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UNESCO Chair on Sustainability at IHP Council Week in Paris

Updated: Jun 17

The UNESCO Chair in Sustainability is participating in the 26th Session of the Intergovernmental Council of the Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme (IHP), which is being held from June 3 to 7, 2024, at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. The Chair is presenting its activities at the Water Family Symposium and is organizing a side event on the Contribution of Indigenous and Local Knowledge to the Resilience of Water Systems through a WEFE Nexus approach.



Below is the agenda for the UNESCO Water Family Symposium of the 26th Session of the IHP Council, held on June 6th in Paris. During this symposium, José Luis Martin Bordes presented in session 3, from 11:45 AM to 12:45 PM, the emblematic projects of the UNESCO Chair on Sustainability, with a special focus on the SureNexus project.



A session on "Contribution of Indigenous and Local Knowledge to Water Systems Resilience through a WEFE Nexus Approach" was organized on June 6, at 13:30 h., by the UNESCO Chair of Sustainability at UPC, in collaboration with the UNESCO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, and the UNESCO World Water Museums Network (WAMUNET).


The session was inaugurated by Miguel Doria, Regional Hydrologist of the UNESCO Office for Latin America and the Caribbean. Miguel Doria highlighted the importance of Ancestral Hydrotechnologies in the context of Latin America and the Caribbean and discussed the projects being developed with the UNESCO Chair on Sustainability, including the book to be presented later and an Inventory of Ancestral Hydrotechnologies set to begin in a few months.


Following this, Dr. Jordi Morató, Director of the UNESCO Chair on Sustainability, presented "Contribution of Indigenous and Local Knowledge to Water Systems Resilience through a WEFE Nexus approach." In this presentation, he introduced the quadruple NEXUS or WEFE NEXUS approach (Water, Energy, Food, and Ecosystems). He also showcased the SureNexus project as an example of addressing climate challenges in the Mediterranean region, emphasizing the use of Ancestral Hydrotechnologies as tools for sustainable water resource management.



Subsequently, Conchita Marcuello from CODIA and the Ministry for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge (MITERD) of Spain took the floor to express gratitude for the work carried out by the UNESCO Chair on Sustainability regarding Indigenous and Local Knowledge, from the International Conference in Barcelona to the joint participation in the World Water Forum in Bali. According to her statement at UNESCO Paris, "the work accomplished in this area has led to global recognition by other international bodies." She mentioned, "I would like to highlight the resolution adopted at the 6th session of the UNEA, 6/13. Effective and inclusive solutions to strengthen water policies for achieving sustainable development in the context of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution." The resolution specifically states:


  • Recognizing the importance of traditional, local, and indigenous knowledge as part of potential solutions for sustainable water management and addressing water scarcity, such as the community cascade irrigation system with communal reservoirs, recognized as Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems and characterized by significant agrobiodiversity, traditional knowledge, cultures, and invaluable landscapes. It also acknowledges the value of these systems, sustainably managed by farmers, herders, fishermen, and forest dwellers, contributing to their livelihoods and food security.

  • Requests the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, in collaboration with relevant UN entities and other stakeholders, subject to resource availability: a, h) Promote dialogue and collaboration on traditional, local, and indigenous knowledge related to water, including sustainable and climate-resilient integrated community cascade irrigation systems, and the management of such systems;



This proposal emerged after merging the draft resolution with another proposed by Sri Lanka on the Protection of Cascade Systems, urging and requesting member states to ensure that cascade systems are protected and restored, addressing aspects such as water quality, sedimentation, and aquatic biodiversity through integrated management at all levels; and integrating them into national development plans, including climate adaptation, water resources management, and biodiversity conservation.


The resolution also called for the involvement of all stakeholders, including universities, research centers, the private sector, and non-governmental organizations, in a concerted effort to implement sustainable management of cascade systems; it requested consideration of traditional knowledge associated with cascade systems and its appropriate use in future decision-making, and the development of international networks and collaborations for the sustainable and climate-resilient integrated management of cascade systems.


According to Conchita Marcuello, this resolution was eventually merged with that on water, but she considers the text relevant in this forum as it represents a significant step forward in highlighting ancestral hydrotechnologies.

Conchita Marcuello emphasized that the resolution incorporates local and indigenous knowledge not only in the preamble but also in the operational paragraph, marking a very significant advancement.


Next, Giuseppe Arduino spoke, delivering the presentation prepared by Marco Albarracín from Universidad Politécnica Salesiana de Quito, Ecuador, on "Recovering the Ancestral Water System of Los Paltas, with an ecohydrological approach to supply water to the city of Catacoccha in southern Ecuador." In summary, Giuseppe Arduino discussed how Ecohydrology studies can scientifically address current climate emergency issues related to both Water Resources and Biodiversity, emphasizing the study and analysis of local and indigenous knowledge as a crucial element to enhance local resilience. According to Giuseppe, ecohydrology projects based on indigenous and local knowledge enable the regeneration of negatively affected ecosystems. He also highlighted that these projects, with a clear community approach, serve as examples of living heritage.


