The Niger River Basin in arid West and Central Africa, home to more than 130 million people across nine countries, is in a buzz of development activity. Three large reservoirs are moving from the drawing board towards construction in this largely arid and hyper-arid basin; blueprints for thousands of hectares of irrigation projects are receiving final touches; and environmental protection measures and improved monitoring systems are being designed. Both the African Development Bank and the World Bank seek to pledge substantial resources to develop the basin’s natural resources in support of the Shared Vision of the Niger Basin, to “[make] the Niger Basin a common space for sustainable development through integrated management of water resources and associated ecosystems, for the improvement of living conditions and prosperity of the populations by 2025”.
More than 300 projects geared toward achieving this Vision form part of the Operational Plan 2016- 2024 of the Niger Basin Authority (NBA), the inter-governmental custodian of the river. Projects cover a wide range of investments: infrastructure development, such as large dams; irrigation equipment and navigation routes for socioeconomic development; the preservation of the basin’s ecosystems, such as the Inner Niger Delta; and interventions geared toward strengthening the governance and management of the shared natural resources in the basin. However, without careful assessment of these projects and their interlinkages, the scarce and fragile water, land and ecosystem resources could suffer irreversible damage. This is particularly sensitive given that these resources represent the true lifeblood of some of the poorest and least water-secure countries in Africa.
Can we increase resource use efficiency by drawing on cross-sectoral synergies embedded in the NBA’s operational plan while reducing potentially adverse impacts from some projects on others?
If done right, this approach could reduce the threat of adverse impacts on the basin’s shared water and land resources and save millions of dollars of investment funds while jointly meeting various Vision objectives. To address this issue, the Federal Republic of Germany together with the European Union through GIZ is supporting an effort to integrate the Water-Energy-Food-Ecosystems Nexus into the operational plan of the NBA. Following a consultation workshop with NBA staff in May 2018, a regional workshop with the participation of more than 50 government and civil society representatives of the nine basin countries took place on June 19-20 at the NBA headquarters in Niamey, Niger.
Participants identified measures to address the key risks affecting the Niger Basin, such as drought, water shortages and insecurity, and sedimentation using the ROAD framework. They then identified and ranked the linkages of all NBA operational plan activities as either indivisible (+3) strongly supporting (+2), supporting (+1), neutral (0), constraining (-1), highly constraining (-2) or cancelling (-3) for water security, food security, energy security as well as environmental sustainability using the interlinkage framework developed by ICSU.
Describing one of the projects, Ms. Rachael C. Njoku from the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, Nigeria, noted that “Developing tools for the modeling of hydrological forecasts is very important, as it helps to prevent adverse impacts from flooding. Thus we should rank it as +2 for food security, + 1 for energy security, +3 for the environment and it is also positive for water security.” The rehabilitation of small irrigation infrastructure in Mali’s Gao region risks having some negative impacts for energy security, as it will use electricity or other energy sources, Mr. Richard Sagno of the National Coordination Unit of Users of the Niger Basin in Mali suggested. “The activity might also constrain achieving environmental sustainability. Therefore a ranking of -1 is needed,” he said, indicating that both energy and environmental sustainability might be constrained through this project. The Malian representatives present quickly proceeded to the identification of mitigation measures for the perceived negative impacts identified.
The team from Guinea ranked a water storage for joint irrigation and fish culture program as positive for food security, water security and for the environment (+2). As Dr. Abdoulaye Diallo, Advisor to the Minister of Agriculture, explained, “it generates an important ecosystem for aquatic species, provides an important source of food and even supports the augmentation of water resources”.
Similarly, the delegation from Cote d’Ivoire ranked a solar market garden project with a +2 impact for food and energy security and environmental sustainability (because of the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to alternative fuel sources), but noted a -1 for water security. The delegation identified measures to address the potentially adverse impact on water security, including strengthening regulations on water abstractions, training users on efficient irrigation practices, and supporting consultation between different water user groups.
The delegation from Burkina Faso debated how to classify the rehabilitation of the Mani barrage, concluding that support for various Nexus goals should depend on how the rehabilitation is implemented. If the project supports multiple purposes, such as both irrigation and water supply, then a ranking of +2 could be provided for both objectives. But if irrigation is favored to the detriment of water supply and if large amounts of energy are needed for this infrastructure project, then the rehabilitation would need to be ranked as constraining water and energy security, and mitigation measures would have to be identified.
In a final step, country representatives identified measures that could be used to reduce potentially adverse impacts on one or more Nexus sectors and discussed key means for implementation of cross- sectoral projects—including cross-sectoral capacity, means of financing, policies and institutions, gender and integrity.
As Mr. Abdou Ramani Traore, Monitoring and Evaluation Expert and Nexus focal point at the NBA observed, “the majority of the projects in the Operational Plan contribute to multiple objectives, i.e. water, energy and food security and environmental sustainability, but this is not always explicit. Making these linkages explicit supports cross-sectoral implementation as well as monitoring of impacts on all linked sectors”.
“While sometimes being perceived as requiring high up-front negotiation costs, the Nexus approach", adds Mr. Luca Ferrini, GIZ manager of the Nexus program at the NBA, “can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the investments and reduce cross-sectoral political resistance for implementation. Making the Operational Plan ‘Nexus-proof’ means also making it more attractive to funding parties“. Can the countries sharing the Niger Basin maximize its cross-sectoral strengths to provide secure access to water, food and energy while preserving the environment? A Nexus approach can help strengthen positive impacts and reduce cross-sectoral constraints of single-sector solutions and help identify multisector solutions, increasing the efficiency of the use of natural resources and supporting the implementation and monitoring of (multipurpose) investments.
If this can be achieved, the River of Rivers – the literal meaning of the Niger – will continue to play its role for water, food and energy security and environmental sustainability for generations to come.
For more coverage of the event, see this LINK.
About the Author
Claudia Ringler, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and consultant to the Nexus Program at the Niger Basin Authority