African summit to consider Niger River rescue plan

A 20-year programme involving a 5.5 billion-euro investment to save the Niger River will be discussed at a west African states summit. The Niger's extinction would be a major threat to 110 million people.


A summit of nine west African states convenes here Wednesday to consider a proposed 20-year, 5.5 billion euro (8.6 billion dollar) programme to rescue the Niger River from extinction and guarantee the future of 110 million people.

The meeting in Niamey, capital of Niger, was expected to finalise a far-reaching investment plan to save the Niger from drying up.

Presidents of countries linked in the Niger Basin Authority (ABN) were also set to give the green light to an ABN Water Charter regulating management of basin resources.

The programme will consist of reafforesting, rehabilitating plains and removing silt from the 4,200 kilometre (2,600 mile) long Niger snaking through Guinea, Mali, Niger and Nigeria.

The existence of Africa's third largest river after the Nile and Congo is seriously threatened by drought and silting up drastically reducing its flow.

So far only 19 percent of the funds required have been found and the organisers hope to raise the rest at a donors' session in two months, said Seyni Seydou, in charge of the programme to stop the river silting up.

The Bank of African Development has became a main partner of ABN, providing 37 million euros to help finance the programme to stop silting.

ABN has been concerned for three decades about the slow death of the river whose basin covers an area of 2.1 million square kilometres (800,000 square miles), a third of the area of all west Africa.

A drop in rainfall, silting, pressures of population growth, industrial waste and unsuitable production techniques have all contributed to threatening the river's existence, says ABN.

Navigation and the fish population have suffered because of the sluggish flow and the presence of destructive aquatic vegetation.

ABN says these problems together with extreme regional poverty and limited financial resources means that only some 20 percent of the agricultural potential of the region is currently being exploited. More than 110 million people live in the region of the Niger basin.

Niger, Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso, countries irrigated by the river and its tributaries, continue to face food crises and local conflicts at various points along the river.

Tassiou Aminou, Niger's minister for hydraulic engineering, does not however believe the Niger basin's fate has been sealed. He believes it could yet become a breadbasket of Africa with sufficient investment.

But ABN fears the worst in coming years: with a massive influx of environmental refugees, the region could suffer from over-exploitation of resources.

Unless the trend is stopped the population will double by 2025 with a three percent annual growth rate, ABN specialists warn.

ABN was set up in 1980 but lack of funds has rendered it helpless in the face of the challenge, and isolated action by individual states has proved insufficient to save the river so far.

The Niamey summit is being attended by Burkina Faso, Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger State and Nigeria.

The Niger rises in Guinea and continues through Mali, Niger, on the border with Benin and then through Nigeria, discharging through the Niger Delta into the Gulf of Guinea.

At a 2004 Paris summit on the initiative of France's then president Jacques Chirac the ABN heads of state created a concept to harmonise and coordinate policy on developing the Niger basin.

"Africa has lost a lot," Niger's President Mamadou Tandja warned at the time: "But if it loses its water there will be no more Africa.

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