Why we need indigenous expertise for the water crisis

The summer of 2022 may go down in history as the moment the world woke up to the global water crisis. So I’m thrilled to introduce today’s conversation with Nigel Crawhall, who heads up the local and indigenous knowledge division at UNESCO.

What I wanted to learn about is a recent upsurge in demand for indigenous perspectives and solutions in the water space. Nigel recently attended an important UN meeting on water in Tajikistan where he facilitated a first ever forum for indigenous people to have a voice in this political process to reshape how we think about and and act on water in an era of crisis.

Nigel explains the nuts and bolts of how to bring indigenous perspectives into fora previously dominated by Western knowledge. We also talk about the new geopolitics of water – why high altitude actors, for example, are now influential players, the role of decolonization in closed-door meetings and everything you need to know about the latest IPBES assessments on wild species and values of nature. 

Nigel has a fantastic ability to convey vast amounts of knowledge through great storytelling. So if you’ve found this topic challenging in the past, our conversation will definitely open new doors.

What we talked about:

2.34 The paradigm shift on indigenous knowledge dates back to the 2007 UN Declaration on rights of indigenous peoples. Over time, this converged with global challenges around sustainability – the idea that we need everyone at the table, that exclusion is part of the problem so participation is part of the solution

4.13 The new normal is bringing in multiple streams of evidence including indigenous knowledge into scientufuc assessments and decision making.

6.38 For too long we have been focused on western models & urban living & missed out on the majority of human understanding & knowledge about the world.

7.38 Zoom into the politics of water: why did the UN wait nearly half a century to hold a big international conference in water next March in NY?

8.41 Why is it difficult for indigenous people to be involved in water policy ?

9.28 What is the UN water action decade ? UN Decades are major areas of international policy concern -they are a global agenda setting tool. Alongside water currently there are Decades on Ocean Science & Ecosystems Restoration

10.07 one distinctive feature of the Water Action Decade has been the scant public participation – mostly a technical process. Until the Dushanbe conference opened the door.

13.00 From the Arctic to the Kalahari to the Mekong, traditional knowledge holders bring a wealth of insight on water governance. Hearing their stories helps build a bridge between the rights based and the knowledge based approach.

17.05 Why is water so political?

One reason is that the state is the main arbiter of the management of water, yet thé living experience of water happens at the ground level.

18.50 high altitude countries with glacial systems have emerged as influential actors in mulltilateral negotiations on water.

20.21 Why the Dushanbe declaration is an extraordinary document, a mini Paris agreement

22.17 what to know about the latest IPBES assessments approved in Bonn?

The values assessment gets to the heart of « what matters ». While many want to quantify the value of nature, others say if you put a price on it it means you intend to extract it & turn it into cash value. What the assessment does is look at what is the value of nature from different perspectives.

26.05 Should we talk about decolonization as a context for understanding north/south & east/west stressors in multilateral negotiations? The developing world sees itself as having collective interest about global justice & equity.

Nigel Crawhall is Chief of Section for the UNESCO programme on Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (LINKS). He holds a PhD in Sociolinguistics from the University of Cape Town and has over twenty-five years’ experience working with indigenous peoples in Africa.  LINKS’ current focus includes indigenous knowledge of climate, biodiversity and ecosystems, with particular attention to Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific regions.


Part of what has shifted is the idea that diversity is part of what makes us resilient this idea that you cannot have one size fits all that you cannot impose one model of development. 

Uh, but actually you need to know what is really going on on the ground. And what is distinctive about indigenous peoples, uh, is that there are so many of them and they cover, there are in so many different environments. So from the high Arctic into desert ecosystems, uh, traditional fishing communities, uh, highland communities up in the Andes or the Himalyas, all the way down to the coastal areas and nomadic herders. I mean, it’s an enormous array of knowledge. And this idea that we actually were so focused on Western models and urban living and all those things that we were missing out, the majority of human understanding and knowledge about the world. And I think that’s exciting that that shift is taking place.

Denise: Today’s topic could not be more timely in light of the heatwaves and water shortages that have swept much of the world this summer from southern Europe to China. In France, where I live, we are in a historic drought crisis, with over 100 municipalities learning for the first time how to make do with water trucked in from somewhere else.

