June 22, 2009 Water management may suffer from a stuffy image in the Netherlands but in Argentina water management is a hot topic for many people. That is because water has a direct impact on the lives of the indigenous peoples in the Argentinean Patagonia region. Dutch-sponsored researcher Alejandra Moreyra investigated how the Mapuce Indians are fairing in the battle for water and the struggle for their rights. According to her the Argentinean government ensures that the Mapuce cannot pursue their rights.
In the Trahunco Valley in Argentina the Mapuce communities share their territory with several tourist businesses. That would not appear to be a problem. However, one of these businesses, an international skiing resort, pollutes the water of the river. In her research, Moreyra initially focussed on local government water institutions, who proposed finding a solution for local water requirements by creating a water users association (WUA) for the Trahunco valley. Yet the problems associated with this were found to extend far further than water use alone.
Right to participation
Despite the formal recognition of indigenous rights in the national constitution, the indigenous peoples of Argentina cannot practice their rights. This denial of indigenous rights can also be found in the functioning of state institutions that are involved in water, natural resources and environmental management. The Mapuce communities are fighting for a stronger position in bodies such as the WUA, but are obstructed in this by the government. For example, the political Mapuce organisation was excluded from the plan to develop a WUA.
Moreyra discovered, however, that the Mapuce communities did not take this sitting down. On the contrary, as a result of being excluded the Mapuce sought other avenues to make their wishes known. They organised protests, sought support from other non-institutional bodies and took their case to the courts. The Mapuce refer to this as ' the new relationship with the state', in which they no longer accept a subservient position but try to gain equal footing with the government bodies.
The opposition movements developed by the Mapuce are ensuring a growing recognition of the diversity in the population, which up until now had only existed on paper. Yet despite these positive moves, Moreyra's research reveals how current local government bodies are resolutely sticking to the idea that territorial areas can be governed in a uniform manner which ignores the rights of indigenous peoples. Although the government is obliged to allow the indigenous peoples to participate in the decision-making process, it defines 'participation' as an invitation to stakeholders to be informed and not as the right to be involved in the decision-making process. Moreyra calls for different types of state citizenship rooted in a multinational state in which diversity plays a key role.
For her research, Alejandra Moreyra spent almost a year living with the Mapuce. Her research was funded by WOTRO Science for Global Development. The NWO division WOTRO Science for Global Development focuses on funding scientific research into developmental issues, especially sustainable development and poverty alleviation. In realising this role WOTRO aims to strengthen the cooperation with and between the Dutch government, development organisations and international research institutes.
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