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The Protection Of The Fouta Djallon Massif: IFGR And Its Partners Manoeuvre At The United Nations Water Conference

The United Nations Water Conference was held in New York from 22 to 24 March 2023. This was the first time since 1977 that this conference was held, and it brought together around 10,000 participants. 400 official events, subject to a rigorous selection procedure, were held in parallel with the conference. This was the case of the event concerning the protection of the Fouta Djallon Massif organised by IFGR, The Bridge Tank and OMVS (read our interview with the new High Commissioner of the basin organisation) on 24 March at the UN headquarters.

Supported by France and Guinea, this event was held in front of a packed audience, providing a unique opportunity to sound the alarm and call for concerted action to protect the massif.

The event opened with an introduction by Bérangère Couillard, Secretary of State for Ecology of the French government.

This was followed by a plea made by Erik Orsenna, calling for the preservation of this forested massif that provides water for regions in which 300 million West Africans live. He called on the responsibility of local basin organisations and the cooperation necessary to aid this region exposed to water shortages.

Soufiana Dabo, the Guinean coordinator of the OMVS (Senegal River Development Organisation), then presented the current challenges facing the Fouta Djallon Massif. Based in Guinea, it is commonly called the “water tower of West Africa” as several or the region’s large rivers flow from sources on the massif: the Niger, the Senegal, the Gambia. However, this massif is more vulnerable than ever due to its critically degraded state. It is subject to erosion, a loss of biodiversity, farming methods that exhaust its soil, demographic pressure, and reduced rainfall accentuated by climate change.

Action programmes are currently being implemented on the massif, as explained Lionel Goujon, the head of the Water and Sewage Division at the AFD (French Development Agency): the AFD provides support to basin organisations.

In March 2015, the OMVS launched the Regional Observatory of Water and the Environment of the Fouta Djallon Massif to improve knowledge of the massif, its water, and its environment, and to set up genuine regional cooperation to share the data and information collected. The final objective? Set up a platform of exchange between the different basin organisations regarding water resource management and the protection of the environment.

Joël Ruet, the President of The Bridge Tank, described the plan of actions required to set in motion a genuine and sustainable transition. This entails reversing the trend by placing local communities (especially the young and women) at the heart of the programme, with the support of the international community. The aim is to develop new dynamics to combat deforestation and the use of charcoal, new farming methods based on agroecology and agroforestry, and hydraulic infrastructures. These are key actions for promoting the region’s social and economic development and guaranteeing food security. It also aims to encourage research and innovation at local and regional level in order to improve knowledge and data on resources.

Abderhamin Bireme Hamid spoke in his capacity as executive secretary of the Niger Bain Authority.

Last but not least, the issue of funding. New, innovative funding mechanisms must be used for green and blue sustainable finance in order to implement these actions. The support of private companies is also necessary.

Sophie Gardette, the director of IFGR, esteemed that the major goals are clear: it is now time to adapt them in the field. This raises the question of the structure of the governance to be established (a consortium, a foundation, or other structure?) to procure funds and manage the solutions. The role of IFGR and The Bridge Tank will, in the short term, consist in drawing up the project including the “the details of concrete actions, the deliverables, and the reverse planning”.

At a time when one in four people in the world lives without access to drinking water or drainage facilities, the plan to protect the Fouta Djallon Massif is essential to avoid increasing water shortages in the region. What the massif needs is hydro-diplomacy that goes beyond the framework of individual basins to avoid the catastrophic economic, social and humanitarian crises that could occur.

During the closing ceremony of the Water Conference, the UN General Secretary, António Guterres, said that the 700 commitments made in the framework of the Action Programme for Water would push humanity forwards “on the path of a future where water security will be assured for each and all of us”. IFGR strongly desires this for all, and for the Fouta Djallon Massif in particular.

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