An integrated assessment of financial, hydrological, ecological and social impacts of ‘development’ on Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in northern Australia
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We use data and insights from several inter-related but independent projects conducted over 6 years (2006-11) in the Daly River catchment in Australia's Northern Territory to explore the potential impacts of 'development' on Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents. We do this by combining economic, hydrological, and ecological data and models into an integrated model. We then use the model to assess the effect of six different types of economic 'development' on water resources, the habitat of aquatic resources and the incomes of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. We combine this information with estimates of the value of aquatic resources consumed by local Indigenous people to generate estimates of the potential net impact of those development scenarios. We also discuss other social and cultural impacts likely to be associated with the degradation of aquatic resources. Our analysis shows that Indigenous people not only have more to lose from 'development' which erodes natural capital than do non-Indigenous people, but they also have significantly less to gain. Under current institutional arrangements it thus seems that, at best, 'development' may have a relatively benign impact on their well-being. At worst, it may have a detrimental effect brought about by degradation of local aquatic ecosystems. There are negative spill-over effects from development for non-Indigenous people too. Evidently some conservation land uses - which tend to align more closely with current Indigenous cultural prerogatives - may be better able to effectively promote the well-being of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people than more conventional types of 'development'.