Today I’m talking to Nigel Crawhall, who heads up the local and indigenous knowledge division at UNESCO. What I wanted to learn about is a new movement to bring in indigenous perspectives and solutions into the water space. Nigel recently attended an important UN meeting on water in Tajikistan where he facilitated a first ever forum for indigenous people to have a voice in this political process to reshape how we think about and manage water in an era of crisis.

In case you’re asking yourself, why should I care about anything that happens at the UN, I’d like to point out that many of the concepts and ideas that are part of our everyday lives had their origin at the UN. 

Take the term sustainable development, which first emerged at 1992 in Rio de Janeiro. Or the term ESG, which is oh-so-familiar to listeners of this podcast, an entire field also named by the UN back in the early 2000s.

Nigel explains the nuts and bolts of how to bring indigenous perspectives into fora previously dominated by Western knowledge. We also talk about the new geopolitics of water – why high altitude actors, for example, are now influential players, the role of decolonization in closed-door meetings and everything you need to know about the latest IPBES assessments on wild species and values of nature. 

Nigel has an incredible ability to convey vast amounts of knowledge through great storytelling – so if you’ve found this topic challenging in the past, our conversation will definitely open new doors.

Nigel: I’m the chief of section on local and indigenous knowledge systems, which is a program at UNESCO in the natural sciences sector. 

Uh, I’ve worked in partnership with UNESCO. Uh, I was with, uh, civil society networks, uh, for a number of years. And I used to work, uh, as a consultant for UNESCO on intangible cultural heritage. So looking at, uh, African particularly, um, cultural systems, how indigenous people understood the natural resources and landscapes. Um, and then we start to partner with this, um, with LINKS with the Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems program. Uh, and then, um, somewhat, uh, surprisingly in 2017, I was hired to head up that unit. Uh, and so bringing in my experience of working with indigenous people’s rights issues within the UN system, but also working directly on the ground with indigenous peoples around their natural resourcenmanagement, their knowledge, their cultural systems, their languages. So I kind of have a, an array of different skills and knowledge. 

Denise: Um, so, uh, I wanted to talk to you today because I think that, um, uh, we are witnessing a paradigm shift in indigenous knowledge and, uh, the impact that it’s having on, uh, policy, both international policy and national policy.

Uh, and so I wanted to ask you if you could, uh, do you agree that there is a paradigm shift happening right now? And could you describe, what’s been happening the last few years and, and actually, why should we pay attention? 

Nigel: Well, I think there is a paradigm shift happening and I believe that UNESCO is able, being able to contribute to that.

That’s UNESCO has tried to play a catalytic role in that. Um, the other thing I should say right at the start is that, uh, I’m not an indigenous person. And I’m not speaking on behalf of any of those communities. Uh, my job is really within the UN system to create dialogue, create spaces and allow people to, uh, freely participate and, uh, bring their own ideas and knowledge into the system.

So I think there’s been a number of sort of key convening points that have allowed this paradigm shift to take place. The one is that indigenous peoples have advocated and succeeded in getting the UN to adopt a declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. So that was a 25 year negotiation process that culminated in 2007 with the adoption of the declaration by the General Assembly. So there was a rights-based framework put in place that guides the whole of the UN system. I don’t think that was accidental, that that happened when it did. I think it is converging with a number of other world challenges around the environment, climate change, sustainability and this idea that we need everybody at the table, the idea that exclusion is part of the problem, uh, therefore participation is part of the solution. So I think that was also, uh, a shift, a paradigm shift that the declaration ushered in. But at the same time, uh, UNESCO has been working with particularly the Intergovernmental Platform, uh, on Biodiversity and Ecosystem services known as IPBES, which is a research, um, uh, mechanism within the UN to look at the best science about the environment and bring that to policy makers and our job at UNESCO is to help indigenous, uh, knowledge holders and local knowledge holders participate in each one of the IPBES assessments. And I think that that all rolled together along with some other instruments and key instruments, like under the Convention on Biological Diversity, the UN framework, the Convention on climate change to, to create a new kind of norm and the new norm, the new, the new, uh, the new normal is bringing in multiple streams of evidence, including indigenous knowledge into both scientific assessments, but also decision making. 

Denise: it seems to me like there’s something going on, which is not unlike what’s happened in, um, finance and business where, you know, all of a sudden there was an aha moment about sustainability and climate change, uh, a couple of years ago. And now everybody’s on it. Everyone’s talking about it. And those people who have been kind of knowledge holders, uh, you know, suddenly are tremendously in demand.

