiveness or Exacerbating Inequalities?Habitat International, doi:
  4. Sarpong Boakye-Ansah A., Ferrero G., Rusca M and van der Zaag P., (2016) Inequalities in microbial contamination of drinking water, supplies in urban areas: the case of Lilongwe, Malawi, Journal of Water and Health, Volume 14, Issue 5, pp. 851-863, doi: 10.2166/wh.2016.258 

For related blogs:

Are we paying enough attention to water quality?

Bathing without water

22 Reasons why collaborations fail: Lessons from water innovation research

New Research Output by Dr. James Porter: 22 Reasons why collaborations fail: Lessons from water innovation research

Research highlights:

  • Bold and inventive solutions are urgently needed to safeguard the future use of water.
  • Collaborative-innovations are increasingly championed but it’s often unclear what influences the success (or failure) of these efforts.
  • Using an international systematic literature review of empirical studies, we identify 22 key themes.
  • Yet the importance attributed to each theme, agreement amongst the studies reviewed, and compatibility of the themes, varies considerably.
  • We caution against the uncritical use of different themes and call on researchers and practitioners to recognise the darker side of water collaboration.

Recommended reference: Porter, J.J.; Birdi, K. (2018) 22 Reasons why collaborations fail: Lessons from water innovation research, Environmental Science & Policy, 89, 100-108.

The paper is freely available at:

This research is first of a series of outputs produced as part of the Engineering and Physical Sciences (EPSRC) TWENTY65 – Tailored Water Solutions for Positive Impact – Grand Challenge programme. The next research outputs will critically examine the themes identified here by comparing them with the first-hand experiences of those working in the UK water sector (e.g. water companies, suppliers, regulatory bodies, and research institutions).

Abstract: Bold and inventive solutions are urgently needed to safeguard the future use of water. In response, collaborative-innovation is increasingly championed. If stakeholders including water utilities, supply-chain companies, research institutions and local communities work together, share their experiences and pool ideas, meaningful change could happen, it’s argued. But effective collaboration is far from easy. For every incentive that drives collaboration forward, another barrier blocks its path. Whilst the literature offers many possible factors that influence the success (or failure) of collaborative-innovations, it remains unclear which factors are most important, where the highest agreement and disagreement exists, and if accommodating one factor creates problems for another. This is important because its not always practical, nor necessary, to apply everything from the academic literature. In this paper, we report findings from an international systematic literature review that brings together a range of studies that cross the water collaboration and water innovation divide. We identify 22 broad themes that are spread (unevenly) across the entire collaborative-innovation process; highlight how the level of attention given to each theme varies greatly; and where disagreement exists. Our research provides practical insights on how to create more effective collaborative-innovations in water and where future research should be directed.

PhD Researcher Profile: Pratik Mishra

‘What can the study of informal and subversive practices by which peri-urban farmers lay claim to urban-oriented water flows in drinking and waste-water canals tell us about the equity and justice dimensions of urbanization in growing Indian cities?’

‘How do notions of honor attached to agricultural land interact with its market-determined value to create a context of exchange where different ‘regimes of value’ coexist?’

‘Why do countries with similar economic backgrounds end up with different levels of alcohol consumption per capita and different mixes of beer, wine and spirits up to the present day?’


These are three different questions that Pratik Mishra has committed his time to answering over the last 2 years before he joined King’s as a PhD researcher in Human Geography, basing his research more or less around the first question.


Pratik Mishra is from Bhubaneswar, a city on the east coast of India. He completed his Bachelors in Social Work from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Tuljapur and his Masters in Sustainable Development Practice from TERI University, New Delhi. Though he has held no prior position that would strictly count as a job, he worked on a number of internships and his ethnographic rural field research experience would make for around 15 months cumulatively. In a subtle incremental way, this experience has helped him quite a lot in knowing the right questions to ask and negotiating research in completely new villages looking out of place with a backpack and a notepad (though he still remains quite afraid of stray dogs which is a significant occupational hazard in his line of work!)

Pratik’s project will explore the ways in which canals meant to serve the urban metabolism do not constitute inert flows as they make their way through ‘conduit’ peri-urban villages serving variously as sites of seepage, irrigation, theft, conflict, street-level bureaucracy, etc. The canals that represent rural-urban flows of water come to signify a relationship between the urban and its periphery that might be expropriative or otherwise, but of course in a much more nuanced sense. He hopes that his research will be able to intersect and provide new insights in literatures on Southern Urbanism, Water Politics and Institutions, and Urban Political Ecology. Given that social research on urban metabolism bringing out all the lopsided design, institution and politics will always have as its baseline motive and reality the human suffering that is a shameful consequence of it all, he aspires to not lose track of that all too human reality in situating his work around infrastructures. In that direction, narrative ethnographies on the borderlines of literary non-fiction are a thing of great fascination for him.

He received PGR funding from the Graduate School for his research. His Lead Supervisor is Dr. Alex Loftus.

Pratik’s three Water Words:







For more about research opportunities with King’s Water, check out our website. To keep up to date, follow us on Twitter!

XVI World Water Congress

Four King’s Water doctoral researchers have just completed an interdisciplinary methods experiment in the Yucatan Peninsula. The trip included presentations at the XVI World Water Congress and the formation of a new institutional partnership with CICY, the Centre for the Scientific Study of the Yucatan.

King's Cancun team with CICY students  Continue reading