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WEST AFRICA: Shared River Basins, Common Problems

Ousseini Issa

NIAMEY, Jul 5 2007 (IPS) - Nigeria and Niger, in West Africa, are neighbouring states. But the two countries have more than a border in common; they are also share a number of river basins that are under threat, and the responsibility for conserving them.

“The degradation of land in the trans-frontier river basins of Niger and Nigeria has advanced to the point that it is undermining local and regional economies, and increasing the vulnerability of rural communities,” Souley Aboubacar, Nigerien co-ordinator of the joint programme, told IPS.

Mallam Tchiari Assouman is living proof of this.

Originally from Douchi, a northern Nigerian village bordering on Niger, he once farmed 1.5 hectares – but saw his land become steadily less productive: “The field that I farmed at Douchi no longer brings me much. It was hard to get four sacks of 100 kilogrammes of millet from it during my last season, while previously I got up to 15 sacks.”

As a result, he had to immigrate to Niamey, the capital of Niger, where he now sells peppers to survive.

The situation was scarcely better for Madou Boukary, from Diffa in southern Niger. “What is the good of continuing to farm land that does not even bring me five sheaves of millet at the harvest?” he asks.

Nonetheless, Boukary has elected to remain in Diffa – farming peppers rather than millet in an effort to make a better living.

Now, an initiative is underway to conserve four river basins – Komadougou Yobé, Tagwaï-El Fadama, Gada-Goulbi, and Maggia-Lamido – the ‘Ecosystems Integrated Management Project’ (Projet de gestion intégrée des ecosystems, PGIE).

The PGIE is intended to restore the ecosystems of the four basins and slow desertification, rehabilitating 48,000 hectares of degraded land and reducing rates of sedimentation by about 35 percent – notes documentation for the project.

“These regions overflowed with a mosaic of ecosystems of great biodiversity, (and) plants…about 400 species adapted to the Sahelian environment,” says Emmanuel Oladipo, PGIE regional co-ordinator.

With the shortage of arable land and grazing areas in trans-frontier regions, the project also aims to help communities make sustainable use of natural resources and share these equitably.

In addition, it hopes to raise household revenues by 10 percent.

This comes as the border situation has led to a worsening of poverty amongst people in the river basins, leading to tensions over use of the few remaining natural resources, says Seidou Amadou, principal technical counselor of the PGIE.

Communities will be directly involved in implementing the project through attending to degraded land, and helping to conserve biodiversity, according to Oladipo: “From now until the end of the project, in 2013, we also expect at least 50 percent of communities to master good practices for management of natural resources.”

The project is being carried out in 24 pilot villages in the two countries, and will affect over 12 million people, mainly crop and stock farmers.

The basins cover a surface area of approximately 100,000 square kilometres and traverse the states of Borno, Yobé, Gigawa, Katsina and Sokoto in Nigeria – and the regions of Tahoua, Diffa, Zinder and Maradi, in Niger.

Aboubacar puts the cost of the project at 29 million dollars. It is jointly financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and Niger and Nigeria.

The donor-supported GEF assists developing nations to finance projects for environmental protection.

Implementation for the project got underway in recent weeks.

In the words of Aboubacar, the initiative “translates the political will of the authorities of the two countries to guarantee a fair sharing and a better management of natural resources in the four communal river basins.”

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