Nigel: Yes. I mean, that’s really what it feels like. Uh, we’ve gone from, you know, knowing that this was important, uh, and trying to help the process and advocating in different places and partnering and supporting research. And now everybody wants to know about this. So, um, in all different domains of work, uh, and you may have followed, you and I have discussed it before, but, um, a couple of sessions ago, the UN framework convention on climate change has created a new body whose sole job is to work on, uh, it’s a platform of local communities and indigenous peoples. And so it’s really sort of mainstreaming indigenous perspectives and knowledge into the, to the climate negotiations, which was not evident that that was gonna happen, uh, 20 or 30 years ago.

But now is considered both important and, and, and normal in the process. And I think part of what has shifted is the idea that diversity is part of what makes us resilient, that may sound a bit subtle or obtuse. But this idea that you cannot have one size fits all, that you cannot impose one model of development. But actually you need to know what is really going on on the ground. And what is distinctive about indigenous peoples, uh, is that there are so many of them and they cover, there are in so many different environments. So from the high Arctic, uh, into desert ecosystems, uh, traditional fishing communities, uh, highland communities up in the Andes or the Himalayas, or all the way down to the coastal areas and nomadic herders.

I mean, it’s, it’s an enormous array of knowledge. And this idea that we actually were so focused on Western models and urban living and all those things that we were missing out, the majority of human understanding and knowledge about the world. And I think that’s exciting that that shift is taking place.

Denise: Um, so this is a huge topic. And I think today we’re gonna try and focus on one lens, which is the lens of water policy. Um, now water is interesting because, uh, it also seems to be having a policy moment. Being kind of in the spotlight where the narrative is shifting from water, being seen really as just an inexhaustible resource, which can be, uh, effectively managed by engineers and hydrologists, a kind of technical silo.

One proof point for the fact that water is having an aha moment is that the UN is holding the first, uh, water conference in almost half a century, uh, next March in New York.

And, um, there’s a whole process around this and you’ve just come back from a preparatory conference in Tajikistan on this. So, uh, perhaps you could talk a little bit about that. 

Nigel: Yeah. I mean, it was very exciting. Uh, I’m not a water specialist. Uh, I’ve worked on, on, on different themes, but water’s kind of always been present, but, but it’s not something that I really studied or understood.

Well, and we realized, uh, UNESCO is part of the UN uh, consortium that works on water, the UN water process. Uh, and we have a dedicated, uh, department, uh, that works on water sciences and we are the host of the intergovernmental hydrological programme here at UNESCO. So my colleagues were saying, you know, this, uh, Water Action Decade is on, there’s a big review process, and there’s gonna be a major conference in Dushanbe in Tajikistan, in June.

It’s a dialogue between the member states in preparation and to inform this halfway point, this midterm review. So I thought that’s funny. I don’t know a lot about that. So I connected with other UN colleagues and we made outreach to indigenous people’s networks, particularly in the developing world.

So in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, partly to Oceania, and everybody tells us the same thing that for indigenous people, it’s very difficult to be involved in water policy. And if the UN is going to do this, they would like to be part of the process. So then this became part of our job, uh, was to put together the first ever forum of local communities and indigenous peoples during the Dushanbe process to try to bring in those voices and perspectives into a preparatory meeting and, and technically the preparatory meeting was called the second high level, the conference on the water action decade. 

Denise: Sorry, what is the water action decade? 

Nigel: What is the water action decade. So the UN General Assembly declares decades at the behest of its member states that helps us try to do like major policy shifts.

So if there’s something very important to the UN, uh, it will declare a year of trying to raise awareness, but if it’s really a big policy challenge, they can declare these decade processes. So we have several concurrent decades. Now, all of them telling you about world priorities. So the UN uh, decade on Ocean Science for sustainable development.

The UN Decade on for ecosystems restoration, but also the water action decade. But what was interesting about the water action decade was that there hasn’t been a lot of public participation, so it’s been mostly a technical process. it was interesting.

Dushanbe opened that up. So, uh, the government of Tajikistan in cooperation with the government of the Netherlands, uh, created a space that had more actors involved to try to talk about what does water mean for the planet and what do we need to be discussing and monitoring? When we get to the big meeting in March in New York next year,.

