Niger River

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Niger River
  • Fleuve Niger  (French)
  • Joliba(Maninka)
  • Jeliba  (Bambara)
  • Maayo Baleo 𞤃𞤢𞥄𞤴𞤮 𞤄𞤢𞤤𞤫𞤮  (Fula)
  • Egerew n-Igerewen ⴻⴳⴻⵔⴻⵡ ⵏⵉⴳⴻⵔⴻⵡⴻⵏ  (Tamasheq)
  • Issa Beri(Zarma)
  • Kwara  (Hausa)
  • Ọya  (Yoruba)
  • Óshimiri  (Igbo)
Niger, Niamey, Pont Kennedy (1).jpg
The Pont Kennedy across the Niger at Niamey in February 2019
Map of River Niger.svg
EtymologyUnknown (possibly from Berber for River Gher or local Tuareg word n-igereouen meaning "big rivers" [1] )
Location
Countries
Cities
Physical characteristics
Source Guinea Highlands
  location Guinea
Mouth Atlantic Ocean
  location
Gulf of Guinea, Nigeria
Length4,180 km (2,600 mi)
Basin size2,117,700 km2 (817,600 sq mi)
Discharge 
  location Niger Delta [2]
  average5,589 m3/s (197,400 cu ft/s) [2]
  minimum500 m3/s (18,000 cu ft/s)
  maximum27,600 m3/s (970,000 cu ft/s) [3]
Basin features
Tributaries 
  left Sokoto River, Kaduna River, Benue River, Anambra River
  right Bani River, Mékrou River
Commercial activity along the river front at Boubon, in Niger Niger, Boubon (16), scene at the river front.jpg
Commercial activity along the river front at Boubon, in Niger

The Niger River ( /ˈnər/ ; French : (le) fleuve Niger, pronounced  [(lə) flœv niʒɛʁ] ) is the principal river of West Africa, extending about 4,180 km (2,600 mi). Its drainage basin is 2,117,700 km2 (817,600 sq mi) in area. [4] Its source is in the Guinea Highlands in southeastern Guinea near the Sierra Leone border. [5] It runs in a crescent through Mali, Niger, on the border with Benin and then through Nigeria, discharging through a massive delta, known as the Niger Delta [6] (or the Oil Rivers), into the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean. The Niger is the third-longest river in Africa, exceeded only by the Nile and the Congo River (also known as the Zaïre River). Its main tributary is the Benue River.

Contents

Etymology

The Niger has different names in the different languages of the region:

The earliest use of the name "Niger" for the river is by Leo Africanus in his Della descrittione dell’Africa et delle cose notabili che ivi sono published in Italian in 1550. The name may come from Berber phrase ger-n-ger meaning "river of rivers". [8] As Timbuktu was the southern end of the principal Trans-Saharan trade route to the western Mediterranean, it was the source of most European knowledge of the region.

Medieval European maps applied the name Niger to the middle reaches of the river, in modern Mali, but Quorra (Kworra) to the lower reaches in modern Nigeria, as these were not recognized at the time as being the same river. When European colonial powers began to send ships along the west coast of Africa in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Senegal River was often postulated to be the seaward end of the Niger. The Niger Delta, pouring into the Atlantic through mangrove swamps and thousands of distributaries along more than 160 kilometres (100 miles), was thought to be coastal wetlands. It was only with the 18th-century visits of Mungo Park, who travelled down the Niger River and visited the great Sahelian empires of his day, that Europeans correctly identified the course of the Niger and extended the name to its entire course.

The modern nations of Nigeria and Niger take their names from the river, marking contesting national claims by colonial powers of the "Upper", "Lower" and "Middle" Niger river basin during the Scramble for Africa at the end of the 19th century.

