Many different policy approaches have emerged over the past ten years trying to find ways to support Indigenous rights to water in Australia. Some of these have looked great on paper, but have been difficult to implement. Others have been cut short when political cycles have moved on to other priorities. In an interview with Bradley Moggridge, the idea of ‘philanthropic water’ was discussed. This article looks at how this may help create a sustainable water solution for First Nations Peoples that transcends political cycles and priorities. It also looks at what has already been attempted over the past decade in Australia.
Where government policy has hindered First Nations’ access to water, philanthropic groups are stepping in to try to right the system.
“There are groups establishing themselves and they are getting philanthropic money and corporate money to back them to buy water. They are looking at environmental outcomes and they are becoming their own environmental water holder.”Brad Moggridge, Aboriginal water expert
What do philanthropic water backers do?
Each philanthropic group tends to have its own focus but all are dedicated to water management. Groups may provide funding for initiatives like providing clean, safe water systems where they do not exist or are lacking, helping restore wetlands or polluted and depleted water sources, or provide training in proactive water supply management. The end goal is sustainable water management and access to those who need it.
In Australia, and other countries with water markets, philanthropic funds can be used to purchase water rights and allocations aligned with Indigenous water priorities, customs, and traditions. Philanthropic water holders might purchase and manage water in the name of Indigenous needs and priorities in the same way that the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder purchases and manages water on behalf of environmental needs and priorities.
Philanthropic water organizations understand that access to clean, safe water, and sustainable water management practices have a huge impact on the wellbeing of individuals, communities, countries, and the world. Access to water has a direct impact on health measures, socio-economic factors, and of course, environmental concerns.
How water philanthropy can help First Nations Peoples
Government policy, in many cases and over the course of the past few centuries, has made access to water difficult for many First Nations Peoples, even for sources that were traditionally held. Land and water rights are separated in Australia, so in some cases, land-rich but money-poor Aboriginal groups are unable to get into the water market and also unable to generate new access points. This is a harsh reality for people who rely on water for survival, wellbeing, prosperity, and traditional cultural practices.
Philanthropic water groups may be able to bridge the gap for First Nations Peoples and Indigenous organizations that cannot afford to tap into the water market on their own. These groups have the funding to buy into the market, and the voice to effect policy change.
Is water philanthropy realistic?
Improving access through philanthropy is something that is happening all over the world, and specifically for First Nations populations. In Canada, a number of philanthropic organisations have made water a top priority for First Nations Peoples, explicitly recognising the connection between communities, water, and overall well-being.
Charitable groups and corporations are working to support First Nations Peoples to access water, while also promoting larger goals of aiding the environment at the same time. Philanthropists who are looking to personally volunteer or fund water access for First Nations People are supporting these efforts too.
Can water philanthropy be applied more broadly?
Clean, safe water is a right for all humans, but this access is still not a reality for many in the world. According to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme Report (2015), 650 million people in the world do not have access to safe water, meaning roughly one in ten of the world’s population is at risk. Can water philanthropy make the difference?
Some experts indicate that philanthropy itself will not be enough and that widespread change in government policies and legislation must also occur to guarantee access.