Denise: So, um, I mentioned earlier that, you know, it, I mean, it is incredible that the UN is having a conference on water for the first time in 46 years next year. I find that hard to believe. Um, but also you mentioned to me that you put together a forum on, uh, indigenous. Knowledge and, and communities at this Dushanbe meeting.

Um, could you speak a little bit about that and perhaps what, um, what the impact of that was on the final declaration, which came out from this meeting? 

Nigel: Well, I think there were several things that happened. Uh, one is that we had to do some consultations in advance. I mean, one of the principles is that indigenous peoples come into UN processes on the basis of prior and informed consent.

So we needed to spend some time. We, we realized between the UN agencies that this water conference was gonna be quite key. Uh, and if indigenous people wanted to be heard, uh, Dushanbe was an important place for that to happen. So we did the outreach. We did a series of discussions between the different UN agencies and indigenous people’s regional networks.

And we realized this was really important for them, but they also found it difficult to participate in such forums. And they wanted to know more from our side. 

Denise: So, so could I interrupt you and ask why was it difficult? 

Nigel: I mean, there is something that I haven’t entirely understood, its slightly obscure, but. Usually when a decade is declared, uh, there’s a strategy on the multi-stakeholder processes. 

So ideally what you want to do is make the process, uh, meet the needs of indigenous people. Be accessible in multiple languages. Uh, and that there’s a series of processes and forums where people can come in, share their ideas, but also go away and implement some of these. So that there’s a, it’s a dialogic process, but somehow for the Water Action Decade, that didn’t completely emerge in the first five years.

And we’re trying to look at that now. It doesn’t, there have been many discussions. There’s a there’s, uh, there’s a Water. Week that is put together by the Stockholm Institute on, uh, international, uh, Water Institute. Uh, so there’s been other discussions and, and indigenous people had been involved in some of these other levels of processes, but what was absent was systematic engagement, uh, with the Water Action Decade. Uh, and I, I can tell you as I move deeper into it, you know, when you’re dealing with issues of trans boundary aquifers, or, um, understanding groundwater policy, these are sometimes very technical areas where you have hydrologists speaking to hydrologists and their challenge is to translate that into something the policy makers understand.

But there is another discourse that is around traditional water governance, around knowledge of water, around what people are experiencing. And we got a lot of feedback about that from the Arctic to the Kalahari, to, uh, the Mekong. I mean, we had many, many stories, but clearly needed to be told. And the idea of the forum was to tell the stories. Hear are some of the ideas that indigenous people have, but also try to make a bridge between the rights-based  approach, uh, and the knowledge based approach. 

Denise: So, um, so two questions there. The first one is if I’ve understood the process correctly, the door was always open to indigenous communities to, um, uh, articulate their voice at this conference, as a part of the water action decade, the door was open, but there was no way for them to walk in. Because no one was reaching out to them or the process was not clear or something like that. Is that correct?

Nigel: Yeah, that’s a good summation. I mean, the thing is nobody knew the door was even there. I was really grateful for the support from, uh, the UN Development Programme from, um, the UN Environmental Programme, and the Food and Agriculture Organization, they all banded together to reach out to their various networks and partnerships and share this information. And the reaction was really good. So we managed to put this forum together. There were series of forums happening at the same time, um, at, as the, just right ahead of the main conference, uh, and we were very pleased with the results from, uh, the indigenous peoples and local communities forum.

There was also another process just to be clear that the member states themselves. So not the civil society developed a declaration, uh, which was, um, released on the last day of the conference in Dushanbe and it recognized indigenous peoples as an important, uh, group, uh, indigenous knowledge is as an important resource in the process, but also recognizing issues of gender equality and also, uh, human rights as part of what needs to be prepared and discussed for the New York conference.

Denise: Right. And I think, um, uh, we, we talked earlier about this and you mentioned that there were some firsts in this, right? The, some of the language in the declaration, as well as the, um, you know, your work, uh, facilitating these fora the, the, all of this it’s, it’s quite surprising to me, but, um, we’re relatively new in the, in the water and.

What is the reason for that, um, is, is, uh, water appears to be, uh, quite politicized even though that might not be obvious, uh, from, from, from an outside point of view. 

Nigel: Yeah. I mean, I think you’re seizing on some of the key pieces. You would think water is everything, you know, you, you can only live a few days without water.