Geography

The great bend of the Niger River, seen from space, creates a green arc through the brown of the Sahel and Savanna. The green mass on the left is the Inner Niger Delta, and on the far left are tributaries of the Senegal River. Mali.A2001291.1045.250m.jpg
The great bend of the Niger River, seen from space, creates a green arc through the brown of the Sahel and Savanna. The green mass on the left is the Inner Niger Delta, and on the far left are tributaries of the Senegal River.
Mud houses on the center island at Lake Debo, a wide section of the Niger River Niger River Center Island.jpg
Mud houses on the center island at Lake Debo, a wide section of the Niger River

The Niger River is a relatively "clear" river, carrying only a tenth as much sediment as the Nile because the Niger's headwaters lie in ancient rocks that provide little silt. [9] Like the Nile, the Niger floods yearly; this begins in September, peaks in November, and finishes by May. [9] An unusual feature of the river is the Inner Niger Delta, which forms where its gradient suddenly decreases. [9] The result is a region of braided streams, marshes, and large lakes; the seasonal floods make the Delta extremely productive for both fishing and agriculture. [10]

The river loses nearly two-thirds of its potential flow in the Inner Delta between Ségou and Timbuktu to seepage and evaporation. All the water from the Bani River, which flows into the Delta at Mopti, does not compensate for the 'losses'. The average 'loss' is estimated at 31 km3/year but varies considerably between years. [11] The river is then joined by various tributaries but also loses more water to evaporation. The quantity of water entering Nigeria measured in Yola was estimated at 25 km3/year before the 1980s and at 13.5 km3/year during the 1980s. The most important tributary is the Benue River which merges with the Niger at Lokoja in Nigeria. The total volume of tributaries in Nigeria is six times higher than the inflow into Nigeria, with a flow near the mouth of the river standing at 177.0 km3/year before the 1980s and 147.3 km3/year during the 1980s. [11]

Course

Map of the Niger, showing its watershed and "inland delta" Niger river map.PNG
Map of the Niger, showing its watershed and "inland delta"

The Niger takes one of the most unusual routes of any major river, a boomerang shape that baffled geographers for two centuries. Its source (Tembakounda) is 240 km (150 mi) inland from the Atlantic Ocean, but the river runs directly away from the sea into the Sahara Desert, then takes a sharp right turn near the ancient city of Timbuktu (Tombouctou) and heads southeast to the Gulf of Guinea. This strange geography apparently came about because the Niger River is two ancient rivers joined together. The upper Niger, from the source west of Timbuktu to the bend in the current river near Timbuktu, once emptied into a now dry lake to the east northeast of Timbuktu, while the lower Niger started to the south of Timbuktu and flowed south into the Gulf of Guinea. Over time upstream erosion by the lower Niger resulted in stream capture of the upper Niger by the lower Niger. [12]

The northern part of the river, known as the Niger bend, is an important area because it is the major river and source of water in that part of the Sahara. This made it the focal point of trade across the western Sahara and the centre of the Sahelian kingdoms of Mali and Gao. The surrounding Niger River Basin is one of the distinct physiographic sections of the Sudan province, which in turn is part of the larger African massive physiographic division.

History

Growing African rice, Oryza glaberrima along the Niger River in Niger. The crop was first domesticated along the river. African rice niger.png
Growing African rice, Oryza glaberrima along the Niger River in Niger. The crop was first domesticated along the river.
A reconstruction of the Ravenna Cosmography placed on a Ptolemaic map. The River Ger is visible at bottom. Note it is placed, following Ptolemy, as just south of the land of the Garamantes, in modern Libya, constricting the continent to the land from the central Sahara north. Ravenna Cosmography 1889 Africa crop.jpg
A reconstruction of the Ravenna Cosmography placed on a Ptolemaic map. The River Ger is visible at bottom. Note it is placed, following Ptolemy, as just south of the land of the Garamantes, in modern Libya, constricting the continent to the land from the central Sahara north.
1561 map of West Africa by Girolamo Ruscelli, from Italian translation of Ptolemy's Atlas "La Geograpfia Di Claudio Tolomeo Alessandrino, Nouvamente Tradatta Di Greco in Italiano". The writer was attempting to square information gleaned from Portuguese trade along the coast with Ptolemy's world map. The mouths of the Senegal River and Gambia River are postulated to flow into a lake, which also feeds the "Ger"/"Niger River", which in turn feeds the "Nile Lake" and Nile River. 1561 map of West Africa by Girolamo Ruscelli.JPG
1561 map of West Africa by Girolamo Ruscelli, from Italian translation of Ptolemy's Atlas "La Geograpfia Di Claudio Tolomeo Alessandrino, Nouvamente Tradatta Di Greco in Italiano". The writer was attempting to square information gleaned from Portuguese trade along the coast with Ptolemy's world map. The mouths of the Senegal River and Gambia River are postulated to flow into a lake, which also feeds the "Ger"/"Niger River", which in turn feeds the "Nile Lake" and Nile River.

