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Protecting Rural Populations in Mali from the Floods of the Niger River

September 5, 2014

© Moussa Diarra/World Bank

  • The rehabilitation of more than 2,000 meters of riverbanks along the Niger River now protects riparian Malian villages such as Sofara and Gnimitongo from destructive flooding
  • Along with the construction of safeguards against flooding, the project is also working to help boost rice production and further develop subsistence fishing in the region
  • The project is set to close on December 31, 2014, however beneficiary countries are seeking an extension in order to complete the planned works.

Well before sunrise, Gaoussou Konta, a young man from Sofara, a village 700 kilometers north of Mali’s capital, heads out to the banks of the Niger River. Usually Konta comes here to fish, however this morning, he has come to check up on the construction of a riverbank protection infrastructure currently under way. While the Niger River’s waters are an indispensable resource for local communities, when the waters overflow its banks, the river becomes a menacing threat capable of washing away entire villages.

Thus workers are hastening to complete the construction of dikes intended to protect more than 2,000 meters of riverbanks in the region. The works are part of a set of improvements financed by the Niger Basin Resources Development and Sustainable Ecosystems Management Project, a World Bank initiative totaling $233.2 million, implemented in Benin, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, and Niger.

“At first, many people in Sofara were skeptical of the construction. We had to convince the elders of the relevance of this project and convey to them the benefits it would bring. What we are seeing today exceeds our expectations. Prior to the construction of the flooding safeguards, we were constantly worried about the rising waters,” explains Mr. Konta.

“I became interested in the project when I saw the first signs of progress, when the landscape began to transform. I decided to volunteer as a watchman, arriving here very early in the morning to monitor the work site all day,” he says.

The political and security crisis of 2012 impeded the progress of a number of improvements planned in the northern regions of Mali, in particular those targeted toward the development of small scale commercial fishing and agriculture. Luckily for Sofara, which is located in central Mali, project works remained unaffected by the crisis and the dike construction could be completed, much to the satisfaction of the beneficiaries who will no longer see their houses flooded and their belongings swept away. Similarly, in Gnimitongo, another village whose livelihood relies on fishing, livestock production, and rice cultivation, the project was able to protect 440 meters of riverbanks, allowing residents to live and work on their lands without the fear of flooding.

“We are now more at ease. In addition to the protection of our homes, we look forward to construction of a new road along the river as well as a new dock, both of which will help us offload products destined for sale at regional markets,” adds Mr. Konta.  

Mr. Konta also has some ideas of his own for further improvements: “At night, we often come here to get some fresh air. It could be useful to install public lighting and a guardrail along the edge of the dike to prevent people from falling, particularly during the flood periods.”

He vows that residents will not dispose of household trash or other refuse at this location, contrary to the community’s habits before the works. “Those who do not follow this common rule will be reported to authorities,” he warned. 

" We are now more at ease. In addition to the protection of our homes, we look forward to construction of a new road along the river as well as a new dock, both of which will help us offload products destined for sale at regional markets "

Gaoussou Konta

Beneficiary of Niger Basin Resources Development and Sustainable Ecosystems Management Project

Improving agricultural irrigation schemes to obtain larger yields

Apart from reinforcing the riverbanks, the project is also helping residents of Diambacourou and several other villages with the irrigation of their rice paddies to increase production. During the rainy season, the lands surrounding these villages are inundated with water for a portion of the year, creating ideal conditions for the use of controlled flooding or swamp rice cultivation, a technique consisting of controlling the entry and exit of water from crop plots by a series of valves.

“Improving the irrigation of over 2,000 hectares of land around Diambacourou will allow residents to harvest close to 8,000 metric tons of rice paddy every year, which is approximately a yield of 4 metric tons per hectare,” highlights Emmanuel Nikiema, a World Bank natural resources management specialist in charge of the project.

In Tenenkou, support for the production of the wild plant burgu, which flourishes in flooded areas, has helped increase fish production. During the first year of burgu crop development, approximately 200 metric tons of fish were caught in five burgu regeneration sites in the Mopti region. In addition to consumption by residents, this increased yield also allowed for the sale of fish, thus boosting the local communities’ revenues.  

Furthermore, harvested burgu was also stored as feed for livestock during the dry season. “Thanks to this additional nutritional supplement, milk production from livestock has doubled, ensuring the availability of fresh milk for families,” Mr. Nikiema explains.

Beneficiary countries seek to extend the project to complete the works

In Mali, despite the installation of the dikes, the development of irrigation, artisanal fishing, and fodder production is still to be completed.  In fact, around 90% of the works in each country (Benin, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, and Niger) will not be completed prior to the project’s planned closing date of at the end of December 2014. Consequently, the beneficiary countries are seeking to postpone the closing date and are submitting official requests to the Niger Basin Authority (ABN), which is leading the regional coordination of the project.

Seven years after the project’s launch on July 3, 2007, Gaoussou Konta can now proudly attest to the improvements observed in his hometown. He is among the 800,000 beneficiaries in Mali who will start to see considerable progress at the local, regional, and national levels through the support of this large-scale project.