ayor Daouda Sanankoua had traveled overnight by boat to see me, through flooded forests and submerged banks of hippo grass. There was no other way.
Sanankoua’s domain, the district of Deboye in the heart of Mali in West Africa, is on the edge of the Sahara. Yet Sanankoua’s homeland is mostly water. His people live by catching fish, grazing cattle, and harvesting crops in one of the world’s largest and most fecund wetlands, a massive inland delta created by the meandering waters of one of Africa’s mightiest waterways, the Niger River.
Nearly two million Malians live on the delta. “Everything here depends on the water,” said the mayor. “But”—and here he paused gravely, pushed his glasses down an elegant nose, and began waving a long finger—”the government is taking our water. They are giving it to foreign farmers. They don’t even ask us.”
What is happening here in Mali is happening all over the world. People who depend on the natural flow of water, and the burst of nature that comes with it, are losing out as powerful people upstream divert the water.