Subsequently, Nigel Crawhall, Head of the Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (LINKS) Section - Division of Science Policy and Basic Sciences, Natural Sciences Sector of UNESCO, took the floor. The LINKS expert reviewed the past 50 years of intergovernmental water management, noting the historical disregard for local and indigenous knowledge. Even during the International Decade for Action "Water for Sustainable Development," 2018-2028, local and indigenous knowledge was not adequately considered for water resource management.

Crawhall pointed out that it has been through experienced cases in various parts of the world, where communities in different watershed contexts (upstream or downstream, upper or lower parts of watersheds) have started discussing reciprocity within their specific contexts. This has led to local knowledge that supports sustainable management of resources.

There has also been increasing awareness stemming from linguistic studies, where communities from different parts of the world have names for various aspects linked to water and water territories. Nowadays, there is discussion about socio-ecological complexity, and even in the Operational Plan of IHP-IX, aspects related to socio-hydrology and local and indigenous knowledge are introduced. In fact, in section 1.10, it is mentioned:


1.10 Conducting and sharing research on integrating citizen science in the hydrological discipline by the scientific community and other stakeholders is supported: "scientific tools should be developed to encourage citizen participation and other social applications that can improve water management, such as integrating modern science with ancestral, indigenous, and local knowledge."


Subsequently, continuing with the program, Ali Rhouma, PRIMA Project Officer, gave the presentation titled "Ancestral Hydro-Technologies and the WEFE Nexus approach." According to Ali, it is essential to focus on four key areas:

  • Revitalization of ancestral hydro-technologies

  • Demonstrating the role of these technologies advocating for the WEFE Nexus

  • Replication and scaling-up of existing good practices

  • Development of a Community of Practice for ancestral hydro-technologies, interacting with the WEFE Nexus Community of Practice.


Following this, connecting online from Uruguay, Javier Taks from the University of the Republic, intervened. Javier emphasized that local and indigenous knowledge is often neither heard, studied, nor understood. He stressed that universities should play a much more active role in understanding, analyzing, and developing these LINKs systems to assist in their transfer and replication. Using emblematic examples from Latin America, such as the case of Tipón, he analyzed the main barriers to the development of these systems and discussed some facilitating factors that can aid in their replication.


Finally, the panel of experts concluded with Eriberto Eulisse, Executive Director of the Global Network of Water Museums (WAMU-NET), a flagship initiative of UNESCO-IHP, who presented "The Voices of Water, overcoming barriers through museums for water sustainability education." Eriberto focused on highlighting the importance of education through Water Museums, considering them essential components for overcoming barriers that hinder the knowledge and understanding of these ancient systems. His emphasis was on how these museums can act as educational platforms to facilitate access to information and promote greater understanding and appreciation for ancestral hydraulic technologies. Through these institutions, he aimed to promote deeper and more conscious learning about the historical and contemporary significance of such systems.


The event concluded with Conclusions and Key Messages from Jose Luis Martin Bordes of the UNESCO Chair of Sustainability at UPC and Alexander Otte from UNESCO-IHP Paris. Jose Luis Martin Bordes expressed that the UNESCO Chair on Sustainability at UPC will continue coordinating a global mapping effort of ancestral hydro-technologies. In this regard, he highlighted two initiatives:

  • Inventory of Ancestral Hydro-Technologies for Latin America and the Caribbean, driven by the UNESCO-IHP office in Montevideo.

  • International Conference on Ancestral Hydro-Technologies in Africa, to be held in 2025, coordinated by the same Chair.


In addition to these academic initiatives, Jose Luis Martin underscored the importance of addressing political dimensions at this juncture. This includes proposing a resolution project to the IHP aimed at consolidating diverse institutions and global programs in this field.



Such efforts aim to harness the potential of these systems as benchmarks for adaptive water resource management, grounded in ecosystem-based principles and community-driven approaches, crucial for bolstering climate resilience. In this regard, he proposed the possibility of drafting a resolution project for the UNESCO Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme (UNESCO-IHP) Council to recognize the contribution of ancestral hydro-technologies to sustainable and resilient water resource management.


Additionally, it was proposed to prepare a joint proposal with all participants of this side event as a contribution to the celebration of the 50th anniversary of IHP in 2025.


On his part, Alexander Otte discusses that this approach stems from the New Water Culture and emphasizes the significant path to promote Local and Indigenous Knowledge as a fundamental element in climate adaptation. He highlights that the 50th anniversary of IHP could be a crucial milestone to leverage for establishing and developing initiatives in this regard.


The event concludes with interventions from:

Elpida Kolokytha, from the C2C CHMWRM Center in Thessaloniki, Greece. She speaks about their intention to conduct a census of water mills and requests the interest of attendees to contribute to the topic.


Jorge Arriaga, from the C2C Regional Centre for Water Security in Mexico, who discusses his center's interest in participating in these initiatives.


Below is the program for the side event approved by UNESCO, "Contribution of Indigenous and Local Knowledge to Water Systems Resilience through a WEFE Nexus Approach".




Zoom registration link for virtual participation in room VI:






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