International Law and Freshwater
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International Law and Freshwater

The Multiple Challenges

Edited by Laurence Boisson de Chazournes, Christina Leb and Mara Tignino

International Law and Freshwater connects recent legal developments through the breadth and synergies of a multidisciplinary analysis. It addresses such critical issues as water security, the right to water, international cooperation and dispute resolution, State succession to transboundary watercourse treaties, and facets of international economic law, including trade in ‘virtual water’ and the impacts of ‘land grabs’.
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Chapter 5: Water rights of indigenous peoples and local communities

Dinah Shelton


The lack of access to water and water pollution occur disproportionately in indigenous and rural communities throughout the world, and produce their most frequent and serious impacts on the vulnerable members of these communities: women, children, aged, and infirm. These problems reflect the distribution of power within states, where marginalization keeps indigenous peoples and rural communities at the edges of society economically, politically and socially. In this context, the immediate water crises being experienced by indigenous and local communities stem from a variety of sources, as illustrated by some recent cases in the Inter- American human rights system: The Sawhoyamaxa and Yakye Axa live along the margins of an east-west highway that traverses the Chaco in Paraguay. These indigenous communities have been dispossessed from their traditional lands and denied access to the resources thereon, which have for millennia provided the means for their subsistence. They have no land for crops or hunting, and no access to a safe water supply. They are fenced out of their own territories and must depend on the government for a supply of food and water, pending a resolution of their land claims. The deprivation of land is thus also a deprivation of traditional water sources. The Yakye Axa have one latrine for over 500 people, many of whom must cross the highway to reach it.

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