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Indigenous Peoples: Guardians of Water Conservation and Sharing Worldwide

29 May, 2024 | Ricardo Changala

The 10th session of the World Water Forum (WWF) concluded in Bali, Indonesia, on May 24, 2024.

This forum, which held its inaugural session in 1997, has evolved into the premier international gathering focused on water issues, drawing together diverse stakeholders such as governments, civil society, entrepreneurs, academics, and international organizations. While formally independent of the United Nations system, its practical significance cannot be overstated. Organized by the World Water Council, it selects a new host city every three years[1].

In 2024, thousands of participants from approximately 160 countries engaged in discussions, with 133 nations delivering national statements on the subject matter.

The ministerial declaration, titled “Water for Shared Prosperity,” issued at the close of the event, underscores the urgent need to translate commitments into actionable policies and plans.

Among the commitments made, ministers pledged to:

Conserve, protect, and sustainably manage water resources, including vital groundwater aquifers, as essential elements for both human activities and ecosystems, through the development of efficient and integrated water resource management.

Promote the establishment or enhancement of national policies, plans, and actions for integrated water resource management (IWRM), systematically including provisions for safe, affordable drinking water and sanitation for all[2].

The Ministerial Declaration not only recognizes the significant contributions to water resource protection from social organizations (especially women and Indigenous Peoples) but also commits to further empowering them in their role as

“…agents of change and innovation in the search for smart solutions to water and sanitation challenges, including traditional, local, and Indigenous knowledge.”

The forum’s final document includes an annex with a compendium of results and concrete actions, covering 113 clean water and sanitation projects valued at $9.4 billion, involving 33 countries and 53 international organizations and cooperatives, as well as beneficiaries of clean water and sanitation.


The forum’s discussions complemented previous efforts to address water resource preservation and responsible use, notably discussions and agreements arising from the UN Water Conference in March 2023.

At this conference, the “Water Action Agenda” was adopted, comprising nearly 700 non-binding commitments aimed at safeguarding humanity’s most precious global common good.

Additionally, the Second High-Level International Conference on the International Decade for Action on Water for Sustainable Development, 2018–2028, held in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, in June, provided a platform for Indigenous Peoples to express their concerns and showcase their substantial contributions to global water resource preservation.

Key messages conveyed by Indigenous Peoples worldwide included:

  • Advocacy for holistic water policies recognizing interconnections with food systems, climate change, biodiversity protection, and cultural preservation.
  • Emphasis on Indigenous expertise in governance and management, necessitating legal support, tenure, and intergenerational responsibility.
  • Advocacy for equitable water policies sensitive to conflict resolution, as water scarcity and competition for resources can threaten peace and security.
  • Calls for coherence in national economic planning, equitable decision-making participation, and long-term assessment of extractive industry impacts.
  • Recognition of knowledge as a valuable resource, beneficial not only to Indigenous Peoples but also to inform national and international water governance and policymaking.

The hosting of multiple world forums of this scale and organizational complexity underscores the global priority placed on water issues by governments, citizens, academia, and the broader population.

This recognition of Indigenous Peoples and communities as not only victims of water-related challenges but also integral contributors to solutions is a positive development.

It reaffirms that while innovative technologies are crucial, they alone cannot address humanity’s most pressing challenges. Indigenous practices, often marginalized but proven effective, are aligned with the overarching goals articulated in numerous international forums during times of global crisis.

Recognizing Indigenous knowledge should extend beyond mere acknowledgment to meaningful participation in decision-making processes at national, regional, and international levels. Shared prosperity necessitates shared decision-making, rooted in respect for diverse cultures and perspectives.

[1] Más información en https://worldwaterforum.org/

[2] Ministerial declaration on “Water for shared prosperity”, The 10th World Water Forum, Bali, Indonesia, 20-21 may 2024.