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River Niger: emerging initiatives

Save the Niger. This was the watchword exclaimed in 2015 on the occasion of the COP21. Africa’s third longest river (4,200 km) after the Nile and the Congo, its basin covers almost 2 million km² at the heart of West Africa and part of Central Africa. A vital resource for Mali, it feeds 85% of the population and all the country’s socioeconomic activities are linked to its good health. But it is dying.

Why? Climate change: the river is silting up as the desert advances, the water level is decreasing, and above all there are human activities that are turning the river into a vast rubbish dump. The river water is polluted by all kinds of domestic and industrial waste: wastewater from industries and craft workshops (tanneries, dyers) in Bamako; residues of fertilisers in the farming region of Ségou and mineral ore extraction products in the region of Sikasso, etc. And there are noxious products (mercury and cyanide used by gold prospectors) used at Kangaba, upstream of Bamako, that decimate the fish and affect the health of the people that feed on them.

Initial actions that give reason for hope:


  • On 13 March 2018, the World Bank approved $27.8 million in funds for a rehabilitation project. The aim is to restore the environment along the River Niger and improve the means of subsistence for the millions of people whose survival is at stake. In particular, dredging operations are planned to remove the encroaching sand which is increasingly hindering navigation.
  • UNESCO and Mali signed a partnership agreement on 21 May, thus reasserting their desire to protect the river and it resources. Emphasis was placed on increasing awareness and educating the neighbouring population to change its behaviour.
  • The Niger Basin Agency on-lined an Internet site to collect and share data on the quality of the river’s water. By making information accessible to all, individuals and researchers, the aim is to make people aware of the importance of clean water.
  • The people of Mali are also taking action. In the capital, an association called Save the River Niger was set up in 2017 to participate in desilting the river to improve its flow and permit the return of farm crops and fishing. 21 villages in the rural district of Falea, in the Kayes region, got together to form an association. In May they commissioned a scientific study that showed that the new gold prospection techniques – dredging to extract the ore from the river bed and using mercury to recover and clean the gold in powder form – had substantially increased the pollution of the river Faleme, a tributary of the River Senegal. Market gardening and cereal production have vanished.

Awareness and the first initiatives before, hopefully, the launching of a large-scale action plan.

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