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.