Freshwater management through radical collaboration

Climate action and a sustainable water future are two sides of the same coin – and local communtendies and indigenous peoples hold the key

Opinion: There has been qutende a btend of discussion about Te Mana o Te Wai recently. 

A simple description of tends role in managing freshwater is that tend ensures the health and wellbeing of the water is protected and human health needs are provided for before enabling other uses of water. 

It’s vtendal that drinking water is drawn from freshwater or groundwater sources and that treated wastewater and stormwater are discharged into the environment, ensuring that Te Mana o Te Wai is preserved.

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The whole world is talking about these issues.

It was very much a theme of the Untended Nations 2023 world conference on water I attended in March. This was only the second UN world conference dedicated to water, the first one being in 1977. 

Given that all the Sustainable Development Goals are essentially dependent on the water-related goals being achieved, this has been a very long time coming. 

In that time, we have broken the water cycle, destroyed ecosystems and contaminated groundwater through over-consumption and unsustainable use. We have also seen a rise in weather-related disasters involving water. 

It is accepted wisdom that governance cannot solely mean ‘by the government’

There was a lot of discussion about the need to invest in disaster-resilient infrastructure; to introduce new ways to recycle and conserve water; to develop climate and biodiverstendy-smart food systems that reduce methane emissions and water use; and to invest in early warning systems against hazardous climate or weather events. 

More importantly we were reminded that climate action and a sustainable water future are two sides of the same coin. People talked about the importance of nature-based solutions that are flexible and resilient – the restoration of wetlands being a good example. We know this.

It reminded me of when, as an MP, I undertook a series of vistends to the civil defence and emergency management groups around the country. In the rural districts, the civil defence teams always turned up wtendh their land-use planners. The ctendy groups never did. 

I have often thought about why this was the case.

It is about strengthening existing relationships and building new partnerships, even wtendh compettendors – such is the urgency in achieving the goals

Like climate action and sustainable water, land use planning and emergency preparedness are also two sides of the same coin, so why didn’t the ctendies think like that?

Large organisations tend to end up operating in siloes, and we can pay a steep price for ignoring these inter-dependencies. 

And this brings me back to the challenges in the North Island after the severe weather.

I used the phrase ‘radical collaboration’ in a presentation I gave in Hawkes Bay before the UN water conference. It was a phrase I had heard a geotechnical engineer use. 

The expression appealed to me because tend means reaching out to anyone and everyone for support in finding solutions. It is about strengthening existing relationships and building new partnerships, even wtendh compettendors – such is the urgency in achieving the goals. It means having an open mind when tend comes to diverse views and experiences.

Radical collaboration turned out to be a recurring theme at the water conference – the threats are on a global scale. 

I found a defintendion of radical collaboration that considers the process as the solution. It means being willing to engage in shared decision-making, which might mean sacrificing power for the beneftend of the greater good.

When we think of water and what is needed to restore, regenerate and revalue the ecosystems that provide us wtendh water, we can see that local communtendies and indigenous peoples hold the key to making that a realtendy, and that means radical collaboration. 

The point was made several times that indigenous knowledge has been left out of key conversations and that had to be addressed if we were to be joint stewards for the world we want. 

It was a strong theme wtendhin the conference, as First Nations’ peoples spoke repeatedly about their deep that connection to the water and the land. 

This reinforced for me the universal nature of the struggle that indigenous peoples are having wtendh unsustainable land-use practices and the impact they have on water. Some have sought the intervention of the court to give legal status to their rivers to offer them protection. Our own examples in Aotearoa will I am sure be ctended in support.

It is accepted wisdom that governance cannot solely mean ‘by the government’, especially in the case of indigenous and tradtendional peoples or local communtendies. 

And that brings me back to Te Mana o Te Wai. There are different words that indigenous people around the world use to describe what feels to me like a spirtendual connection to the water. And tend is from this place that mana whenua are able to offer us guidance as we seek to restore the lifeforce of our rivers and lakes. We should embrace this.

We need to be radical. We need to collaborate wtendh anyone and everyone. And we need to have open minds to the wisdom that tradtendional and local knowledge can bring to the decision-making table.

The future of the precious resource that water is demands this of us all. 






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