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Communities in Mali’s Inner Niger Delta Facing Extreme Drought


Mopti, Mali – This coming week, international parties meet in Durban, South Africa to address the world’s changing climate. As they meet, communities in Mali’s Inner Niger Delta are facing an emerging drought. West Africa’s Niger River should be at its peak, delivering water to the 1.4 million inhabitants of Mali’s Inner Niger Delta, amongst others. However, this year’s satellite images show a notably low flooding level similar to 1984 when insufficient rainfall and flooding resulted in a humanitarian and environmental crisis.

A Food-security disaster

Ali Kansaye, a farmer and Imam of Sanoussi Village explained that though he had sown nearly 12 bags of rice when the rains started in August, barely any of the rice has grown. 

“I have lost my 12 bags of seed, I will get nothing from it”

, Mr. Kansaye lamented.

 The story is the same everywhere. Acres of ploughed land sit bare with only the neatly ploughed rows as proof of their effort.  Local fishermen too are crying foul as the low flooding has not produced much fish.  Similarly, hardly enough pasture is available to the pastoralists wondering how they will feed the estimated 5 million livestock in the coming months.


Farmers at the Sannoussi village tell a sad tale of farms that received insufficient water and thus no rice harvest to sustain their families.

Changing Rainfall Patterns, Climate Change and Dams

The rains came late and stopped early.  Satellite images show that this year’s flooded area in is 40% less than in 2010.  In addition, the Red Cross Climate Center’s data indicates a drastic reduction in rainfall this year. The distribution of rain in the season has been poor – with a late onset, followed by long dry spells, and an early end to the rains. Forecasts are similarly dismal in southern Mauritania, Senegal, eastern Niger and other regions of the Niger Delta. Information is still coming in and it is too early to assess the magnitude of the problem. However, low rainfall is unlikely to be the only cause. The impact of low rainfall is intensified by increased water uptake upstream.

 Wetlands International’s study on the combined impact of climate change and dams has documented that as much as 30% of the Niger River’s water flow goes to hydro-electricity and agricultural irrigation.  Continued prioritization of large-scale infrastructure construction, such as the Fomi dam, over the livelihoods of inner Niger Delta’s inhabitants is likely to exacerbate the current situation.

The Social Impact

Prices of rice in local towns such as Mopti have doubled; a likely result of inadequate harvests. Already, life in this arid region is changing as young people are forced to leave their homes and travel far away in search of other sources of income.  Many of them end up harvesting sugar cane or rice in the large-scale irrigated farms or fishing in the Selingue dams.  Others will cross country borders.

M. Diarra Touré, director of ODI-Sahel a national NGO, recently explained how they could not complete an income assessment project as majority of the able male population had left the villages to fend for their families.

 Waterbird Bio-diversity Threatened

The Inner Niger Delta is a winter destination for millions of European water birds like the purple heron and ruff. Rising food prices are putting water-birds under threat as communities turn to bird hunting for their nutrition.

 Wetland’s International’s Mali Director Elhadj Bakary Kone has noted “a drastic increase in the number of vulnerable species available for sale at the local markets in Mopti, central Mali.”  Dr. Elhadj Kone explains that in a normal year, water-bird hunting only starts after the food from the harvest begins to run out in early January.

 Today’s situation is similar to the weak flood of 1998-1999 where over 62,500 water-birds were hunted and sold at local markets. Last year only about 8,100 water-birds were sold in Mopti’s markets.

 Urgent Steps Needed

Wetlands International and CARE request the upstream water management boards, to avert a humanitarian crisis for downstream inhabitants, by ensuring the release of the minimum water flow required for the Delta (40 m³/sec).

 It is imperative that both the local government and international organizations work closely to build the communities’ resilience toward the coming dry spell. In the coming weeks, Wetlands International will be working with local partners to investigate the causes and extent of the drought and liaising with local authorities to implement urgent mitigation measures.

 About the Inner Niger Delta

The Inner Niger Delta has one rainy season between July and November; this year it started towards the end of August and ended at the start of October.  When it rains, the River Niger’s banks burst and flood the surrounding area of up to 30,000km2; an area the size of Belgium. The floods are essential for the productivity of rice farming, fishing and grazing and hence the livelihoods of around 1.4 million people.

 Wetlands International and CARE work with local communities in the Niger Delta on a range of environmental, climate, development and humanitarian initiatives. Years of considerable research into the linkages between river flows, environmental condition, food security and human well-being are now contributing to the ‘Inner Niger Delta’s sustainable development plan’, currently under review.

 Additional Resources:

·        Video Testimonials from Malian Villagers 

·        Photographs of Malian Rice farmers   caption 1  -  caption 2

For more information, please contact:

Ruthpearl Ng'ang'a

Communications and campaign Officer

Wetlands International Africa


Tel. +221 33 869 16 81

 Alex Kaat

Communications Manager

Wetlands International (Headquarters)

Tel. +31 (0)318 660 912

Mobile +31 (6) 5060 1917

Alex.kaat @


Communications and Media Coordinator

Wetlands International Africa

Phone: +221 33 869 16 81


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