Water Is Life—from Standing Rock to Oaxaca’s Mixtecan Highlands
Water Is Life—from Standing Rock to Oaxaca's Mixtecan Highlands NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council)
Indigenous Communities and the Fight for Water: A Report on Environmental Injustice
At the entrance of a 2018 science fair in Oaxaca, Mexico, a banner caught my attention. It depicted two contrasting worlds: one with a vibrant mountain and a thriving river, and the other with a barren landscape scarred by industry. The message was clear: water is life. As a critical geographer studying the intersection of power dynamics and environmental landscapes, I am familiar with the threats faced by Indigenous communities and their water resources. This article explores the parallels between the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in South Dakota and the environmental injustices in Oaxaca, Mexico.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Dakota Access Pipeline
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has been fighting to protect its main water source from the Dakota Access Pipeline since 2016. Despite the pipeline’s abysmal safety record, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has allowed its operation to continue. The tribe’s plea, mni wiconi (water is life), resonates with Indigenous communities facing similar threats to their hydrological basins.
Environmental Injustices in Oaxaca
In Oaxaca, Mexico, large dam projects have displaced thousands of Indigenous people. Hydroelectric projects and reservoirs have disrupted rivers and ecosystems, leading to environmental injustices. Indigenous and Afro-Mexican communities have been fighting against these projects, with some activists tragically losing their lives in the process.
Threats to Water Sources and Ecosystems
The safety of water sources is crucial for the health of ecosystems and the communities that rely on them. A potential oil disaster from the DAPL would not only endanger drinking water and irrigation, but also threaten endangered species and livelihoods. The Missouri River and its tributaries support various rare fish species and provide food and resources for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
Pipeline Safety Concerns
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has designated the area around the pipeline’s crossing at the Cannonball River as a High Consequence Area due to its proximity to populated areas, drinking water sources, and sensitive ecological resources. Energy Transfer, the owner of the pipeline, has a history of oil spills, with several occurring within High Consequence Areas.
Lack of Transparency and Emergency Preparedness
The Corps has failed to provide adequate data and transparency to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other frontline communities. This lack of information hampers emergency response plans and puts the local ecosystem and water supply at risk. Additionally, the Corps has kept water levels in Lake Oahe too low for emergency access to the pipeline’s shutoff valves.
Call for Indigenous Involvement and Environmental Justice
Indigenous communities’ input and demands have been consistently ignored when it comes to managing the rivers that run through their traditional lands. True transparency and environmental justice would involve Indigenous communities in environmental reviews, assessments, and decisions concerning their territories. It is essential to recognize that Indigenous lands, health, and lives should never be considered expendable.
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SDGs, Targets, and Indicators in the Article
1. Which SDGs are addressed or connected to the issues highlighted in the article?
- SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
- SDG 13: Climate Action
- SDG 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
The article discusses the importance of water resources, the threat of pollution and contamination, and the impact on Indigenous communities. These issues are directly connected to SDG 6, which aims to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. The article also mentions the environmental injustices faced by Indigenous communities, which relates to SDG 16, which promotes peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development. Additionally, the mention of the pipeline’s impact on ecosystems and endangered species connects to SDG 13, which focuses on taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
2. What specific targets under those SDGs can be identified based on the article’s content?
- SDG 6.1: By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.
- SDG 6.4: By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity.
- SDG 13.1: Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries.
- SDG 16.7: Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory, and representative decision-making at all levels.
The article highlights the importance of access to safe drinking water and the threat of pollution to water sources, which aligns with SDG 6.1. The mention of hydroelectric projects and their impact on Indigenous communities and ecosystems relates to SDG 6.4, which focuses on sustainable water management. The article also discusses the need for resilience to climate-related hazards, such as oil spills, which connects to SDG 13.1. Lastly, the call for Indigenous communities to be involved in decision-making processes reflects SDG 16.7.
3. Are there any indicators mentioned or implied in the article that can be used to measure progress towards the identified targets?
- Indicator 6.1.1: Proportion of population using safely managed drinking water services
- Indicator 6.4.2: Level of water stress: freshwater withdrawal as a proportion of available freshwater resources
- Indicator 13.1.1: Number of deaths, missing persons, and directly affected persons attributed to disasters per 100,000 population
- Indicator 16.7.1: Proportions of positions (by sex, age, persons with disabilities, and population groups) in public institutions (national and local legislatures, public service, and judiciary) compared to national distributions
The article does not explicitly mention these indicators, but they can be used to measure progress towards the identified targets. For example, Indicator 6.1.1 can assess the proportion of the population with access to safe drinking water services, Indicator 6.4.2 can measure the level of water stress in terms of freshwater withdrawal, Indicator 13.1.1 can track the impact of climate-related hazards on affected populations, and Indicator 16.7.1 can evaluate the representation of different groups in decision-making positions.
Table: SDGs, Targets, and Indicators
|SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation||6.1: By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.||Indicator 6.1.1: Proportion of population using safely managed drinking water services|
|SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation||6.4: By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity.||Indicator 6.4.2: Level of water stress: freshwater withdrawal as a proportion of available freshwater resources|
|SDG 13: Climate Action||13.1: Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries.||Indicator 13.1.1: Number of deaths, missing persons, and directly affected persons attributed to disasters per 100,000 population|
|SDG 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions||16.7: Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory, and representative decision-making at all levels.||Indicator 16.7.1: Proportions of positions (by sex, age, persons with disabilities, and population groups) in public institutions (national and local legislatures, public service, and judiciary) compared to national distributions|
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