Niger River Basin (West and Central Africa)
The Niger River Basin, home to approximately 100 million people, is a
vital, complex asset for West and Central Africa. It is the continent’s third
longest river (4,200 kilometers), traversing nine countries—Benin, Burkina
Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria.
The Niger River embodies the livelihoods and geopolitics of the nations it
crosses. This river is not simply water, but is also an origin of identity, a
route for migration and commerce, a source of potential conflict, and a
catalyst for cooperation.
The countries can be clustered as “water resources producers”—Guinea, Cameroon, and to a lesser extent Benin; or “water resources consumers”—Mali and Niger. Nigeria is both a producer and a consumer. Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Chad are part of the Basin but are minimally affected by the use and management of the river’s water resources.
The Niger River is Africa’s third longest river (4,200 kilometers) and encompasses six hydrographic regions, each of which is distinguished by unique topographic and drainage characteristics. The Upper Niger River Basin headwaters are in the Fouta Djallon Massif, Guinea. From there the river flows northeast, traversing the Inland Delta, a vast spreading floodplain (averaging 50,000 square kilometers) that dissipates an appreciable portion of its potential hydraulics through absorption and evaporation. When it reaches the fringes of the Sahara Desert, the Niger River turns back by forming a great bend and flowing south and east as the Middle Niger River section, then as the Lower Niger, to the Niger Delta at the Gulf of Guinea, which it reaches after being joined by its largest tributary, the Benue River. The diverse geographic and climatic characteristics of the Niger River Basin play an important role in water resources availability, which in turn affects a range of water resources–related activities.
The Niger River water system is one of the most impressive examples of the influence of topography and climate on the flow conditions of a water system. Such a large basin area cannot be expected to have uniform climatic and rain patterns, and the Niger River traverses a wide range of ecosystem zones in West Africa. Acombination of human population growth, unsustained resource use and development, and desertification threatens the Niger River’s ability to supply crucially needed natural resources to the people of the Basin. The geology and soils of the Basin also influence groundwater availability. Significant rainwater deficits and the variable duration of the rainy season result in hydrological deficits that are not necessarily reflected in a direct response of the base flow.