So everybody on earth, all living things and, you know, we all require water. And also, I mean, if you go into the work of the Nobel economics prize winner, Elinor Ostrom, some of her really important early work was all about human governance systems of water. I mean, she argued that whether traditional or contemporary humans organize themselves around water or governance, it’s absolutely essential to our survival.

And so it’s kind of, we, we know how to do that, or we, we are predisposed to that. So it’s kind of obvious. Why would you not have this conversation? And I think people were very interested once the conversation started. But what I realized as I went deeper into the process was there is this politicization of water.

And I think it goes to quite a major area of, um, uh, exploration in the relationship between indigenous peoples and the state.  That water governance long preceded the state. But now the state is the main arbiter of the management of water within our daily lives. And when I say the state, I also mean multiple levels from municipal. Many urban areas are, are key players in, in water management and water policy. Up to the national level and, and regional level bodies. But the actual living experience of water happens at the ground level and, and its conservation happens by local communities or indigenous peoples, but now we’re suddenly caught up in a new dynamic.

And I, you know, that I’m from Cape Town and I mean much to my amazement Cape Town almost ran out of water in the last 10 years. Uh, and suddenly you have major metropolitan areas in real crisis over water, and that has political implications. It has electoral implications. It has health and human rights implications. It has massive cost implications.

So suddenly you have a lot of people wanting to talk about this issue and you have a lot of people who have experience and knowledge that has not yet fed into at least at the UN level that has not fed into that process. So I think a door did open and people were quite keen to go through that door to have that conversation.

Denise: The industries that are the sort of the, the big water users are, you know, mining and, um, textiles and food. Um, I wondered if, um, in, in the discussions that you, um, facilitated in Dushanbe, did you touch on these issues? 

Nigel: Water, like other things like biodiversity or ecosystems is really related to what the local, uh, people have done to defend these resources, manage them, equitably, sustain them, uh, over generations. And I mean, again, to refer to Elinor Ostrom, I mean, the Ostrom’s work, uh, was all about why do certain common pool resource regimes last well because of good governance fundamentally versus when you have external actors, which may be the state, or maybe some private interest, uh, disrupts those processes and actually breaks the system that was protecting the resource.

Um, and, and I think that’s like one of the key questions on the table. It came up a lot about the impact of mining, uh, and other, um, uh, um, extractive industries in their impact on water. because some industries are worth an enormous amount of money and, and are very politically important, uh, then somebody has to make decisions around what is more important.

The common good of safe drinking water and sustainable resource management versus the income that is gonna come and the taxation’s gonna come from these other activities. And I think the UN is trying to create space for that discussion. 

Denise: This Dushanbe water conference produced a final declaration. It looks like quite a dry, you know, three to four page document. But when we spoke earlier, you said to me that this can actually be seen as a mini Paris agreement. 

Nigel: Well, I had this sort of insight that actually, this is an extraordinary document that we’ve gone from a very technical process, uh, experts only, um, you know, discussions between, uh, member states, trying to come up with some kind of world framework about how water, uh, what is the best approach to water policy.

Uh, and suddenly we have a discussion about human rights. We have a discussion about, uh, gender equality. We have, uh, intergenerational ideas, but particularly the recognition of the role of indigenous peoples and indigenous knowledge. And I think it speaks to this big shift going on in the UN that nobody objected to that.

You know, people were not only did not object to it, but there were champions in that. And, uh, certain governments took the floor and praised this and said for our, our country, this matters. And I think it’s okay to give an example that, uh, Bolivia spoke up about the importance of, uh, taking into consideration indigenous peoples.

What remains ahead of us is the political championing of this process because it’s not going to be easy to marry human rights and water issues, uh, instantly that this is going to be, uh, we’ve seen it with climate change. We’ve seen it with biodiversity issues. This is gonna be a process and the questions who’s going to be at that table.

And this is why Dushanbe really created a platform for a much more inclusive but also diverse approach to discussing these things in 2023.

Denise: I know you were also recently in Bonn for the new IPBES assessment on values.

Uh, and I wondered if, or were you in Bonn?

Nigel: I was in Bonn. So, um, this is what happens when we’re both on Twitter that we know what each other are doing. 

Denise: Yes. Uh, so I wondered if, um, uh, there was anything that’s relevant to what we’ve been talking about coming out of that assessment.

