In the Niger Basin, Countries Collaborate on Hydropower, Irrigation and Improved Water Resource Management

March 4, 2015

Dominic Chavez/World Bank

  • The Niger Basin in Sub Saharan Africa is among the world’s most fragile regions
  • Countries in the Basin are seeking solutions to clean, renewable energy for electricity and other development needs
  • A project supported by the World Bank and the Cooperation in International Waters in Africa (CIWA) program, aims to address development challenges for the Basin’s nine countries

WASHINGTON, March 4, 2015—The Niger River is one of the few perennial sources of water in the arid and semi-arid lands of Africa’s Sahel region. For thousands of years, the river has supported communities of farmers, cattle grazers, and fishermen. Today, the Niger Basin is one of the most fragile developing regions of the world, by any measure. Seven of the basin’s 10 countries are among the world’s poorest 20, with Niger having the lowest Human Development Index in the world. The threats of food insecurity and climate change are compounded by civil unrest, terrorism, and the Ebola crisis, all of which feed the vicious cycle of rural poverty and insecurity in the region.

Despite these challenges, the countries of the Niger Basin have developed one of the world’s most progressive river management organizations, the Niger Basin Authority (NBA), that supports a strong, cooperative legal framework to govern water resources, and fosters collaboration on potential investments among the countries with boundaries on the river. The NBA is charged with ensuring that the Niger River’s water usage makes sense for the whole basin and benefits local communities.

The countries of the Basin – including Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria – understand that in order to address some of their most pressing development challenges, they will need to identify opportunities for cooperative development of water infrastructure.

" Countries now pool their resources to develop the watercourse and the resources of the basin, which individually they would not have been able to do "

Major General Collins Ihekire

Executive Secretary of the NBA

Investments in hydropower plants, reservoirs, irrigation schemes, and navigation facilities can help reduce poverty and boost shared prosperity in the Niger Basin countries. These types of investments can contribute significantly to economic growth, food security, climate resilience, and improved livelihoods – and experience in other basins across Africa has shown that these investments can be more successful if they are based on cooperative, collective action facilitated by a dedicated organization such as the NBA.

Fostering Collective Action and Informed Decision Making

As countries of the Basin show increasing interest in joint planning and construction of infrastructure, the demands on the NBA and its role in coordinating member states and promoting participatory design have expanded. To support the NBA in its expanding role, the Niger River Basin Management Project, a project approved by the World Bank Group Board of Executive Directors in November 2014 and supported by the Cooperation in International Waters in Africa program (CIWA), will help operationalize the NBA’s mandate to promote cooperation among its nine member countries as they develop and manage the Basin’s resources.

The Niger River Basin Management Project will support efforts to: (i) develop a more autonomous and sustainable financial resource base for the NBA; (ii) improve the basin-wide legal framework for enhanced coordination in the operation of transboundary infrastructure; and (iii) facilitate evidence-based and well-informed decision making on projects of regional interest.

The project will specifically support the finalization and adoption of Annex 2 of the 2008 Niger Basin Water Charter, which provides the legal framework for the coordinated management and optimization of large infrastructure, dispute resolution, and arbitration enforcement. It will also support the NBA’s role in facilitating informed, joint decision making around the planned Fomi Dam, and studies that will examine the potential impacts of the dam on the Niger Inner Delta.

The proposed Fomi multipurpose project, which would consist of a small dam and large storage reservoir in Guinea, would provide much needed water storage, irrigation potential, and hydropower in Guinea, as well as significant irrigation potential in Mali. The Dam was identified by the countries of the Niger Basin as a priority in the 2010 Sustainable Development Action Plan, with the recognition that extensive riparian coordination would be necessary for its success.

Like other transformative infrastructure projects around the world, the potential of Fomi to help address the Niger Basin’s water and energy challenges is tremendous – and like all others, it has considerable potential impacts.

“The next several years will require a consultative process that closely examines these potential impacts, which include resettlement of communities in Guinea, environmental and social impacts in the ecologically rich Niger Inner Delta in Mali, as well as the technical and economic considerations of building transboundary, transformative infrastructure,” says Christina Leb, Senior Water Resources Specialist for the World Bank Group. “All design-related tradeoffs would need to be discussed with stakeholders and negotiated between the two countries with all the facts on the table in order to maximize benefits and minimize negative impacts.”

Partnering for Better Development Results

The CIWA program supports complex projects like the Niger River Basin Management Project and the Fomi Multipurpose Project by helping inform decision making. The program does not directly finance infrastructure works; rather it helps foster an enabling environment for riparian countries to consider, examine, prepare, and manage their infrastructure priorities according to international standards and with international technical expertise.

CIWA’s support for the Niger Basin and other transboundary basins across Africa comes at a critical time. Today, 700 million people in Africa still lack access to electricity. Countries are eagerly seeking solutions to this problem, and clean, renewable hydropower forms an important potential part of the energy mix.