Water rights for indigenous people in Mexico | Land Portal

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Many water resources in Mexico run through indigenous areas. Mexican governments have often made management decisions on the basis of perceived economic needs, rather than concern for the people and ecosystems involved. This trend continues today, despite recent agreements with indigenous groups over water use.Up to 10 percent of Mexico’s population are indigenous
people. They are reliant on water resources running through their territories
and face major challenges as a result of government management policies. Research
published as part of a UNESCO series presents an overview of the challenges
facing indigenous peoples in Mexico as a result of government policies.
Mexican governments have traditionally sought to centralise
control of water resources and implement projects they see as beneficial to
national and corporate interests, such as irrigation and hydroelectricity
projects. The recent dams on the Usumacinta River indicate that the situation
has not improved since the election in 2000, despite
agreements against such developments (such as the San Andres agreement), backed
by a large coalition of indigenous groups.
Successive governments have progressively taken control of
water resources away from local authorities and given power to federal
officials in the National Water Commission. These officials do not listen to those
people who best understand the rivers, springs, lakes and aquifers – the
indigenous peoples and other communities who live in these territories. The
watershed councils formed a decade ago are weak and implement management rules erratically.
More importantly, they do not represent indigenous people either.
Indigenous peoples face several challenges from water
development projects:
They often lack a water supply and sanitation
services. In 2000, 42 percent of indigenous homes had no piped water and 70
percent had no sanitation services.
The water resources they use are
contaminated, for example through the irrigation of the Mezquital valley with
sewage from Mexico City.
There is continuing forced relocation of
indigenous and rural populations to make way for big dams for irrigation or
hydropower, such as in the Miguel Alemán and Cerro de Oro dams. This threatens
livelihoods, cultural bonds, archaeological sites and biodiversity.
There is no forum for indigenous peoples to
express their interests: watershed councils have proven wholly inadequate.
The legal mechanisms to claim rights over
territory are weak and indirect, especially when opposed by powerful companies
with ties to federal governments.
Depriving indigenous people access to water and involvement
in water resources management not only violates their rights, but also neglects
a vital source of traditional knowledge. To guarantee respect for indigenous
water rights, the author recommends working in three directions:
adopting a legal framework that fully recognises
the rights of indigenous peoples
including legitimate indigenous representatives
on water management bodies in the territories in which they live
forming social
coalitions amongst indigenous peoples and other rural populations so they can
better express their opposition to policies backed by powerful companies and

Autores e editores

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Francisco Peña


Aims to make policymakers and on-the-ground development managers aware of the latest and best in British development research findings. Offers policy-relevant findings on critical global development issues, drawn from over 40 major UK-based economics and social studies departments and think-tanks, together with a wide range of NGO research departments and consultants.

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