The Great ‘Water Grab’
Water quality and access are already huge roadblocks for communities throughout West Africa without competition from investors in the Global North. This makes the ‘water grab’ trend even more detrimental to African health and life. The most coveted water resource in the region is the Niger River which runs through four countries: Mali, Niger, Guinea and Nigeria. The Niger River sustains the lives of 100 million West Africans through drinking water and irrigation for the temperamental farmlands in the region. In the past couple of years foreign investors have flooded the area buying farmland and taking precious water resources for irrigation, leaving local communities without land, but also dwindling water supplies from their greatest water resource.
An example of this environmental, social, and health problem is Mali’s Office du Niger. This department is responsible for land deals with Western countries and corporations. Land deals fueling the great ‘water grab’ jumped 60% from 2009 to 2010 according to research performed by the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development.
Although there has been publicity and attention concerning the land contracts because of deals with corporations (Nestle) and countries (China and India), the repercussions of these land deals on local communities is absent from the discussion. It was only last week that the National Coordination of Farmer Organizations in Mali met for the International Peasants Conference to fight against the land grabs throughout the Niger River Valley.
Jamie Skinner and Lorenzo Cotula of the International Institute for Environment and Development sum up the situation well: “Allocating water to irrigated agriculture potentially affects a much broader range of users”. As if the global north and former colonial powers haven’t taken enough resources from African countries, now they’re depleting water resources in African countries to irrigate African land for their own ambitions. Unless governments, local organizations throughout West Africa and citizens of the world use their collective resources to stop the land and water grab, the fate of over 100 million West Africans is at stake.