With inadequate supplies of water already becoming a drag on development and a catalyst for international tensions, the equitable sharing of water resources is one of the most important challenges the world faces, according to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
The riparian countries of the Niger River are whipped by climatic disequilibria and population pressures, which affect the level of the river, Mr. Annan told the summit in Paris of the River Niger Basin Authority (ABN) in a message delivered by his Special Envoy for West Africa, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah.
With regard to the areas of agricultural production, energy independence and environmental safeguards, the problems to solve are enormous, yet the Basin has significant assets worth exploiting, he said.
Mr. Annan encouraged them to synchronize their management of the river for the benefit of all of the riverbank countries.
The countries concerned - Guinea, Mali, Niger, Benin and Nigeria located on the main course; Burkina, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire and Chad - have a combined population of 100 million.
The nine countries have complained of silting of the river bed, areas of choking by floating plants, destruction of aquatic habitats, water and wind erosion, discharge of untreated waste and pollution along the 4,200-kilometre-long river.
In some regions, conflicts erupt among users because of reduced water flow and a decrease of productive flood plain areas. During some periods of the year, such economic activities as navigation and fishing are impossible, the ABN said.