The Source, Annual Review 2020

Water allocation for hydropower and intensive irrigated agriculture from the river affects the Inner Niger Delta, which is just downstream

A dam would reduce the livelihood options for millions of people in the Inner Niger Delta.

potential yields… and reduce livelihood options for millions of people,” concludes Liersch.

caused famine and mass outmigration. The new modelling concludes that disaster years such as that suffered in 1984, the peak of the last drought, would occur not once every 50 years as at present, but once every ten years. This might worsen if the West-Sahelian climate becomes drier in the future due to climate change. The Inner Niger Delta is a complex hydrological and ecological system, whose productivity depends critically on the annual flood ”pulse” during the rainy season each October. Its huge fish output, which can be 130,000 tonnes in a good year, depends on flood dynamics that create spawning and nursing grounds. Similarly, the bourgou grasses on which the cattle depend require timely floodwater to germinate and grow. Stefan Liersch of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research noted in one Bamgire paper that “as a rule of thumb, the larger the inundated area the higher the productivity.” But if the dam is operated to maximise hydroelectricity production, then it will reduce peak discharges down the river by 40%, which the models suggest will reduce the area flooded by 24%. This would “severely jeopardise the delta’s ecosystem integrity, and thus compromise its

Declining productivity on the wetland would exacerbate the growing political instability in Mali, which suffered a military coup in August 2020. The region around the delta is already a cockpit of conflicts, with militant jihadists claiming to represent Fulani herders in the delta. And the research concludes that drying out the wetland would probably also stimulate a major outflow of migrants. Some fear this could add to migrant flows from North Africa towards Europe. Interviews with more than a thousand delta inhabitants about their livelihood strategies concluded that the livelihoods of the inhabitants are already on a knife-edge, and the predicted 24% loss of productivity from the delta would result in a similar increase in people in the delta considering migration, “especially among fishermen and arable farmers”. The prospects of the dam going ahead remained unclear at the end of 2020. Three years before, the government in Guinea had announced that Chinese backing was in place and construction was ready to begin. But since then,

Elephant grass, known locally as bourgou, feeds millions of livestock across West Africa.


Wetlands International Annual Review 2020

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