The Inner Niger Delta is a large area of lakes and floodplains in the semi-arid Sahel area of central Mali, just south of the Sahara desert. The Inner Niger Delta is a liefline for one and a half million people. It is fascinating to see how the population of Mali is using the vast floodplains which provide fish, fodder for their cattle and water for rice production.
This year, like several foregoing years, water flows that feed the Inner Niger Delta have been low. Little rain has fallen in the area itself. Satellite imagery shows that this year’s floods cover a surface that is more than twice as small, compared to those in 2010. This has resulted in a major drought. Its impact on the way the people live and earn their living is clearly visible; locals will tell you themselves in my videos.
Most of the rice fields haven’t received sufficient water. The rice farmers I visited experienced failure of their crops. This has led to food shortages for their families, lack of seeds for the next planting season and to debts to suppliers of their resources such as herbicides and fertilizers. Meanwhile the prices of cereals have tripled.
Many cattle breeders had problems growing the Bourgou grass used for fodder, which requires at least three meters of water depth. As a result they have to move their herds to other places in Mali, which might lead to conflicts with other breeders and groups suffering the same losses and setbacks.
Also there is clearly less fish in the market and consequently prices have gone up. The local fishermen explain that their catches of large fish have decreased because of the low level of the floods. They now find themselves vulnerable to famine. Many villagers are also moving to the urban centers. Often the most vulnerable members of the communities such as the women and children are left behind.
I don’t have information on the measures the government wants to undertake to respond and prevent a large catastrophe. It is encouraging that the Mali Government launched an international appeal for help. The question is whether this appeal will be heard and how that assistance will be managed for the benefit of the local communities.
I also have learned that there is more to the story than just less rainfall. More and more dams are being constructed for seemingly good reasons, but are at the same time connected to negative impacts for people and nature. Even without any change in the climate, the Inner Niger Delta will show a declining flood extent, due to new dams and extended irrigation schemes upstream in the Upper Niger Basin.
Wetlands International works together with the government to improve the planning of infrastructure and increase the people's say in local water decisions. The organisation for instance developed an innovative tool for flood prediction in the Delta which enables farmers, fisherman and herders to adjust to the different flooding patterns. Wetlands International also calls for the government to use this tool to adjust their irrigation schemes.
I also witness the many community based projects the organisations has started in the Delta to restore degraded forests and wetlands and to empower communities to successfully manage these restored ecosystems. This will have a positive impact on cattle grazing and fisheries; two of the most important income generating activities in the delta. Like the people of Mali, I will be watching and waiting to see the response. Through my videos I will keep you involved and you can ask me questions too. Follow me on What if We Change and on Facebook.