With impacts of climate change becoming increasingly apparent across the African continent, the Niger River Basin has not been spared. Climate change-induced challenges in the Niger Basin are stark. By worsening the basin’s naturally high rainfall variability and exacerbating extreme events such as flood and drought, climate change is creating major hardship for those eking out a living through rain-fed agriculture, pastoralism or other natural-resource based livelihoods. As competition over natural resources increases with a changing climate, so does the possibility of conflict. Climate-induced risks are further magnified by the high existing vulnerabilities of the basin’s population; many of them exhibit elevated levels of poverty as well as compromised social and economic indicators.
Countries in the basin are taking a historic step to collaboratively address these climate threats that compound their already tremendous development challenges. At the Meeting of the Niger Basin Council of Water Ministers 2015 in Cotonou, Benin on September 30, and at the Ministerial Roundtable of Ministers of Finance and Economic Development of the Niger Basin Riparian Countries in Lima, Peru on October 7, 2015, the riparian countries adopted an ambitious Niger Basin Climate Resilience Investment Plan (CRIP) and pledged to advocate for technical support and financing to implement its resilience-focused priority actions. The Plan was prepared by the Niger Basin Authority (NBA) and its nine Member States: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria. It builds on a history of strong riparian cooperation in the Niger Basin and represents an important opportunity to take a coordinated approach in building regional climate resilience.
Climate change is affecting when, where, how much, and what quality of water is available. Weak monitoring and information systems in the Niger Basin means people are unable to prepare and respond adequately, leaving them vulnerable to weather-related events. The absence of proper infrastructure undermines people’s ability to store water for times of scarcity. Limited governance capacity increases the overall challenge of managing the river’s variability in a way that responds to people’s needs. All these factors contribute to threatening food and energy security, economic development, the health of the ecosystems, and overall stability in the Niger Basin.
Countries in the Niger Basin recognize the need to integrate adaptation considerations into mainstream development efforts. They acknowledge that impacts of climate change are not confined to national borders, and neither are their rivers and groundwater stocks. The shared nature of water resources presents an opportunity for countries to take a coordinated basin-approach to derive more impactful resilience-building outcomes. Moreover, coordination among countries helps avoid maladaptation, or the spillover of negative impacts from a resilience-building intervention undertaken in one part of the basin – such as inundation of rural communities in an upstream area due to the storing of floodwaters in a reservoir intended to avoid flooding in downstream urban settlements.
The importance, and urgency, of taking a cooperative approach led the Niger Basin countries to develop the CRIP, which aims to build climate resilience in the basin through regional and national water resources investments in reliable information systems, strengthened institutions, and sustainable infrastructure. Such a basin-approach to addressing development and resilience needs is considered a best practice, but rarely implemented in the developing world due to the urgency of development needs as well as resource and capacity constraints.
The Climate Resilience Investment Plan consists of a careful selection of resilience-building investments from key existing planning documents including the 2007 Sustainable Development Action Plan, National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), and other national and regional programs for adapting to climate change. The selected investments bolster resilience through a wide variety of ways, for instance –
- Providing climate insurance for farmers in Burkina Faso
- Adapting farming calendars and crop types to a new climate context in Benin
- Adapting the national gender policy to respond to climate considerations in Cameroon
- Adopting anti-erosion and anti-silting measures to protect cultivable lands in Mali
- Restoring fallow land and promoting agroforestry in Niger
- Rehabilitating water storage structures in Nigeria
Each investment included in the Plan was examined and vetted by the Member States through a comprehensive consultative process with multi-sectoral participation, strategically coupled with exercises to build local capacity. “The Niger Basin CRIP is the result of an inclusive consultative process that involved all the stakeholders in the basin, including the users of the Basin’s natural resources,” said Nouradine Zakaria Toure, President of the Regional Coordination of Users of Natural Resources of the nine Niger Basin countries. The preparation of the Plan, including consultative processes, was facilitated by the NBA and supported by the African Development Bank, along with a close collaboration between the World Bank’s Water and Environment Global Practices, as well as its Cooperation in International Waters in Africa (CIWA) program.
Recognizing the massive resource needs for building climate resilience as outlined in the Climate Resilience Investment Plan, the countries of the Niger Basin intend to endorse the Plan at the Heads of State Summit in November 2015 and to present it to the international community at the Conference of Parties for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP21) in December 2015 as a next step to mobilizing the required financial resources.
The cumulative $3.1 billion for the 246 investments in the Niger Basin outlined in the Plan might appear to be insufficient compared to the $14-15 billion estimated annual adaptation funding needs for Sub-Saharan Africa outlined in a recent United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report, but a coordinated approach among the riparian countries in the Niger Basin promises high value for money, and a strong history of cooperation heralds the significant impact this approach could bring for the 112 million people who live in the basin. “We are convinced that the Niger Basin CRIP is an instrument that will lead to an improvement in the livelihoods of the population and that will help fight against poverty in the Niger Basin,” underlined Toure.