Drought threatens local livelihoods as rivers run dry

Image copyright Graphic

Enlarge Image Image caption A river is running dry in Gambia but is being diverted to raise a dam to aid drought-hit farmers.

So far this year four river systems have disappeared.

The Gambia, Senegal, Central African Republic and the Niger – which supply water to areas of the Sahara – have all been affected.

Some agricultural produce may disappear completely, affecting regional and global markets.

In Gambia – for the first time in a quarter of a century – the river that runs through the north of the country, washes its muddy surface on to the tree-lined plains below, raising concerns of water shortages for millions.

Conflicts over water resources

The Dattamul River, which runs through northern Gambia, has gone dry but is being diverted in order to raise the Houne Morme Dam, to supply water to rural farmers.

Some 40% of the population here rely on fish for food and export.

Image copyright Susie Wilson / Aid4Water/AP

Image copyright Susie Wilson / Aid4Water/AP

After experiencing a devastating drought in 2010, when more than 50 people died from eating a mosquito net abandoned by a widow, a mother has decided to leave for Senegal.

“We can’t leave home, let alone our crops,” she told aid workers.

“With the harvest and protection from the rainy season, it won’t be difficult to eat”.

The country – which is sub-Saharan Africa’s smallest nation – will receive precious rain in June and July which will hopefully solve its water problems.

But agriculture in the north is still feeling the effects of poor rain over the past decade.

The government has invested heavily in agriculture in the Gambia, which produces 80% of the country’s sugar output.

The issue will come back on the agenda later this year when the government begins collecting money for international aid programmes.

Image copyright Susie Wilson / Aid4Water/AP

Related: Mali ‘goats’ bridge drought gap between Mali and Senegal

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said the plight of farmers in the northern region was becoming even more critical.

“Thousands of families are hungry, water is running dry and rivers are disappearing. The loss of incomes will have ripple effects throughout the rural economy,” said César Renz, the ICRC’s country director in Gambia.

Experts say the situation cannot be ignored. It points to conflicts over the waters and potential for conflict.

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