At the end of the African humid period around 5,500 years before present, the modern Sahara Desert, once a savanna, underwent desertification. As plant species sharply declined, [13] humans migrated to the fertile Niger River bend region, with abundant resources including plants for grazing and fish. [14] Like in the Fertile Crescent, many food crops were domesticated in the Niger River region, including yams, African rice (Oryza glaberrima), and pearl millet. [15] The Sahara aridification may have triggered, or at least accelerated, these domestications. [13] Agriculture, as well as fishing and animal husbandry, led to the rise of settlements like Djenné-Djenno in the Inner Delta, now a World Heritage Site. [16]

The region of the Niger bend, in the Sahel, was a key origin and destination for trans-Saharan trade, fueling the wealth of great empires such as the Ghana, Mali, and Songhai Empires. Major trading ports along the river, including Timbuktu and Gao, became centers of learning and culture. Trade to the Niger bend region also brought Islam to the region in approximately the 14th century CE. Much of the northern Niger basin remains Muslim today, although the southern reaches of the river tend to be Christian.

Classical writings on the interior of the Sahara begins with Ptolemy, who mentions two rivers in the desert: the "Gir" (Γειρ) [17] and farther south, the "Nigir" (Νιγειρ). [18] [19] The first has been since identified as the Wadi Ghir on the north western edge of the Tuat, along the borders of modern Morocco and Algeria. [18] [20] This would likely have been as far as Ptolemy would have had consistent records. The Ni-Ger was likely speculation, although the name stuck as that of a river south of the Mediterranean's "known world". Suetonius reports Romans traveling to the "Ger", although in reporting any river's name derived from a Berber language, in which "gher" means "watercourse", confusion could easily arise. [21] Pliny connected these two rivers as one long watercourse which flowed (via lakes and underground sections) into the Nile, [22] a notion which persisted in the Arab and European worlds – and further added the Senegal River as the "Ger" – until the 19th century.

While the true course of the Niger was presumably known to locals, it was a mystery to the outside world until the late 18th century. The connection to the Nile River was made not simply because this was then known as the great river of "Aethiopia" (by which all lands south of the desert were called by Classical writers), but because the Nile like the Niger flooded every summer. [23] Through the descriptions of Leo Africanus and even Ibn Battuta – despite his visit to the river – the myth connecting the Niger to the Nile persisted.

Many European expeditions to plot the river were unsuccessful. [24] In 1788 the African Association was formed in England to promote the exploration of Africa in the hopes of locating the Niger, and in June 1796 the Scottish explorer Mungo Park was the first European to lay eyes on the middle portion of the river since antiquity (and perhaps ever). He wrote an account in 1799, Travels in the Interior of Africa . [25] Park proposed a theory that the Niger and Congo were the same river. Although the Niger Delta would seem like an obvious candidate, it was a maze of streams and swamps that did not look like the head of a great river. He died in 1806 on a second expedition attempting to prove the Niger-Congo connection. [26] The theory became the leading one in Europe. [26] Several failed expeditions followed; however the mystery of the Niger would not be solved for another 25 years, in 1830, when Richard Lander and his brother became the first Europeans to follow the course of the Niger to the ocean. [26]

