The Niger at Koulikoro, Mali.
Image via Wikipedia

Global Policy Forum

February 3,  2011

By Fred Pearce

Yale Environment 360

The Niger delta is Africa’s second largest floodplains. It sustains millions of farmers, fisher people and herders and is home of a rich diversity of wildlife. But, Libya supports a project to divert the Niger River for extensive irrigation upstream and make Libya self-sufficient in food. This plan is the result of a backdoor deal between Libyan leader, Moammar Gaddafi, and Mali’s President, Amadou Toumani Toure. Mali, one of the poorest countries in the world, has agreed to hand over land to a Libyan-controlled organization and “undisclosed rights” to the Niger delta in exchange for aid and investment. Yet, this will prove detrimental to Malian food security. The Niger delta will run dry, diminishing the seasonal floods and damaging the livelihood of millions of poor citizens.

Daouda Sanankoua is an aquatic mayor, and proud of it. The elected boss of the district of Deboye arrived for our meeting in the West African state of Mali last month by overnight ferry. At this time of year, the majority of his district is flooded. Thank goodness. “More water is good,” he said, peering at his foreign inquisitor over his glasses. “Everything here depends on the water, but the government is taking our water.”While we spoke, in the tiny schoolyard of Akka village, a few meters from the lapping waters of Lake Deboye, the headlines around the world brought news of flood disasters in Australia, Brazil, and Sri Lanka. But Daouda was grateful for the annual swelling of the River Niger, which left most of his 24 villages marooned. For without the water, they would be desert.The floods in what geographers call the inner Niger delta nurture abundant fish for the Bozo people, who lay their nets in every waterway and across the lakes. As the waters recede, they leave wet soils in which the Bambara people plant millet and rice, and they expose vast aquatic pastures of bourgou (or hippo grass) that sustain cattle and goats brought by nomadic Fulani herders from as far away as Mauritania and Burkina Faso. This inland delta is Africa’s second-largest floodplain and one of its most unique wetlands. Seen from space, it is an immense smudge of green and blue on the edge of the Sahara.But this rare and magnificently productive ecosystem is now facing an unprecedented threat, as a Libyan-backed enterprise has begun construction of a project inside Mali that will divert large amounts of Niger River water for extensive irrigation upstream…Read more.