08 July 2008

Customary Water Rights in Timor-Leste

Life Science Weekly

July 8, 2008OCEAN RESEARCH - Researchers from University of Queensland describe findings in ocean researchAccording to a study from Brisbane, Australia, "Customary land tenure claims provide a useful analogy for customary access and usage rights to critical water resources. In an increasingly water-constrained future, such rights are at risk of political and economic contestation and local communities may find themselves abruptly divested of critical water resources just when they need them most."

"The new nation of East Timor is not abundantly endowed with water and inland sources are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of reduced rainfall and groundwater contamination. Recently MeWilliam (2003) has suggested that in future disputes over Timorese sea tenures, the recognition of customary access or exclusive property rights to specific water resources will depend upon clearly articulated evidence of longstanding cultural associations and interactions with the aquatic landscape.

The ethnographic literature provides substantiating accounts of the centrality of water in the local cosmologies of various East Timorese ethnic groups. This paper extends McWilliam's marine argument to inland water resources by reviewing the salient ethnographic evidence for Bunaq, Mumbai and Eastern Tetum populations to show that water is a key organising metaphor in the expression of Timorese kingroup affiliation, social identity and power relations.

Local ritual practices further affirm customary rights of access and water use," wrote M. Jennaway and colleagues, University of Queensland (see also <http://www.newsrx.com/library/topics/Ocean-Research.html>Ocean Research).

The researchers concluded: "There is an urgent need for such customary rights to water to be recognized in the current redistribution and demarcation of internal boundaries in East Timor, as well as in future struggles against vested economic and political interests."

Jennaway and colleagues published the results of their research in Oceania (Aquatic identities, fluid economies: Water affinities and authenticating narratives of belonging in East Timorese myth and ritual. Oceania, 2008;78(1):17-29).

For additional information, contact M. Jennaway, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Qld 4072, Australia.The publisher of the journal Oceania can be contacted at: Oceania Publications, University Sydney, Sydney, 2006, Australia.Keywords: Australia, Brisbane, Life Sciences, Ocean Research, University of Queensland.

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