This paper examines the threats to Indigenous water rights and territories in the Andean countries. It analyzes how water and water rights are embedded in Indigenous territories, and how powerful actors and intervention projects tend to undermine local societies and indigenous livelihoods by developing large-scale water infrastructure. Three cases illustrate the encroachment process. In Colombia, the Embera Katio people’s water territory is colonized by a large-scale hydropower development project. In Ecuador, large-scale drinking water development for megacities aims the water belonging to the Oyacachi community’s indigenous highland territory. In Peru, communal water rights of the Colca Valley indigenous peasantry are under threat because of large-scale irrigation development. As the cases show, Indigenous peoples and communities actively contest the undermining and subordination of their water and territorial rights through a myriad of multi-scalar livelihood defense strategies. The challenges that indigenous peoples face to defend their water-based livelihoods are, however, enormous and growing every day.


This paper is based on action-research and academic investigations realized by researchers of the Justicia Hídrica alliance from 2009 to 2011. The Justicia Hídrica alliance is a broad international network of scholars, activists, grassroots leaders and water professionals committed to critical water policy and rights analysis, working chiefly in Latin America, but also in Africa, Asia, North America and Europe. Research, training and advocacy activities are done in close collaboration with indigenous, small-holder and civil society organizations (see www.justiciahidrica.org).

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