United Nations, Riverhood, River Commons: Human Rights to Water and Socio-ecological Rivers

On January 26 and 27, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation, Dr. Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, coordinated with Riverhood/River Commons researchers Rutgerd Boelens, Bibiana Duarte and Jerry van den Berge to prepare for the UN World Summit on Water, March 2023, in New York. His objective was to conceive and found water as a human right worldwide while integrating this with a new perspective on rivers as socio-ecological entities – as conceptualized by the Riverhood/River Commons notions. The meeting took place in Murcia, Spain, at the occasion of the international New Water Culture Foundation Congress, “Looking at the rivers from the sea. New debates for a transition towards water justice”. New Water Culture is also a large social movement, co-founded by Arrojo-Agudo years before he was appointed by the Human Rights Council. Based on the experiences of the Riverhood project and those of the European movement Right2Water (coord. Van den Berge), the representatives agreed on the urgent need for a change towards a new water culture that integrates the fundamental rights of human and ecological (non-human) communities.

Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, awarded the world renown Goldman Environmental Prize and former member of the Spanish Parliament, welcomed the innovative conceptual windows opened by the two projects, with rivers understood as hydrosocial networks that integrate ecological, moral, political and technological livelihood perspectives. These add to his perspective of human rights and ecological care, grounded in his trajectory as co-founder of the European Public Water Network. Arrojo-Agudo: “There is a direct relationship between the 2 billion marginalized people who lack safe and secure water, and the state of our rivers, polluted, depleted or monopolized by anti-democratic forms of government.” The UN high-level representative and Riverhood researchers concluded on the need to reframe approaches to water governance at all temporal, institutional and geographic scales. Water is not a commodity and rivers should not be depleted, domesticated or privatized. Water and river governance approaches need a profoundly transdisciplinary, transcultural re-orientation, where myriad “commoning” and “public-commons” co-governance initiatives can inspire new ways of understanding and living together with rivers: as socionatural communities. The UN Special Rapporteur: “Achieving better river governance without recognizing the critical role of societal movements in reclaiming environmental justice is impossible.”

Photo: Dr. Bibiana Duarte, Dr. Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, Prof. Rutgerd Boelens and Dr. Jerry van den Berge

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