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Whose Water?

A Comparative Analysis of National Laws and Regulations Recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ and Local Communities’ Rights to Freshwater

Author: Rights and Resources Initiative & Environmental Law Institute

Date: August 21, 2019

**Draft August 2019. Full report coming soon.**

Clearly defined and legally secure freshwater tenure rights are essential to Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ livelihoods and food security, as well as to countries’ efforts to achieve sustainable development priorities and ensure climate resilience. However, the extent of the legal recognition of these rights to water remains largely unknown and unmonitored. To date, the bundle of legal entitlements most critical for enabling communities’ water tenure security has not been fully articulated or endorsed through global guidance such as the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT).

This brief summarizes findings from the first international comparative assessment on the extent to which various national-level legal frameworks recognize the freshwater rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, as well as the specific rights of women to use and govern community waters. The analysis stems from a collaboration between the Environmental Law Institute and the Rights and Resources Initiative—which hosts the world’s only research program dedicated to monitoring the status of community-based land, forest, and freshwater tenure rights—and will be expanded and updated over time.

  • Key Findings
  • Graphics

Key Findings

The analysis finds that legal frameworks recognize local communities’ and Indigenous Peoples’ rights to at least use and govern freshwater in 14 of the 15 countries, though substantial gaps remain. Communities’ legal rights to freshwater are dependent on their recognized land or forest rights in 25 (over 60 percent) of the 39 legal frameworks analyzed in this study, and these frameworks establish consistently more adequate protections for communities’ freshwater rights—including the rights of women to use or govern community waters. Nonetheless, women’s freshwater rights are specifically recognized in just one-third of legal frameworks analyzed. Cross-sectoral reforms to effectively harmonize water, land, and forest laws and policies in a gender-sensitive and integrated fashion are urgently needed in order to address legislative inconsistencies and oversights that hinder the realization of communities’ water and land tenure security.


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