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Grabbing the Colorado From the “People of the River”

The sadness of their story is written in the deeply lined, yet fiercely proud faces of the tribal elders.

For at least a thousand years, a native Indian clan called the Cucapá – the “people of the river” – fished and farmed in the delta of the Colorado River of northwestern Mexico. Their lives were keyed to the river’s natural rhythms. Each spring, after melting snows from the Rocky Mountains sent floodwaters down through the delta, the Cucapá planted beans, melons, and squash in soils newly fertilized by the river’s nutrient-rich sediment. They harvested a grain called nipa, a salt-loving plant that tastes much like wild rice. And they fished for corvina, a type of sea bass, and often ate fish three times a day.

Historical accounts suggest that four hundred years ago as many as 5,000 Cucapá were living in the delta. Today, perhaps 300 remain. Theirs is a culture at risk of extinction – and the primary reason is the colossal 20th-century grab of the waters of the Colorado River.

Grabbing at Solutions: Water for the Hungry First

A spontaneous, largely under-the-radar blue revolution is gaining steam in sub-Saharan Africa and has the potential to boost food security and incomes for tens of millions of the region’s poorest inhabitants.

Small-scale irrigation techniques with simple buckets, affordable pumps, drip lines, and other equipment are enabling farm families to weather dry seasons, raise yields, diversify their crops, and lift themselves out of poverty.

But unless African governments and foreign interests lend support to these farmer-driven initiatives, rather than undermine them through land and water deals that benefit large-scale, commercial schemes, the best opportunity in decades for societal advancement in the region will be squandered.