In 1946, three Frenchmen, Jean Sauvy, Pierre Ponty and movie maker Jean Rouch, former civil servants in the African French colonies, set out to travel the entire length of the river, as no one else seemed to have done previously. They travelled from the beginning of the river near Kissidougou in Guinea, walking at first till a raft could be used, then changing to various local crafts as the river broadened and changed. Two of them reached the ocean on March 25, 1947, with Pierre Ponty having left the expedition at Niamey, somewhat past the halfway mark. They carried a 16mm movie camera, the resulting footage giving Jean Rouch his first two ethnographic documentaries: "Au pays des mages noirs", and "La chasse à l’hippopotame". A camera was used to illustrate Jean Rouch's subsequent book "Le Niger En Pirogue" (Fernand Nathan, 1954), as well as Jean Sauvy's “Descente du Niger” (L'Harmattan 2001). A typewriter was brought as well, on which Pierre Ponty produced newspaper articles he mailed out whenever possible. [27]

Management and development

The water in the Niger River basin is partially regulated through dams. In Mali the Sélingué Dam on the Sankarani River is mainly used for hydropower but also permits irrigation. Two diversion dams, one at Sotuba just downstream of Bamako, and one at Markala, just downstream of Ségou, are used to irrigate about 54,000 hectares. [11] In Nigeria the Kainji Dam, Shiroro Dam, Zungeru Dam, and Jebba Dam are used to generate hydropower. The water resources of the Niger River are under pressure because of increased water abstraction for irrigation. The construction of dams for hydropower generation is underway or envisaged in order to alleviate chronic power shortages in the countries of the Niger basin. [28] The FAO estimates the irrigation potential of all countries in the Niger river basin at 2.8 million hectares. Only 0.93m hectares (ha) were under irrigation in the late 1980s. The irrigation potential was estimated at 1.68m ha in Nigeria 0.56m ha in Mali, and the actual irrigated area was 0.67m ha and 0.19m ha. [11]

See also

Notes

    Related Research Articles

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    Senegal River River in West Africa

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    Djenné Commune and town in Mopti Region, Mali

    Djenné is a town and an urban commune in the Inland Niger Delta region of central Mali. The town is the administrative centre of the Djenné Cercle, one of the eight subdivisions of the Mopti Region. The commune includes ten of the surrounding villages and in 2009 had a population of 32,944.

    Bani River

    The Bani River is the principal tributary of the Niger River in Mali. The river is formed from the confluence of the Baoulé and Bagoé rivers some 160 km (99 mi) east of Bamako and it merges with the Niger near Mopti. Its length is about 1,100 km (680 mi).

    Gao Urban commune and town in Mali

    Gao, or Gawgaw/Kawkaw, is a city in Mali and the capital of the Gao Region. The city is located on the River Niger, 320 km (200 mi) east-southeast of Timbuktu on the left bank at the junction with the Tilemsi valley.

    Lake Faguibine

    Lake Faguibine is a lake in Mali on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert situated 80 km west of Timbuktu and 75 km north of the Niger River to which it is connected by a system of smaller lakes and channels. In years when the height of the annual flood of the river is sufficient, water flows from the river into the lake. Since the Sahel drought of the 1970s and 1980s the lake has been mostly dry. Water has only rarely reached the lake and even when it has done so, the lake has been only partially filled with water. This has caused a partial collapse of the local ecosystem.

    Inner Niger Delta

    The Inner Niger Delta, also known as the Macina or Masina, is the inland delta of the Niger River. It is an area of fluvial wetlands, lakes and floodplains in the semi-arid Sahel area of central Mali, just south of the Sahara desert.

    Niono Commune and town in Segou, Mali

    Niono is a town and commune located in the Ségou Region of Mali. The commune has an area of approximately 491 square kilometers and includes the town and 20 of the surrounding villages. In the 2009 census it had a population of 91,554. The town is the capital of the Niono Cercle, one of seven subdivisions (cercles) of the Ségou Region. It lies on the northwest edge of the Inner Niger Delta, near the main channel of the Niger River.

