The Sahel is a semi-arid zone, particularly vulnerable to climate change because of its geographical position with a dry season extending over most of the year. A short rainy season with low and irregular rainfall (between 100 and 1000 mm/year) extends over a period generally not exceeding three months. With a rapidly growing population, currently estimated at more than 150 million inhabitants, whose revenues depend mainly on agriculture and livestock, the Sahelian countries constantly face food insecurity, which threatens their economy and their development. Water resources, which could constitute the basis of improved security, are often to be found in trans-boundary conditions.
Faced with these problems, different basin organizations have emerged. Basin organizations exist around the world and aim to peacefully manage transboundary (water) resources. In this article, we study three basin organizations: the Senegal River Basin Development Authority (OMVS by its French acronym), the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) and the Niger Basin Authority (NBA).
A Nexus approach implies considering all the natural resources available for food, energy and water security, and holistically planning their use to meet people’s needs on the one hand, and to preserve the environment on the other. The introduction and application of the Nexus approach helps avoid undesirable impacts on sectors and manage possible conflicts among sectors and actors, promoting efficiency improvements in the use of natural resources to sustain human livelihood, while preserving ecosystems.
A Nexus project is underway at the Niger Basin Authority (NBA), where the NBA and its Member States are strengthening the presence of the Nexus approach in basin management. This implies a holistic perspective of the available resources, as well as the implementation of cross-sectoral policies and projects. But, the mandate of an organisation being the basis for all of its activities, we are interested in reviewing the mandate of these basin organisations in the Sahel to see to what extent intersectoral issues are considered to be their competence.
Therefore, in this exercise, we refer to the explicit mention of the different sectors in the official mission statements of each basin organisation, as written in their texts. Our goal is not necessarily to be exhaustive, but rather to stimulate reflection on the degree to which multiple sectors are considered in the mission statements, and on the role of basin organisations in the application and implementation of the Nexus.
The Senegal River Basin Development Authority
The Senegal River Basin Development Authority (OMVS by its French acronym), consists of four Member States, namely: Mali, Guinea, Mauritania and Senegal, where its headquarters are located. This intergovernmental organization was created by convention in March 1972 to manage the Senegal River’s watershed (289,000 km2). In the following years, the OMVS adapted the river to make it navigable and built the Diama and Manantali dams.
The OMVS works on five axes: drinking water supply, irrigated agriculture, energy, transport and navigation. Its specific missions are to: (a) Achieve food self-sufficiency for the population of the basin and the sub-region; (b) secure and improve the population’s incomes; (c) preserve the balance of the basin’s ecosystems; (d) Reduce the vulnerability of the member states’ economies to climate hazards and external factors; (e) Accelerate the economic development of the member states. In 2003 the organization re-defined its missions to include methodological innovation, human resource development, the modernization of management tools and the pursuit of sustainable development with a tripartite perspective: economic growth, social progress and environmental preservation (1).
The Lake Chad Basin Commission
The Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC), established in May 1964, now includes six countries: Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria, Central Africa, Libya and Chad, where its headquarters are located. Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo participate as observers.
The mandate of the Commission is to sustainably and equitably manage Lake Chad and other shared water resources of the Lake Chad Basin, to preserve the ecosystems of the Lake Chad Conventional Basin, and to promote regional integration, peace and security across the Basin. Since 2008, it has adopted a Strategic Action Plan, with a vision to 2025, focusing on the conservation of freshwater resources, the responsibility of national and regional governments and an equitable access to the basin's resources for each country (2). In its work, the organization emphasizes regional integration and the preservation of peace and cross-border security.
The Niger Basin Authority
Originally called ‘Niger River Commission’ upon its creation in 1964, the Niger Basin Authority (NBA), established in November 1980 with headquarters in Niamey, is composed of nine countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Chad).
The NBA is globally responsible for promoting cooperation between its member countries and for ensuring integrated basin development in its areas of intervention. Its mission is to promote cooperation between member countries and to ensure integrated development of the basin in all areas, through the development of its resources, particularly in terms of energy, water, agriculture, breeding, fishing, fish farming, forestry, logging, transport, communications and industry. Since 1987, the NBA has five major objectives: (a) to harmonize and coordinate national water resource development policies; (b) plan the development of the basin by creating an integrated development plan; (c) design, build, operate and maintain infrastructure and joint projects; (d) ensure the control and regulation of all forms of navigation on the river, its tributaries and sub-tributaries, in accordance with the "Niamey Act", and (e) participate in the formulation of requests for assistance and the mobilization of financing for studies and other necessary works for the development of the basin's resources (3).
