Mali faces challenges in meeting water needs

“Our country has an enormous potential when it comes to water resources. If we develop these resources properly, they should allow us to try and get beyond food self-sufficiency,” says Mali’s President, Amadou Toumani Toure.

He was speaking at an international water conference that took place in the capital, Bamako, towards the end of last month. But despite this optimism, the difficulties of meeting Mali’s water needs should not be underestimated.

Two of the biggest rivers in West Africa run through the country: the Niger, for a distance of 1 780km, and the Senegal, for 700km.

Ahmed Semega, the Minister of Mines, Energy, and Water, describes the Niger as the “umbilical cord which links seven of our administrative regions. The lives of several million of our countrymen depend on it.”

But, he adds: “This precious engine of economic, social and cultural development is today in danger of dying.”

Pollution is to blame.

According to Semega, much of Bamako’s daily production of 2 000 cubic metres of dirty water flows back into the Niger.

“The flora, fauna and ecosystem are all subjected to this harsh pollution,” he said at the conference.

This has prompted conservation groups like the Bamako-based Karamba Toure Association to call for more stringent controls on the factories responsible for this situation — particularly those that release chemical wastes into the environment. The group believes a policy of “you pollute, you pay” should be instituted.

In those instances where clean water is available, getting hold of it can be a chore.

“Everyone knows that it is the harsh burden of women to go fetch water daily in rural areas,” says Traore Oumou Toure, executive secretary of a committee that coordinates the activities of women’s groups and NGOs in Mali. This situation seriously endangers any type of sustainable development, she adds.

Malick Maiga, who is in charge of Mali’s water supply, says 62% of people in the country have access to sufficient water at present.

But, says Toumani Toure, “Although progress has been made, there still remains much to do to entirely satisfy potable water needs.”

“There are still 2 226 villages, parts of villages and rural areas which don’t have modern water access points.”

A further 3 400 villages require more water points than they have at present. Salinity and nitrogen compounds found in the north-east and west of Mali have also presented a challenge to authorities, as these chemicals make some of the water there unfit for human consumption.

All of this has prompted Toumani Toure to press for the speedy adoption of a national plan that will see 10 000 new water points being established within a decade.

“Our access plan to potable water is based on the premise that we can surpass the goals set by the Millennium Development Summit to meet half of humanity’s needs in potable water by the year 2015,” says the head of state.

This summit, held at the United Nations in September 2000, established eight goals for improving the lives of people living in developing countries. Included in these Millennium Development Goals is the target of halving the number of people without access to safe drinking water by 2015.

The goals also aim to reduce by half the number of people living below the poverty line of $1 a day. Mali has 10-million inhabitants, 65% of whom fall under this threshold.

The international water conference, the first of its type to be held in Mali, ended on February 26. The six-day meeting included a variety of exhibitions and debates that allowed water experts and members of the public to exchange views on water management in Mali.

Certain issues raised at the meeting may get a second hearing at another conference that will reportedly take place in April. The Paris meeting, said to have been initiated by French President Jacques Chirac, will be attended by heads of state from countries that share the Niger river basin. Delegates will discuss how the ills that currently affect the river can be dealt with. — IPS

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