At Standing Rock and beyond: Every victory matters

10 December 2016
At Standing Rock and beyond: Every victory matters
Image: Desiree Kane

After months of demonstrations, Water Protectors at Standing Rock and around the country have met with welcome news this week:

The US Army has denied the permit for the Dakota Access pipeline to be drilled under a dammed section of the Missouri River, where it could risk contaminating the primary drinking water source used by the Standing Rock Sioux and millions of other Americans for generations to come.

As the quest to find an alternative route for the pipeline now begins, the need to put the human right to water above all else remains as critical as it’s ever been. This isn’t merely a “Native issue”; it’s an ongoing human rights issue that directly affects us all. So as we celebrate this small victory in heeding the voice of a local community’s call for change, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the war on the water crisis itself rages on.

The challenges surrounding safe water access in the Standing Rock region are painfully complex. But as an organization deeply invested in protecting the human right to water in remote and marginalized communities around the world, we have yet to meet a water challenge that is not.

What is simple is this: each and every one of us has a right to clean water.

To think that we live in one of the world’s richest and most developed countries, and still cannot guarantee that all US residents can go to sleep at night assured of lasting, surefire access to water that is clean and safe to drink is mindboggling. It’s equally mindboggling to realize just how interconnected we all are: how the choices of the few can forever impact the lives of the many.

WaterAid’s work is international, in countries where hundreds of millions of people don’t have access to basic water and sanitation, but where families are struggling with these very same questions of water access, water security and water protection. Included in that work is a long history of serving as allies to indigenous communities including the Wayúu in La Guajira, Colombia, the Miskitu in Nicaragua and the Papuan and Austronesian descendants in Papua New Guinea. In each case, indigenous people face particular barriers to clean water access, and participate in the decision-making around appropriate solutions.

As an organization specifically committed to empowering the poorest and most marginalized communities, we’ve seen time and time again the direct and catastrophic impact that water contamination and poor water sector planning can have on people’s lives—and we’ve seen first-hand how forward-thinking planning and inclusive policies developed in partnership with communities themselves can transform entire communities for generations to come.

We’re not naïve; there’s a long, hard battle yet to be fought to ensure that the human right to water continues to be prioritized while an alternative route for the Dakota Access pipeline is found, and the outcome is far from certain. We will continue to stand for US government policies that reflect the needs of the people most affected, and that show courage in making difficult decisions for the greater good.

Native communities at Standing Rock and around the world deserve our utmost respect. Their leadership and determination to defend their right to live with assurance that their drinking water supply will be forever protected will benefit all of us for many generations to come. Today, we join them both in celebrating, and in continuing to advocate for long-term decisions that genuinely put the right to clean water first—and for the long-term.

From North Dakota to Detroit, Nepal to Nicaragua, Zambia to Flint, access to clean water is under threat in every corner of the globe. Historic events like Standing Rock force us to recall both the universality and vulnerability of that most precious resource we all share. Water is indeed life, and standing up for the right to live will always be a winning proposition.