Whose Water? A Comparative Analysis of National Laws and Regulations Recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ and Local Communities’ Rights to Freshwater (Summary Brief)

Rights and Resources Initiative & Environmental Law Institute
Date Released
February 2020
Whose Water? A Comparative Analysis of National Laws and Regulations Recognizing

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 of 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.

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