A multisectoral (nexus) approach for sustainable management of resources
These three basin organizations all share common missions: the safeguarding of ecosystems and, of course, the management of trans-boundary water resources. However, they differ in their particular choice of multi-sectoral missions, which address challenges specific to each basin and therefore deal with different sectors of the Nexus. For instance, the OMVS highlights the economic dimensions with missions to secure and improve the income of the population, reduce the vulnerability of economies and accelerate the economic development of its Member States; the LCBC promotes regional integration, peace and security, and the NBA focuses on policy issues, infrastructure and joint projects, also integrating transport, energy and communication. The following table summarizes and compares the missions per sector of the three institutions.
These three basin organizations already have strong elements hinting towards a Nexus approach, as they work in fact with a multi-sectoral perspective. Although at present only the NBA explicitly mentions all three Nexus axes (water, energy and food security), at least two of them are present in both the other organizations, additionally incorporating other themes, particularly those of security and ecosystems preservation (see table above).
The water sector is covered by all three organizations. OMVS and LCBC put forth concepts of ‘rational’ or ‘sustainable’ management, while the NBA’s texts speak of "development" of hydraulic resources. The food sector is touched upon by the OMVS and the NBA, although with different perspectives: on the one hand, the OMVS speaks of "achieving food self-sufficiency", while the NBA targets the valorisation of resources in agriculture, breeding, fishing and fish farming. As for energy, although projects related to hydro generation are also part of the work at OMVS, only the NBA explicitly mentions this sector in its mission statement.
Apart from the Water-Energy-Food Security Nexus axes, these organizations work with other sectors or axes. Ecosystem preservation, for example, is part of the mission statements of OMVS and LCBC, while the NBA makes no explicit reference to it. Economic development is on the mission statements of OMVS and NBA, but the OMVS is the only one to detail objectives such as reducing economic vulnerability, or improving people’s incomes. The NBA expresses such a concern in a more general manner: "ensuring integrated development". The creation or execution of joint or coordinated projects is also part of the missions of two organizations (the OMVS and the NBA), but is absent in the case of the LCBC.
Finally, some axes or domains are only present in one organization: security, which is one of the priorities of the LCBC, and the harmonization of policies, as well as navigation and communications, which are prioritized by the NBA only (although navigation is in the OMVS's line of work, the mission statement makes no explicit mention of it).
The LCBC’s peace and security mission is a particularly important unicum worthy of analysis. Since the Lake Chad region has been at the centre of a difficult security situation in recent years, member states have chosen to give the LCBC a security mandate that is not found in other river basin organizations around the world. The challenge posed by the Boko Haram group and the geopolitical dynamics related to it are a transboundary issue. It is therefore to the LCBC, a transboundary organization already in place since decades, that Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad have turned to find a joint solution. At a time when the term hydro-diplomacy is gaining increasing attention as an instrument of peace, the LCBC’s is a crucial experience for the rest of the Sahel and beyond.
The Sahel is a region characterized by the specificity of the multisectoral challenges to the management of natural resources. The article proposed to analyse how different sectors have been integrated in the mission statements of three basin organizations in the region: the OMVS, the LCBC and the NBA. The aim is to stimulate a multi-sectorial Nexus reflection, aimed at a coordinated management of natural resources that is adapted to the challenges and opportunities of the region.
The mission statements of the three basin organizations touch on different sectors and all work with a multi-sectoral perspective. Water is the one area explicitly addressed by all three agencies, while agriculture and food, ecosystem preservation, economy and development, and project planning or implementation are explicitly mentioned in the mission statements of two of the three basin organisations. The peace and security-related mission of the LCBC is worthy of a particular note. The terrain for a Nexus approach is fertile, just like in the most beautiful oases of the Sahel.
- OMVS. Historique | OMVS [Internet]. [accessed 2018 Dec 21]. Available from:
- La Commission du Bassin du Lac Tchad | La Commission du Bassin du Lac Tchad [Internet]. [accessed 2019 Jan 18]. Available from:
- Autorité du Bassin du Niger (ABN). ABN - Missions et Objectifs [Internet]. [accessed 2018 Dec 22]. Available from: http://www.abn.ne/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2%3Amissions-et-objectifs&catid=1%3Alabn&Itemid=1&lang=fr