The Senegal River is about 1800 km long with a basin area of 289.000 km2 and a mean annual runoff of 24 bil. m3.The population of the basin is about 16% of the total population in the three countries.
The basin has seen considerable migration of people in view of worsening drought and desertification. Annual rainfall varies from 800 to 200 mm over the basin, with high variability between wet and dry season and also from year to year.
Environmental threats include persistent drought, desert encroachment, loss of arable and pasture land, and pollution from industrial and domestic wastes. The potential of the basin include 375,000 ha for irrigation and 200MW for hydropower generation and navigation is 900 km.
To address the problems and to realize the potential of the basin, the Senegal River Development Organisation (OMVS) was established by the three of the four riparian states in 1972. The aims were to jointly promote inter-country co-operation, co-ordinate technical, economic studies and other activities related to the Senegal river development such as navigation, irrigation, hydropower generation, environmental protection and conservation, and regulate river flow for irrigation, navigation, flood control, power generation, domestic and industrial water supply and other purposes. The Secretariat is financed jointly by the three countries.
Also the loans for the two dams are being repaid on a formula based on the proportion of benefits of the project to the three countries. Presently power is being generated. It is being supplied to Mali and it is about to reach Mauritania and Senegal. The irrigation is in the hands of local communities who are organised and assisted with finance and other facilities to carry out their farming activities.
The declaration that a shared basin is an international one, and must be jointly managed by the riparian states as a common resource for their equitable benefit helps to create a common vision among the states, and encourages their co-operation and need to consult in managing the water resources for socio-economic development and the maintenance of environmental integrity anywhere in the basin.
If not all the riparian states are able to participate in the programme, it is expedient to start the process with those who are can with a view of eventually obtaining full participation.
The Convention establishing a river basin organisation needs to focus on integrated regional development of the riparian countries using the management of the common water resources. It is important when building infrastructure to be clear about the geographical area it is going to serve and who the beneficiaries will be.
The environmental issues should include the maintenance of the integrity of the aquatic ecosystems as well as specific environmental impacts from infrastructure. A river flow simulation model is useful for planning, and for maximising operations of facilities. It can also be used as a decision support tool as for the Permanent Water Commission.
The establishment of a credible regional planning and development programme early in the life of the organisation enables it to focus on implementation rather than spending too long carrying out studies. Commitment of Member States is easier to obtain when they are aware that their financial sacrifices will soon lead to physical development.
Projects will take time to become viable economically and financially, and Member States need to appreciate that they will be responsible in servicing debts which the organisation may owe.
The provision of knowledge, infrastructure, information, markets and finance are important for local people to succeed. The institutional arrangements to get water users like farmers involved should take account of these.
Importance of the case for IWRM
The case demonstrates how an institutional and legal infrastructure can be built in stages from the time of regulating the flow of a shared water resource to the time of managing it and making it available to various sectors in the riparian member states to the stage where water is used for farming, power generation, navigation, etc. and to meet ecosystems needs and combat negative impacts of development on the environment.
Photo credit: Lies Van Rompaey