Indigenous Proposal for the human right to water
(Translated by Emily Schmitz, a CSN Volunteer Translator)
Before the end of this July the United Nations General Assembly will acknowledge water as a Human Right. This is one of the key proposals of indigenous towns and their organizations, ancient guardians of water as a sacred life-source.
UN adoption of this right is a result of indigenous and social organizations’ involvement in lengthy fights and long processes.
“This recognition is the result of a long process developed by internal organizations. We are reminded of the War for Water in Cochabamba, Bolivia in 2000, sparked by proposals to privatize municipal water supplies. The recent Multinational Mobilization in Ecuador held as its main objective to reject the privatization and institutionalization of the Hydraulic Resource law but did not reflect proposals of indigenous organizations,” stated Miguel Palacin Quispe, general coordinator of the Andean Coordination of Indigenous Organizations.
The pretension to privatize water also motivated the unity of the Uruguayan town in 2002 when the National Commission in Defense of Water and Life called a query against these attempts.
Idelfonso Cavasa, head of the National Council Committee on Land and Territory of Qullasuyu Ayllus and Markas Qullasuyu, stated that this organization supported adopting water as a Human Right, taking into consideration the principles and values of native peoples.
“We, as the original native peoples, have always been the eyes of water contamination. We propose to rationalize the distribution and consumption”, indicated indigenous authority.
Presently water as a human right is a global fight due to the influence of neo-liberal globalization, which considers water a valuable resource and promotes not only privatization, the consolidation of a resource into only a few hands, but also indiscriminately promotes its use by extractive industries such as mining and petroleum, irreversibly contaminating water sources, added Palacin.
Water for indigenous peoples is a vital element, not only for our populations but as well for the entirety of nature and humanity. Opposing this, the international financial sector views water as a strategic resource in population control and market gains.
Under the framework of Good Living, indigenous peoples and organizations propose the following propositions in reference to water resources:
Water as common heritage. The entire plan of action involving water should be to protect and conserve it. This would guaranty the equality of its availability to secure the existence of all living beings on the planet. To accomplish this, water systems should be secured and protected in both its immediate and original locations, congealing actions and mechanisms which promote the integrity of ecosystems, animal species, and plant and community life with dignity and upholds cultural identity. Water is inherited from the earth and completes all forms of animal, plant and human life.
Water as public domain. This principle implies that water is defined in Constitutions as a public good under the control of society as a whole. At the same time it should formulate fair-use mechanisms that respond to both natural and human needs, prioritizing rights to subsistence, food sovereignty and local development.
Water is a shared good, not merchandise. The hoarding of water by certain sectors of the economy – mining, industry, agricultural or the exporting sector to name a few – impoverishes the vast majority of users and of nature itself. Therefore no business, neither national nor transnational, or particular person has the right to take control of water resources or hoard its use for private lucrative means at the expense of the rest of the community. In order for water to become a good of the public domain it must become a vital resource; which is not regarded as merchandise, is not given a price tag and is not subject to the laws of the market. Water, therefore, cannot be subject to free trade agreements.
Revaluating knowledge, technology and Andean organization. The wisdom of the Andean world, their technological and social systems in water management, start the principle of harmonic coexistence with Mother Earth and are based on a collective ownership of water. This ownership is based upon traditional social and legal systems which have guaranteed the sustainability of ecosystems since immemorial times and as such should be preserved, respected and well-known. Today, traditional systems of water management have been marginalized. However, as they have been developed and tested over hundreds of years, they should serve as valid alternatives in water resource sustainability. These systems need to be better understood, valued, recuperated and spread as sustainable developmental technology.
Fundamental management and participatory systems. Systems of water management should be based upon a concept of wholeness, taking into consideration territorial origins, compatible uses and the resource sustainability. Determining the priorities of water usage should involve participatory mechanisms which guaranty conservation and equal access. Sustainable management projects require that information on the state and availability of surface and ground waters, which today is almost non-existent, rarely systematical and difficult or costly to access, instead be made public.
Participatory institutionalization and social control. Legislative norms and water management forms should guaranty the availability of water in terms of both quality and quantity. This will secure the sustainability and fulfill necessities of local ecosystems and human populations. In order to achieve sustainability at both watershed and national water levels, governmental systems should directly involve local, pre-existing water authorities such as Indigenous communities, farmers, irrigation associations and other water users. Government should respect and value traditional indigenous and farmer community rights and procedures which are considered fundamental and communal; and as such should be regarded as the heritage of all humanity.