That assessment strikes me as being, sort of a new beast in the traditional lineup of you know, um, telephone directory type reports that come out of IPCC and IPBES. Uh, and, and I wondered, uh, you know, what, what does one need to know about this assessment in terms of this paradigm shift we’ve been talking about.

Nigel: Well, first of all, I’m so glad that you mentioned this, but secondly, there were two assessments adopted. And when we talk about adopted, it means that the member states received the full report from the experts. And when we say experts, it includes the indigenous peoples who participated in that, um, Then they negotiate and agree text on the summary for policymakers.

So what happened in Bonn, uh, earlier this month is that the member states who belong to IPBES met to review the summary for policymakers agree on text. So we spent several days with them debating the summary for policymakers on the sustainable use of wild species. So I do want to encourage your listeners to go and look at that because that provided more controversy for the member states. There were more north south issues that needed to be negotiated there because it touches on everything. Fishing, hunting, wild, um, species, uh, and indigenous people are obviously really right at the front of that conversation. Um, and, and many, many countries are having a decline in wild species.

So that was really interesting discussion. The other assessment has the, the extraordinary name, if I can get it correct. The Diverse Conceptualizations of the Multiple Values of Biodiversity. You gotta put that on your bookshelf, but what they’re getting at is a really major discussion that’s been going on within the global system about what matters.

What counts. and there’s a whole bunch of environmentalists and, and, and policy specialists saying, listen, if you cannot put a number on it, the minister of finance, isn’t going to understand what we’re talking about. So please you have to quantify economically and financially. What is the value of nature?

There’s a lot of other people saying it’s not about the money. If you, if you’re only talking. The value, uh, in terms of valuation, it means that your intention is to extract it, uh, and, and to convert it into, into some kind of cash value or, or, or financial value. And there are other values, there’s the values of sustainable livelihoods, there’s the values of nature. There’s the values of the recreation. And there’s the values of just letting nature do what it does by itself, because it is what sustains us. So this assessment attempts to unpack for policy makers these many different views, some of them highly, uh, um, uh, contesting each other’s version, and to say, what is the value of nature from many different perspectives, then how do you as a policymaker make sense of that?

Uh, and it’s very exciting. It was, it was really, I think, hard work and our congratulations to the team for, for pulling that assessment together. 

Denise: Um, these north south issues that we are seeing in all these multilateral negotiations, um, are, are basically just, um, a continuum of the decolonization process. In, in, in one sense. Uh, and I wondered if you’d like to comment on that. 

Nigel: I think, you know, I, I perhaps a bit unusually amongst UN civil servants is I think it’s important to talk about decolonization, uh, conceptually in policy, uh, in, you know, how we examine neo-liberal, uh, economics and in, in whose interest these things are. And, uh, that doesn’t mean that I have anything to say to anybody about the subject, but just to encourage that, that we are able to have that space to speak. 

Uh, and I think what you’re seeing in the UN from, from fairly early on, but it’s built momentum is that the developing world, uh, sees itself as having, uh, collective interest, uh, that is about, uh, global justice and equity.

Uh, ideally it’s also about long term solutions. Uh, because some of that, uh, north south dialogue may not take us to solutions and some of it can really transform thinking. I also think definitely north south, there’s also an east west dynamic. There are now very powerful economic players, uh, who are not from Western countries, uh, who are able to set, uh, UN agendas or influence, uh, other developing countries. Uh, and so there’s this series, there’s this sort of multipolar process going on at the moment. 

Uh, and what I thought was kind of fascinating with this whole thing is that Tajikistan has been one of the key players in putting water on the international agenda. And, um, you would not necessarily think of Tajikistan as a major, uh, player, but we are also, as I mentioned earlier, seeing some of the Pacific island SIDS, uh, playing a big role in, in climate change policy. And I think that’s part of the, uh, decolonization and decentralization is that everybody actually has the right to come and speak and represent their issues.

And the question is how is that going to convert to a sustainable model? So, uh, I mean, it’s a, uh, it’s an ongoing dialogue. And I think in the water issue, some of those issues are not entirely developed or they’re still coming to the table. Uh, and I think if you watch the water space, there’s going to be more conversations about what is global equity and justice, uh, around, uh, safe access to, to, to clean water.

