Indigenous people worldwide are being ignored and bypassed when it comes to water development projects. This practice is problematic on many levels.
The first peoples in any land rely on natural water sources such as lakes and rivers for agriculture and drinking supplies. They also have many sacred traditions and rituals surrounding these waters.
When development projects bypass them and start building dams and diverting water, often it leads to the decimation of culture for these people.
The World Bank estimates there are about 370 million indigenous peoples worldwide, who make up just 5% of the global population but safeguard 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity, with the land they live on often inextricably linked to their identity.
“The issue of water is very central for indigenous peoples because of course it’s related very much to their claims to their lands, territories and resources,” said Tauli-Corpuz.
The U.N. envoy said that customary laws and indigenous governance systems should be part of international systems to deal with climate, land and water crises and conflicts, of which she expects an increased number in the coming years.
Another reason indigenous people should be consulted for water management is that they have been effectively managing many water systems for years and know intimate details about them that outsiders may not anticipate.
Water is essential to these people. They grow up with different knowledge than the standard school curriculum – which means they can contribute meaningfully to a discussion about the things they know best.
Their way of life should neither be pitied nor romanticized – it is different, and yes, they are often poverty-stricken, but they respect things that others do not, and it is worth seeing the world in partnership with them.