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Reducing disaster risk by restoring wetlands in the Inner Niger Delta of Mali

The 1.4 million people who depend on the Inner Niger Delta in Mali suffer increasingly from low water levels in the Niger River, which flows downstream into the delta. We are working to address the growing upstream water diversions for irrigation and hydropower, and help downstream communities adapt to sustain their livelihoods.

Action Description:

Problem to be solved

From its start in Guinea-Conakry, until its end in the Niger Delta in Nigeria, the Niger River suffers from pollution, diversions and dams for irrigation and electricity generation. In addition to the trend of increasingly hot temperatures that are already being recorded, most climate scenarios predict less rain in the region in the future.

Wetlands act as sponges storing excess waters and slowly releasing them. A reduction in wetlands due to drought is making communities more vulnerable to flood events as excess waters are no longer absorbed by the natural environment.

This increasing water use and climactic change, combined with a growing population, has severe consequences for water flows and the size of the seasonally inundated areas of the Inner Niger Delta. 

The age-old livelihoods of fisher folk, farmers and cattle herdsmen are increasingly under stress. Reduced river flows for the Niger River impact the livelihoods of the delta's inhabitants, as the crop growing seasons shift or become shorter, and fish production and water availability suffer. Extreme low water levels during the flood season are expected to occur every four years, instead of the historic pattern of three times per century.

Where we work

The Inner Niger Delta in Mali is a seasonally inundated area of 30,000 km2. The wetlands are fed by the flows of the Niger River and its tributaries. The wetlands are home to millions of water birds, including millions migratory birds. 1.4 million people live in the area and depend on the annual floods for their agriculture, grazing lands and fisheries. Main ethnic groups in the region include the Fulani (cattle breeders), Bozo and Somono (both fisherfolk) and Bambara and Rimaibe (whom are farmers).

Aim of our work

Our aim is to make the people in the delta less vulnerable to the impacts of severe droughts and floods and decreased water availability. At the policy level, we aim for the wise use of the Niger River in which the impacts of proposed dams and irrigation schemes on people and the natural environment are fully taken into account.

Our approach

We reduce the risk of disasters by restoring the natural capacity of the land to provide goods and services. Key examples of our work are the planting of native trees and grasses to protect water supplies from advancing sand dunes. We are also implementing our Bio-rights approach: micro credits combined with environmental services that support sustainable economic development. Bio-rights engage communities to enhance the services provided by their natural environment, thereby reducing vulnerability to disaster.

At the science and policy levels, we study the combined impacts of dams and climate change and inform governments that work together in the Niger Basin Authority on the impact of dams on downstream areas.


Our engagement with local communities is raising awareness of the important role played by wetlands in reducing disaster risk.

Initial results of our Bio-rights work are also promising; a number of women who had no income at all, now earn 6 to 9 euro per month from vegetable gardens and have been engaged in the restoration of flood forests. Scaling up this approach will continue to reduce rural poverty and promote the restoration and conservation of wetland ecosystems and biodiversity.

Additional achievements will be highlighted as our work progresses.

Action Partners:


Red Cross Climate Centre

ODI (Integrated Development in the Sahel)
GRAT (Group of Research and Technology Applications)
AMPRODE / SAHEL (Malian Association for the Protection and Development of the Environment in the Sahel)