Managing Water and Health issues in Mali


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Managing Water and Health issues in Mali



Focus Areas

Geographic Scope




Background and Significance

Despite its Northern desert, Mali has a number of important water resources, including the Niger River and Senegal River, which both run through the country. However, these water resources are geographically dispersed and not always avilable when needed, geratly limiting their exploitation and economic development. Overall, only 0.2% of Mali's potential water resources is put into use. Though access to water is, on the whole, increasing, access to adequate quantities of quality water remains highly problematic in both rural and urban areas. Moreover, the water sector suffers from a lack of coherent national pricing policies and causing serious difficulties in collecting the amounts owed by consumers leading to a poor track record for attracting private investments. Increasing the knowledge base and technical expertise of water resources remains a further major challenge in Mali.

The disorderly development of housing settlements has also influenced the availability of water infrastructure in urban areas over the last two decades. This situation is further aggravated by the rapid growth of drinking water needs. The shortage of functioning infrastructure also continues to be highly problematic in rural areas. Additionally, mounting pollution combines with these factors to seriously impact the quantity and quality of water available to residents, dramatic affecting Malians’ health. Water-related diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea and guinea worm represent more than 80% of diseases in Mali.

However, Mali's main environmental challenge is the continual degradation of natural resources and the environment as a whole. Desertification and deforestation are two particularly menacing environmental problems for the country. Population growth, increasing desertification, soil degradation, intense firewood and charcoal production as well as a lack of a waste treatment system for the industrial and other sectors have seriously contributed to growth of environmental problems.

The Experience: Challenges and Solutions

Since the early 1990s, Mali has been managing its water resources according to the Water Resources Development Framework. This strategy focuses on decentralizing water and sanitation administrative bodies between the central government and local communities involving a multitude of government agencies in water resource management. At the national level, the water sector falls under the responsibility of the Ministry of Mining, Energy and Water, which operates under the structure of the National Water Directorate (DNH, Direction Nationale de l’Hydraulique). Sanitation is the responsibility of the DNH and the ministries of Environment and Health. At the local level, over 700 communal councils have been created to share the responsibility of water management and infrastructure maintenance. These communal councils are funded by national authorities and help to ensure that implemented water infrastructure and service costs are recoverable through fee collection.

Under this management structure, much water infrastructure work has been implemented to improve access to safe water. National studies indicate that the percentage of rural and urban populations with at least one point of access to water has risen from 55 percent in 1998 to about 84 percent in 2002, based on one modern point of access to water per 400 inhabitants. As these statistics indicate, a concerted effort has been made to provide drinking water to cities with populations of 10,000 or more inhabitants. However, the disorderly development of housing settlements has influenced the the availability of water infrastructure in urban areas.

After the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, legislative and regulatory measures were set up as guidelines for the protection of water resources in Mali. However, few of these guidelines have been implemented, and the country’s water resources are being increasingly polluted by industrial urban and agricultural pollution. In addition, enlarged irrigation schemes have been carried out to address the issue of food security.

However, there has been limited progress made in the development of strong assessment indicators, espcially in terms of the density of hydrologic and hydro-geologic stations and the quality of information available about the water sector and the quality of research and training institutions operating in the sector. Having said this, some knowledge has been accumulated and monitoring processes have been established and implemented in several projects.

Results and Impact

Many of Mali’s water problems can be characterized as problems of access, largely provoked by an uneven temporal and geographical distribution of water combined with an under-exploitation of available water resources. In recent decades, the Government of Mali has taken a number of steps to ameliorate the situation in an attempt to meet the population’s basic needs. However, a great deal of work remains, notably in the provision of infrastructure for safe drinking water and sanitation. Other enormous challenges for the country include controlling the level of pollution, developing alternative energy sources and decreasing deforestation and desertification.

Most of Mali's water problems can be characterised as issues of access. Mali’s ability to address these issues will depend on a number of factors: namely, the country’s capacity to raise the level of national technical expertise through increased educational programmes and research institutions; to develop strategies to better utilize available national water resources; to decrease the negative impact of urban population growth on water resources, as well as to attract investment for sustainable future water schemes.

Lessons for Replication

Increasing the knowledge base and technical expertise related to water resources is crucial to long-term sustainable water management, but remains a major challenge in Mali.

Indicators and monitoring processes for evaluating progress are invaluable, and should be developed for all projects. A comprehensive knowledge base that provides information about the water sector is also helpful, and every effort should be made towards increasing the size of this.

Testimonies and Stakeholder Perceptions

The Experience at a Glance

Implementing Agency(ies)


See also

Background Paper on Water and Health for the COP workshop Bucharest, 2008

Protocol on Water and Health

External Resources

WWDR2 case study summary

Full case report


 Mali.pdf  Malifull.pdf

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