Water and indigenous peoples

SPANISH VERSION published on 14 August 2007

El Agua y los Pueblos Indígenas was launched at the Sixth Inter-American Dialogue on Water Management, Guatemala City. The book launch was hosted by Mrs. Katherine Grigsby, UNESCO Representative in Guatemala, as part of the session 'La gente alrededor del agua: comunicación, concientización y cultura del agua' (About people and water: communication, awareness and water culture).


Indigenous peoples from all corners of the globe continue to struggle for acknowledgement and recognition of their unique visions of water, both at home and in national, regional, and international forums. But almost without exception, their voices remain obscured by a mainstream discourse rooted in the conception of water as a mere commodity.

Water and Indigenous Peoples is based on the papers delivered on the occasion of the Second and Third World Water Forums (The Hague in 2000 and Kyoto in 2003). It brings to the fore some of the most incisive indigenous critics of international debates on water access, use and management, as well as indigenous expressions of generosity that share community knowledge and insight in order to propose remedies for the global water crisis.

The absence of indigenous peoples from global development processes has a dual drawback. First, indigenous peoples risk to be left by the wayside despite their very real needs for more secure and sustainable livelihoods. Second, and of greater concern, is that the impoverishment and hardship of indigenous peoples may in fact be exacerbated by this worldwide push to fulfil the MDGs.

In response to international pressure, governments may heighten their exploitation of indigenous lands and territories, thus further dispossessing indigenous peoples of the natural resources that they rely upon to fulfil basic needs. Large-scale hydroelectric development projects, for example, often target indigenous lands because they are dismissed as under-populated, under-utilised or even 'wastelands'. Similarly, indigenous communities' water sources that sustain their multiple uses and livelihood strategies are often taken away in order to provide drinking water to urban areas and metropoles. Thus a misguided pursuit of the MDGs could in fact worsen indigenous peoples, matters for ever while national indicators of well-being may improve.

Accordingly, there is a real need to involve indigenous peoples directly in development processes, whether at local, national or global levels. This publication on Water and Indigenous Peoples advocates a revision of international development efforts to fully embrace indigenous peoples' knowledge, values, land tenure, customary management, social arrangements and rights pertaining to water. Contributions cover a wide array of approaches and issues, ranging from 'worldviews' to 'rights-based struggles'.

UNESCO, 2006, Water and Indigenous Peoples. Edited by R. Boelens, M. Chiba and D. Nakashima. Knowledges of Nature 2, UNESCO: Paris, 177 pp.

To request a copy, email - links(at)unesco.org 

PDF version (English  -  Spanish)


More information:
Message de M. Koïchiro Matsuura, directeur général de l’UNESCO
à l’occasion de la Journée mondiale de l’eau 2006 : « Eau et culture » - 22 mars 2006

Third World Water Forum - Water and Cultural Diversity 2003
Abstracts, session report, results and mandates for action

Second World Water Forum - Water and Indigenous People 2000
Abstracts, conference report

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