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Niger River Basin

Page history last edited by Andrew Ogilvie 14 years, 10 months ago


 Visit the Niger basin website 


The Niger River, with a total length of about 4,100 km, is the third-longest river in Africa (after the Nile and the Congo/Zaire Rivers). Its basin covers 2,170,500 km² and lies over ten riparian countries, namely Nigeria (25.7% of the total basin area), Mali (25.5%), Niger (24.8%), Algeria (8.5%), Guinea where the sources are located (4.3%), Cameroon (3.9%), Burkina Faso (3.4%), Benin (2.0%), Ivory Coast (1.0%) and Chad (0.9%) (FAO, 1997).  The “active part” of the basin covers 1,500,000 km² because there are almost no renewable water resources in Algeria and the northern parts of Mali and Niger. The Niger River Basin comprises four distinct sections: the Upper Niger, the Inner Delta, the Middle Niger and the Lower Niger.


The first two sections have an endoreic behaviour: whereas the total annual mean flow entering the inner delta is estimated at 46 km3, the mean annual flow is only 33 km3 at Taoussa, immediately after the inner delta, which can reach 30,000 km² in flood season. Within the Middle Niger, the river loop receives 6 tributaries from Benin and Burkina Faso. The mean annual flow entering the Lower Niger is 36 km3, but with the contribution of its main tributaries (above all the Benoue River), the mean annual flow entering the sea at the mouth is 180 km3. 


The arid extreme north of the basin receives less than 50 mm of rainfall per year, all of it exclusively during one rain-season, whereas the humid southern parts of the basin, in Guinea and Nigeria, receive more than 2,000 mm (ABN, 2005).


Given its large spatial spread, it is unsurprising that contrasting socio-economical situations exist in the Niger River Basin. The population of the Niger River Basin was estimated in 2001 at about 106 million persons and the average population density is 50 inhabitants/km². However, along the River course (where major cities are located: Kankan in Guinea, Bamako, Mopti, Segou and Gao in Mali, Niamey in Niger, Garoua in Cameroon and numerous cities in Nigeria) the population density often reaches values higher than 200 inhabitants/km². On the other hand, there are large un-populated zones at the North of the basin [BARRY B. et al., 2003]. The population is three-quarters rural, though 87 to 97 percent of the Niger basin population of Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali and Guinea are rural, around 75 percent in Nigeria and Chad, and from 30 to 60 percent in Benin, Niger, Cameroon and Algeria (UNDP, 2003).


Agriculture represents a large part of the Niger River Basin GDP: crop production (25 to 35 percent of GDP), livestock (10 to 15 percent) and fishery (1 to 4 percent) (ABN, 2005). The main agricultural productions (in monetary value) are yams and cassava (especially in Nigeria and Benin), cattle (Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso), rice and groundnuts (Guinea), millet (Niger), plantains (Cameroon) and cocoa beans (Ivory Coast) (FAO, 2005).  According to the UNDP poverty definition, the Niger Riparian countries are (all but Algeria) among the 30 poorest of the world. Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger are four of the poorest five with Niger being the last among the 177 UNDP-sampled countries with a HDI of less than 0.3 (UNDP, 2005). Moreover, more than 70 percent of the people in the riparian countries are below the poverty line (less than 2 USD per day) (BARRY B. et al., 2003).


Poverty in this part of Africa is often a matter of institutions, governance and infrastructures. However, the biophysical environment and water availability are also important. There is a strong correlation between several human development variables and climate in West African countries (POVERTYMAP, 2006). Such a relationship, which also applies within the Niger basin, involves underlying causal links between water and poverty. The high variability in agricultural production, mainly rain-fed, must be taken into account when considering the vulnerability of the populations.   The Niger River Basin is characterized by the advanced degradation of the environment caused by human pressure on natural resources and climatic changes (mean rainfall over most of the Sahel has dropped by about 150 mm since 1970). Severe low flows, colonization of the rivers by aquatic plants, pollution of various origins (domestic, industrial, agricultural, handicrafts, and mining) and siltation of the watercourse beds are among the environmental problems increasingly common in the basin.  Water withdrawal is mainly allocated to agricultural uses in the Niger riparian countries. According to NBA (2005), these agricultural uses represent from 36 to 54 percent of the PIB of each Niger basin riparian country. It is thus unsurprising to find the water resource preservation and multi-uses water infrastructures multiplication as priorities for the basin development (NBA, 2005). 


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