Denise: Actually this is my own question. Um, I’m a citizen and I’m concerned about all the issues that you are talking about. I’m concerned about the global water crisis. I am, uh, I am eager for, uh, indigenous, um, you know, knowledge holders to have their say, uh, not just in international processes, but to, you know, ensure that there is enough water for everyone going forward and for future generations.

Um, what can I do? 

Nigel: Well, I think there’s as always, it’s about think globally and act locally. Uh, I think understanding what the UN is discussing helps. For me, it was a big education around what are the big issues. So what do we need to understand? What are the, uh, risks and opportunities in this? So I didn’t understand, uh, some of the technical issues around groundwater for example, uh, which I know more from Southern Africa, uh, but, but they’re very different in different parts of the world. I also learned a lot about small island developing states who are trying to use tourism as their economy, uh, using that as leverage. And yet some of that has a big impact on their water.

Uh, so there are countries that are welcoming, you know, big cruise ships. But they’re having to give those people fresh water. Uh, whereas there’s a limit on what nationally they can actually afford. So there’s a lot of really interesting issues going on. And the question is who’s involved. So if we start with the principle everybody needs water. Uh, everybody does not have equitable access to water. So how is that playing out where you live? So who decides, is it your municipal government or is it framed by a provincial or a you know, uh, prefecture government or is it entirely in the national hands? And then also what are the participatory mechanisms for that are, is there public dialogue?

And I think as you and I are both saying. A lot of this is about public awareness that you know, a lot about your local issues. Uh, but you don’t necessarily know about how the water policy is being made. Um, and I, I mean, I, I was thinking before this call that, you know, I went through a process where I was working in the Kalahari desert.

And they were trying to build a road in that area and the people wanted the road, but they couldn’t get the wealthy farmers to agree to provide water, to build the road. So they took all the water from the poor people, uh, to build the road. And like, that is so wrong, but I didn’t. You know, who was I to engage in that process, but you realize that a number of people needed to be empowered to have a conversation where you don’t take water from the poor so that you can provide services to every, to everybody or to those who already have resources. 

So the equity issues really need exploration. And also the other thing is that you have these fantastic, uh, water experts, but they may not be social policy experts. So how do you find the combination between technical experts who understand water quality or chemistry or processes, but also ensure that there’s some kind of, uh, human rights knowledge within there, some social process, uh, capacity.

Um, and I think those, those melding of different capacities make for, for good policy development. So those are some. Of my takeaways. 

Denise: And, um, if I wanna learn a bit more about indigenous knowledge or the paradigm shift in general, what’s a good book that you would recommend.

Nigel: A good book. Well, there’s a new one coming out, uh, from my colleagues, uh, on, uh, the interface of science and indigenous knowledge in climate change. Uh, it’s called, um, it’s by my, uh, former colleague, uh, uh, who’s the editor, uh, Douglas Nakashima, and it’s called Resilience for Knowledge Co-production.  And it’ll be coming hot off the presses to you soon. Douglas was the chief of section for LINKS for many years.

Uh, but there’s quite a lot of material out there. And obviously you’re welcome to the LINKS website here at UNESCO, you just Google LINKS indigenous UNESCO, and you’ll get straight to us. We have a range of publications. And the other thing is you can look at the IBPES assessments as well because all of them have been informed by indigenous knowledge content.

Denise: Thank you very much Nigel, which, uh, which is the next big international meeting you’ll be headed off to.

Nigel: Well, we’re doing, uh, a number of more localized workshops. So we’ve got one, uh, that I’m very excited about, uh, that is coming up in Chad, uh, in, uh, a bit later in the season that is working with, uh, African, uh, nomadic pastoralists on their intellectual property rights over their own research on climate change, weather patterns and climate impacts.

And that’s part of our cooperation with the UNFCCC. As you know, there’s to two really important meetings coming up, uh, there is the COP27, for the UNFCCC on climate change in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt. And also the long-awaited COP15 is a conference of parties that was due to take place in Kunming, China, two years ago. 

It’s now going to be in Montreal in December. So put your woolly things on and you might want to follow up what’s going on and that will launch the new post-2020 global biodiversity framework.  So very important document is going to come out.

Denise: Thanks for listening. You can follow Nigel on Twitter @crawhall7.

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Thanks to Valentine Scherer and Victoria Yates for their help producing this episode, and to Lucas Laufen for the theme music.

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