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Addressing the Challenge of Water Insecurity in the Sahel

Considering the region’s dependence on groundwater and climate change increasing both precipitation and drought, regional collaboration, including the sharing of water management best practices and technical assistance are needed to build resiliency

The Sahel region uses more groundwater than is replenished. Water distribution varies dramatically between countries. Some, such as Nigeria, have an abundance of water resources, while others, such as Burkina Faso, have very little. More than 40 per cent of the water supply in Mali and Chad and 90 per cent in Mauritania and Niger comes from outside each country’s boundaries. The dependency of the region on transboundary water river systems and the fact that water use, and investments affect downstream countries create a need for an integrated regional water resource management system. The need for collaboration on water management and efficiency is heightened by climate change, demographic growth and the expansion of agriculture, which together have the greatest impact on the rising regional water stress. Water availability per capita therefore is likely to decline by 2080, putting additional pressure on the region and calling for enhanced water management on a regional level.

Given that climate change will likely increase precipitation, at least in the mid-Sahel, causing rains to increase in intensity and variability, increases the need for collaboration on water use, particularly on water storage and water retention in the soil. The Sahel shows potential for an enhanced way to harvest water from rainfall, which can be used for irrigation. The region therefore needs an adapted reservoir and collection system, that notably takes into consideration the high rate of evapotranspiration and lessens the loss of water when stored.

There is ample opportunity to improve an integrated regional water management system in the Sahel that can better manage water use and distribution so that future generations will have adequate water supply. This system must be based on constant development and sharing of knowledge on water governance and on the health and sustainability of groundwater. This effort needs to combine top-level inter-state collaboration on regional agreements with the strengthening of local community water management. The region could also take advantage of Saharan underground resources, which call for cooperation between states and can potentially address the demand in Sahelian countries.

Organisations such as the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Cooperation in International Waters in Africa program (CIWA), funded by the World Bank Sahel Groundwater Initiative, are providing a range of technical assistance and management capacity to the Sahel region. This includes support for small-scale agricultural irrigation that improves the water retention capacity of soil and more efficient irrigation systems. The restoration of land and the creation of both small-scale and large-scale water harvesting and storage systems requires significant investment going forward.

Date - 12 May - 2023

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