    Lake Débo

    Lake Débo is a lake in the central part of Mali, formed by the seasonal flooding of the Niger River basin. It is in the Inner Niger Delta of the Niger River. During high water stages of the river, the delta formed by lakes, creeks, and backwaters form part of Lake Débo. The inner delta has many wide channels, which are shallow and flooded marshes; this delta extends over a length of 320 kilometres with a width of 80 km (50 mi). Lake Débo during high flow season, is at a distance of 80 km (50 mi) from Mopti on its upstream, on the southern end and 240 km (150 mi) from Timbuktu at its downstream, on the north-eastern end. It is the largest of many such seasonal wetlands and lakes which form the Inner Niger Delta, and the largest lake within Mali. Its size is largely reduced during the dry season of September to March. The existence of this lake called the "Great Lake" in the inner delta of Niger River between Jenne and Timbuktu in Mali has been established after extensive study of maps of the region extending over a period from 1000 to 1900 AD; 400 maps were studied for the period.

    Niger Basin Authority Intergovernmental organization in West Africa aiming to foster co-operation in managing and developing the resources of the Niger River Basin

    The Niger Basin Authority is an intergovernmental organization in West Africa aiming to foster co-operation in managing and developing the resources of the basin of the Niger River. The group is referred to by both the French and English initialisms, NBA or ABN.

    The wildlife of Mali, composed of its flora and fauna, is widely varying from the Saharan desert zone to the Sahelian east–west zone, to Mali, a landlocked francophone country in North Africa; large swathes of Mali remain unpopulated but has three sub-equal vegetation zones; the country has Sahara Desert in the north, the Niger River Basin at its center and the Senegal River on the south.

    Sankarani River

    The Sankarani River is a tributary of the Niger River. Flowing northward from the Guinea Highlands of the Fouta Djallon in Guinea, it crosses into southern Mali, where it joins the Niger approximately 40 kilometres (25 mi) upstream of Bamako, the capital of Mali. It forms part of the Ivory Coast-Guinea and Guinea–Mali borders.

    Water resources management in modern Egypt, is a complex process that involves multiple stakeholders who use water for irrigation, municipal and industrial water supply, hydropower generation and navigation. In addition, the waters of the Nile support aquatic ecosystems that are threatened by abstraction and pollution. Egypt also has substantial fossil groundwater resources in the Western Desert.

    Nile Basin

    The Nile Basin is the part of Africa drained by the Nile River and its tributaries.

    Office du Niger

    The Office du Niger is a semi-autonomous government agency in Mali that administers a large irrigation scheme in the Ségou Region of the country. Water from the Niger River is diverted into a system of canals at the Markala dam 35 kilometres (22 mi) downstream of Ségou. The water is used to irrigate nearly 100,000 hectares (390 sq mi) of the flat alluvial plains to the north and northeast of Markala that form part of the Delta mort. Although the French colonial administration constructed the system to produce cotton for the textile industry, the main agricultural product is now rice. Around 320,000 tons are grown each year representing 40 percent of the total Malian production. Large quantities of sugar cane are also grown in joint ventures between a Chinese company and the Malian state. The irrigation scheme uses 2.7 km3 (0.65 cu mi) of water each year corresponding to around 10 percent of the total flow of the Niger River.

    Kabara, Mali Town in Tombouctou Region, Mali

    Kabara is a small town in Mali on the Niger River, the port for Timbuktu. It is 8 km (5 mi) to the south of Timbuktu and is connected to an arm of the Niger River by a 3 km (2 mi) canal. The town has at times in the past been linked to Timbuktu by an extension of the canal. However, silting and lower water levels in recent years have made the extension canal unusable and the Kabara port usable only during the high water seasons.

    References

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    Sources

    International law and the Niger River

    Coordinates: 11°04′36″N9°18′46″W / 11.076638°N 9.312839°W / 11.076638; -9.312839