Water-conflicts: Indigenous communities all over the world are threatened by intrusions

Memorandum on World Water Day (March 22)

On occasion of the World Water Day on March 22, the Society for Threatened Peoples published a 22-page memorandum focusing on water-conflicts. Based on 16 examples from all over the world, the international human rights organization explains how several indigenous communities are threatened by serious intrusions in the natural courses of rivers or by toxins that pollute the fisheries or seep into groundwater.

For example, ground water resources in Nigeria's Niger Delta, in western Siberia and in the Barents region are being polluted by oil production. In Peru, the rivers which the indigenous communities use for fishing and for drinking water are contaminated with Cyanide from gold mining. The poisoned water leads to serious health problems of the local people and their children – which is a severe violation of their right to health.

"Whether in India, Cambodia, Ecuador or Russia – indigenous peoples are acutely threatened by dam constructions. Tens of thousands are to be forcibly relocated and their land is to be flooded in order to establish hydro-electric power plants or to provide water for monoculture-crops – in Ethiopia for example," said STP-representative Sarah Reinke. "The damming of rivers can also cause pollution when the flooded forests rot under water or when rivers dry up downstream of the dam and cause a salinization of the agricultural land – like in Uzbekistan. New dam constructions are a threat to the indigenous communities who primarily live of fishing and many farms are threatened with extinction."

Ambitious dam projects often lead to conflicts between the indigenous communities and the police or the corporations' security services. Often, these conflicts break out locally, although it is mainly international investors such as the World Bank or international corporations who are involved in the projects. The protests of the indigenous communities are often suppressed by force of arms, with people getting killed, injured or arrested.

The Society for Threatened Peoples demands that the international investors must respect the highest environmental standards and the rules of the ILO Convention 169, which was ratified by many of the States concerned. The convention – which was issued by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), associated to the United Nations – states that indigenous communities must be informed and consulted prior to the implementation of any project that would affect them. This principle is being violated systematically.

The memorandum can be downloaded from our website (in German).