Voices of Water - Indigenous peoples on the International Water Day

Today we celebrate the annual International Water Day. Worldwide happenings, events and meetings are taking place; from small indigenous communities to international policymakers within the United Nations. The focus is mutual for everyone; to bring attention to the importance of fresh clean water.

For the Parakuiyo Maasai pastoralists in Tanzania, the International Water Day is the day to call attention to the water scarcity in their region. “We have water but just not clean water,” says Adam Ole Mwarabu, coordinator of the Parakuiyo Pastoralists Indigenous Community Development Organization (PAICODEO). “The laws of Tanzania allow us to own water and insist on water right. Yet, the government is failing to supply adequate and clean water in the pastoralists’ community, as a result, many people suffer from water-borne diseases”. Each year the International Water Day highlights a specific aspect of water and this year it is advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater recourses. Indigenous peoples believe it is a collective responsibility and obligation to ensure and protect the availability and purity of water – for present and future generations. Sustainable development of water resource management calls for a mechanism to ensure the balance between the roles of the state, the market and local communities. Unfortunately, the market is still the predominant player and the role and participation of indigenous peoples and local communities are continuously undermined in designing policies and programs on water. Water is a right Today is the day to underscore that indigenous peoples cannot separate their efforts to reclaim their water and their general struggle for the recognition of their fundamental rights as peoples. For indigenous peoples, water, more than being a basic human right, is the source of life. The waters, territories and lands are the physical, cultural and spiritual foundation of indigenous peoples’ existence and identity as distinct peoples. Today, it should be stressed that the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNFPII) has reaffirmed the right to water as a fundamental human right. Today is the day where indigenous peoples around the world should call for the development of international standards for the use, management and regulation of water. Three major concerns Indigenous people have according to the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (SPFII) highlighted three major concerns regarding water resources, namely lack of access to water, contamination of water and privatization of water. Over 1 billion people around the globe still lack access to safe drinking water and in many places, indigenous peoples are unfortunately still sidelined and excluded from debates about State-water management. Contamination of water is affecting several indigenous communities and one of the biggest polluters is the mining and quarrying industry whose activities are contaminating the water. Contamination from the mining industry affecting peoples’ livelihoods and well-being are reported worldwide from Peru to the Philippines. Privatization of water is a key area of focus for indigenous peoples. In Chile conflicts related to natural resources in extractive industries involve critical issues related to privatization of water. One, of the main arguments from the SPFII against privatization of water, is that water ‘belongs to everyone and anyone’. It belongs to the earth and living things, including humans. It should be equally distributed according to needs, customs, and community norms depending on its cyclical availability. For all three issues it is imperative that governments and the United Nation agencies alike ensure respect for articles 32 and 25 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which outlines, respectively, the rights of indigenous peoples to determine the priorities in the development or use of the lands and resources, as well as their right to strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their territories, waters and coastal seas. The International development agenda Water is on the international agenda as a part of the 2015-development framework that will develop new goals for when the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) expire. Water is a separate thematic discussion. The thematic consultation on water is also culminating today in a High-Level Meeting in conjunction with the celebration of the International Water Day. The meeting will round up months of discussions and finalize key messages to be taken forward in the different processes shaping the emerging development framework. The last decade water has also been a focus in the MDGs. In regards to clean water and sanitation, the MDGs were as good as met. However, for indigenous peoples who are predominately rural, it is crucial to recognize that geographic disparities mirror ethnic inequities in relation to poverty, hunger, health issues, gender inequality, education, environmental degradation and not least access to clean water. For the MDGs reflecting water issues, the disparities between urban and rural population continue and despite encouraging figures for improved water sources, the focus must be directed to areas of need. That is why it is so important that the voices of the indigenous peoples are spread today, on the annual International Water Day. Today, the Parakuiyo Maasai people in Tanzania together with many other indigenous peoples around the world request that the International Water Day gives priority to communities with a shortage of clean water and related water issues. And they request that organizations dealing with water issues help advocate for the right to water in their home areas. Let us hope that their voices are heard. For more information on the International Water Day, events and happening close to you: Visit the website unwater.org

Tags: Land rights, Global governance, Climate action

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