Water Conference 2023

2023 UN World Water Conference

22-24, March 2023, UN Headquarters, New York, USA

Event 1

Event 2

Decolonizing water governance through Indigenous knowledge, self-determination, and relationships with water 

Co-organised by the United Nations Academic Impact Hub for SDG 6 at University of Manitoba, Himalyan Peace Foundation, Carcross/Tagish First Nation, Decolonizing Water, Future Earth

Date: March 22, 12:30-1:45pm EST

Location: Nature Hub at APELLA (450 E 29th St, New York, NY 10016, United States)

This side event will focus on the role of Indigenous Peoples in achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6, “Clean water and sanitation for all.” 

Indigenous Peoples are critical actors in water governance and sustainability. Globally, there is a growing acknowledgement of Indigenous rights and self-determination. For instance, this is affirmed within 46 articles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) (2007), such as article 25 which states:

Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.

Indigenous Peoples should play a significant role in decision-making about water. Yet, these communities are underrepresented in international water policy. In this side meeting, we ask, what is needed to better engage and respect Indigenous peoples, their knowledge, and governance systems to address global water challenges? Indigenous governance, law and knowledge continue to be a major theme for decision-makers about water around the world, but Indigenous people continue to lack a voice and to be marginalized by historical and ongoing colonialism.

This side event will address the challenges of present approaches to water governance and sustainability for Indigenous peoples. It will examine the contributions of Indigenous knowledge systems as complete bodies of knowledge that include information about science, policy, law, cosmology and more. Furthermore, we will explore how best to respect Indigenous peoples and their governance systems which centre on understandings of water as a living entity. 


(75 minutes)

Introduction and welcome (5 minutes) from the organizers

Claire Herbert and Nicole Wilson introduce the event and the United Nations Academic Impact Hub for Sustainable Development Goal 6 and the importance of Indigenous peoples in sustainable water governance.

Keynote Speeches (5 minutes each, Total 10 Minutes):

Panel Discussion (30 Minutes) - Moderated by Claire Herbert, University of Manitoba


A panel of experts will discuss the role of Indigenous peoples in water governance including Water for International Cooperation. They will discuss how the Indigenous peoples’ strengths and the challenges they face can help the broader water community in achieving SDG 6.

Q&A (15 min)

Call to action and outcomes (10 min)

Conclusion and next steps (5 minutes)


The side event aims to provide a platform for Indigenous peoples from around the world to share their perspectives and experiences on sustainable water governance. It will offer innovative solutions to water issues and promote collaboration among Indigenous peoples, non-Indigenous governments, and the United Nations on sustainable water management issues. The agenda includes keynote speeches, a panel discussion, and a discussion to formulate proposals for commitments to advance transformative change in water governance. 

Side event on the role of Traditional Knowledge of Water Management and Governance system of Tharu Indigenous People in Nepal

Date, Time and Venue: 

23 March 2023, Time: 18:30-19:45 PM New York Time, Inside UN Building, Room C

Introduction of Tharu Indigenous Peoples:

The Tharu community has been living in the Terai and inner Terai since ancient times. This community is the second largest Indigenous Peoples in Nepal, comprising 6.75 percent of the total population of Nepal. According to CBS data (2001/2002), 37 percent Tharu live in the Far Western Development Region. They have their own language, religion, culture and attire.They are the main indigenous people in Nepal. To do community work regularly, they have their own organizational systems in which there are mainly three actors: village leadership led by Barghariya, irrigation led by Kulapani Chaudhari and family/household led by Gardhuriya. The Barghariya leads the village and plays a role in judicial development, tradition-related matters and administration. The Kulapani Chaudhari leads irrigation whereas the Gurughariya leads households. In addition, the right to make final decisions regarding the households rests with the Gurughariya. But the existing caste discrimination, the exploitative role of political parties, state, authority and low socio-economic profile, the importance of such traditional organization are lessening on the one hand and the

the community has fallen victim to social and economic discrimination on the other. They are also deprived of the opportunity of development and prosperity even within their organizational systems. This deprivation has a negative impact on their traditional knowledge and practices. Issues of discrimination in different sectors, including caste

identity, social, economic, educational, employment, ownership, traditional Tharu medical system, still remain unaddressed. Being poor and socially excluded, the Tharus have no access to existing resources and services of the State. They are lagging behind the mainstream of development. Therefore, it is imperative that they are empowered with rights.


Tharu Indigenous peoples' traditional knowledge and practices on water management systems for agricultural irrigation and drinking water systems in Nepal: 

The Tharu are an indigenous group of people in Nepal who have lived in the Terai region of the country for centuries and have developed a deep understanding of their local environment. Tharu indigenous knowledge and practices have played a significant role in the management of water resources for agricultural irrigation and drinking water systems in Nepal, particularly in the Bardiya and Kailali districts.

One of the key ways in which the Tharu have traditionally managed water for agricultural irrigation is through the use of stone spouts and channels. These structures are built to capture and divert water from streams and rivers, allowing it to be used for irrigation purposes. The Tharu have also constructed small dams to store water for use during dry seasons, and have developed traditional crops that are well-adapted to local water availability.

In addition to these practices, the Tharu have a strong tradition of community-based resource management. They often work together to maintain and improve local water resources, including activities such as cleaning and repairing irrigation channels and building new water storage structures.

The Tharu's indigenous knowledge and practices have also played a role in the management of drinking water systems in Nepal. For example, the Tharu have traditionally relied on their deep understanding of the local environment to predict weather patterns and to identify sources of water during times of drought. This has allowed them to ensure that they have a reliable supply of clean drinking water even during dry periods.

Overall, the Tharu's indigenous knowledge and practices have made a significant contribution to the management of water resources for agricultural irrigation and drinking water systems in Nepal, particularly in the Bardiya and Kailali districts. These traditional practices have allowed the Tharu to make the most efficient use of their water resources and to adapt to changing environmental conditions, ensuring that they have a sustainable supply of water for their communities

Partner Organisations

Note: Asian Indigenous International Network has been granted with the special accreditation for the 2023 UN World Water Conference from UN as well as its side event has been approved to host in the UN building, New York. 

Thank you!