Dams and climate change threaten the Niger River wetlands
Author: Wetlands International
Published on Mar 13, 2012 - 9:57:04 AM

MARSEILLE, March 13, 2012 - The combined impacts of new infrastructure schemes and a warmer climate will cause extremely low water levels in the West Sahelian Niger River, impacting the millions downstream and the wider economy. Extremely low water levels in the Niger River are expected to become a regular phenomenon. Wetlands International will present the latest figures based on research with partners. The organisation calls for a moratorium both on new infrastructure schemes and on the extension of existing ones in this water-scarce part of Africa.

The global NGO Wetlands International together with a series of internationally recognised research and consultancy partners has investigated the combined impacts of dams and climate change on the water flows of the Niger River. The recent research is building on many years of work. The findings will be presented during a press conference on the 13th of March 2012 at the World Water Forum in Marseille.

The seasonally inundated areas of the Inner Niger Delta in Mali provide a living for 1.4 million fishermen, herdsmen and farmers. Millions of migratory waterbirds depend on the areas for their winter destination. The inundated area often covers up to 30,000 km2. The dry season leaves less than 40 km2 of lakes and marshes. The delta is a productive area feeding a substantial part of the Malian population and underpinning a significant local and regional economy.

This role is under severe threat due to the combined impacts of climate change and upstream infrastructure schemes. The expected increase in average temperatures of just a few degrees will strongly increase evaporation and water demands for especially agriculture. The impact of upstream water schemes is even worse; seven major developments are identified.

The planned hydropower Fomi Dam in Guinnee Conakry, long discussed, is adding a continuing to pose a severe threat. The huge reservoir will need to be filled during the wet season, thus lowering the peak of the river water and considerably shrinking the size of the seasonally inundated area of the Inner Niger Delta of Mali. Furthermore, existing upstream irrigation schemes are planned to expand from 100.00 to between 190-300,000 ha by 2020 to accommodate increased rice but also sugar cane and cotton production. This expansion will exceed river capacity in March to May posing serious downstream problems.

If current plans and trend continue, the area of inundation will drop from of 30,000 km2 on an average year to 8,000 km2, every fourth year. This catastrophic level currently occurs every 30 years and last occurred during the Great Drought in the mid-1980s. The impact on the 1,4 million people in the delta as well as on the migratory waterbirds is devastating. Additional to this are the impacts of climate change. Temperatures are already rising and are expected to increase with 2 tot 7 degrees in the coming 80 years. The delta may shrink an additional 40% due to this.

Wetlands International advises countries in West Africa to guarantee the allocation of water to the delta to enable seasonal dynamics and minimum flood depth. To do this we urge further strategic analysis of energy security and agricultural development options. Sustainable energy options, such as solar power may be better long-term options to invest in than hydropower. The revenues of hydropower dams in this dry area of Africa are rather marginal but the corresponding impacts of reduced water availability are huge. The planned Fomi dam will produce a meager 250 MWh, demanding a reservoir of up to 50,000 hectare. Investment in increased irrigation efficiency might be more effective than extending the area of land and related water needs and we would urge the reconsideration of plans to use scare water resources for cultivation of cotton and sugar.

Watch the presentation (click to view online on SlideShare):

The Water Crisis in the Inner Niger Delta

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