Today is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People. The day exists to promote the rights of indigenous people across the world, by monitoring and raising awareness of their human rights and freedoms.
Indigenous People and Water
When it comes to water policy, indigenous people can suffer because governments often don’t regard them as stakeholders during discussions. In 2003 the Indigenous People’s Kyoto Water Declaration argued for indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination, meaning the ‘right to freely exercise full authority and control of our natural resources including water’. This, they argue, is denied to them by governments, especially when commercial interests like mining companies want to use water resources for industry.
In addition, when it comes to conservation, the declaration argues that relying on indiscriminately-applied Western science has led to the degradation of water sources, and that the dominant paradigm of water management fails to recognise the rights of indigenous peoples. Instead, they argue that water is sacred, and that indigenous knowledge should be valued as a way of preserving water and ensuring sustainability.
Just a Drop’s work
Just a Drop has worked with a number of indigenous communities to provide them with better access to water, predominantly in Latin America. These water projects will mitigate the negative health effects of any poorly-managed industry in the area which may be polluting the ecosystem, and will empower the local people to be able to take control of their own water resources. Here are a few examples:
Communidad America/America Village is a Bolivian village of 100 people made up of indigenous tribes and ‘colonistas’ who have moved to the area in the last 30 years. The water system had fallen into disrepair, leading to health issues, and water scarcity meant that children would brush their teeth with water from the river, which is heavily contaminated by gold mining upstream. In 2012, Just a Drop installed a sterilisation unit to clean the water in the system. This will reduce cases of disease, and may encourage young people to remain in the village rather than moving to the city. The facilities are being maintained by one of the villagers, and the whole village pays US$5 a month for chemicals to sterilise the water.
Ñoneno and Yawapade are two villages in Ecuador with a combined population of around 300. They are home to the Waorani people as well as ‘colonistas’ and other tribes. The Waorani have said, ‘The government want our land, the oil companies want our oil and the missionaries seek our souls’. These villages used to gather water from sources contaminated oil drilling. In Yawapade, Just a Drop constructed a water tank to store water from the creek, and distribution pipes to take it into different houses. In Ñoneno, Just a Drop repaired the existing broken water system. This eliminates the need for villagers to go on long treks for water, where they are at risk of snake bites, and will reduce water-borne diseases. It also provides an initial step for the communities which are hoping to attract eco-tourists to the area.
Tobeta Village, also in Ecuador, is home to around 55 members of the Waorani Tribe. They too are experiencing the effects of irresponsible oil drilling, which is polluting water sources in the area. Just a Drop has constructed a pump to bring water up from the nearby creek, and distribute it into individual houses. This will reduce disease and the time taken to fetch water, and will hopefully encourage some of the young people to remain in the village. Four villagers were trained how to maintain the water system, and a village meeting decided that each family would pay US$5 a month for upkeep. This will give the community ownership of their water system and will also make the project more sustainable.
For more information on our work in Latin America, please click here.
Written by: Margaret Welsh. August 2013