- The West African countries Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger are to enhance their "integrated water resources management" efforts of the Niger River Basin, it was announced today. The Niger River is facing a great danger of extinction due to heavy silting and pollution.
The three landlocked and impoverished states are heavily dependent on the water lifeline provided by the majestic 4,200 kilometres long Niger River. It is key to agriculture and irrigation in the region, further proving drinking water for people and livestock, rich fishing grounds and a traffic artery. Major cities, such as Bamako and Niamey, are located at its banks.
All this could soon be history if immediate action is not taken. Due to the irregular rainfalls in the region, large extractions of water for irrigation and households and submissions of polluting particles, the ex-majestic river is turning ever more shallow. Silting has become a serious problem, in particular where the River Niger makes a large northern turn into the desert in central Mali.
Also pollution is becoming a more serious problem, as the water table becomes lower and the concentration of poisonous substances thus becomes higher.
Most of the sewage, household waste and industrial wastes produced in Mali's capital Bamako ends up in the river. Added with the sewage from other Malian towns and the subsidiaries of River Niger entering from Burkina Faso, the water that reaches the Nigerien capital, Niamey, is of poor quality and quantity.
The governments of the region have been aware of these increasing problems for several years and have founded the regional Niger River Basin Authority to address the situation. "The Niger River is facing a great danger and risks extinction if silting continues at the alarming rate observed during the last few years," the regional body recently concluded.
In response to the deteriorated situation, the Authority has assured financing from the African Development Fund (ADF) to enhance its silt control programme in the Niger River basin. In September, the Authority was granted ADF loans and grants totalling US$ 20 million and today, the Fund has approved of a new grant of US$ 4.3 million for the programme.
ADF Vice-President Olabisi Ogunjobi today stated that his Fund was very well aware of the problems facing Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger and assured of the ADF's "commitment to support the cooperation efforts being undertaken by Niger River Basin Authority member States for improved integrated management of the water resources of the Niger basin."
The newly assured funding is mainly to be used to strengthen the capacity of the regional body and to finance a pilot framework study for silt control in the Niger River Basin. Concrete silt control actions are however already planned, the Fund informed.
The stilt control project is primary to include the erection of dunes and land reclamation. The most urgent steps of the regional programme thus include treating the banks of the river and stabilising the course of the river.
This initiative by the Niger River Basin Authority will include steps in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. The silt control programme was to be "located in the mid-basin of the River including the loop of the Niger in Mali, the North-East of the basin in Burkina Faso and the right bank of the River in Niger upstream from Niamey," ADF informed today.
Meanwhile, national and local authorities are into smaller programmes to improve the management of the region's key water resource. Malian authorities are reported to be "determined" to address the increasing threat of pollution by cleaning up the city of Bamako. Sewage and waste disposals are to be controlled, Bamako authorities promise.
In Niger, far downstream from Bamako, poor households until recently drank water directly from the river, "which caused a lot of disease," according to locals in the Nigerien village Bankilare. A Nigerien government programme is now training locals in "sanitation and decentralised water management" - an asset both for human health and the environment.
While many improvement schemes show good results locally, the problems of the Niger River have however turned so grave that a sustainable and coordinated management for the whole river basin need to be achieved. The Niger River Basin Authority thus is seeking further financing to reach this aim.
According to recent statements by the Burkinabe Minister responsible for water, Salif Diallo, the regional body was urging the creation a new giant fund for Africa's main water bodies, including the rivers Niger, Congo and Volta. The planned fund was totalling US$ 623 million and the African Development Bank and the European Union have already signalled their willingness to finance it.
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