With its population of about 20 million, of which an estimated 41% percent living under the extreme poverty line, Mali’s water resources are in a critical state quantitatively and qualitatively. 90% of country’s poor live in rural or peri-urban areas, concentrated in the South, where population density is highest. Only 68% of the rural population has access to a working basic drinking water service, while 27% of the rural population is using unprotected water sources or surface water for drinking and domestic uses. Moreover, an estimated 30% of the water infrastructure serving rural areas and small towns is not operational .
According to UNICEF, only about one-half of schools have an improved water point, and less than 20% of schools have functional toilets. In addition, more than one million people in Mali still practice open defecation, which has a direct impact on the health, dignity and the safety of communities. Displacement in conflict-affected areas of Mali has further limited the access of families on the move to clean water and sanitation .
Surface water resources in the country are relatively important. The Niger and Senegal rivers and their tributaries cross the country respectively over 1,700 km (i.e. 40% of the total course of the Niger River) from East to West and over 900 km (53% of the Senegal River's course) in the West. The total watersheds of these rivers offer an irrigable potential estimated at more than 2.2 million ha. Groundwater resources are estimated at 2,720 billion m³ with an estimated replenishment rate of 66 billion m³/year  .
Mali's rainfall regime is characterized by a regular decrease in rainfall and the duration of the rainy season from south to north (from about 1,200 mm to less than 200 mm), an irregular distribution of rainfall in space coupled with high temporal variability. In fact, this rainfall has undergone an average decrease of 20% between the period described as wet (1951-1970) and the last reference period (1971-2000), resulting in a shift of isohyets by 200 km towards the south  . Droughts, large dams and hydro-agricultural developments have contributed to the modification of flood regimes and aquatic ecosystems, which has resulted in the rarefaction of certain fish species and the reduction of natural reproduction areas among other issues . Moreover, pollution of surface waters has led to the proliferation of invasive aquatic plants (e.g., Salvinia molesta, Eichhornia crassipes, Typha autralis, and Pistia stratiotes) that are unfavorable to aquatic life, including for other pre-existing plants . Water pollution is also causing several water-borne diseases, some of which have a high incidence (malaria, infectious intestinal diseases, schistosomiasis and diarrheal diseases) .
In general, water resources are an essential element in achieving food security in Mali, particularly through the coverage of drinking water needs and securing of production systems. Their contribution to the energy transition process is very important from the perspective of the hydroelectric potential and the unsustainable pressure on forest formations to meet energy demand. Water resources support many other activities whose negative externalities contribute to their degradation, including gold mining, river transport, industry, handicrafts, etc.  .
The entire country is characterized by what FAO calls the “economic water scarcity,” which is caused by a lack of investment in water or a lack of human capacity to satisfy the demand for water, even in places where water is abundant. Symptoms include inadequate infrastructure development; high vulnerability to seasonal fluctuations in water; and inequitable distribution of water, even when infrastructure exists. In addition, all areas of Mali that are not close to a river experience physical water scarcity, when there is not enough water to meet all demands. Physical water scarcity can have as consequences severe environmental degradation and increased occurrence of conflicts .
The Niger River, as other rivers, is threatened by several natural factors (evaporation, evapotranspiration, displacement of dunes and silting, etc.) and anthropogenic factors (works, proliferation of irrigated perimeters and aquaculture facilities, gold washing, dyeing, domestic and / or industrial wastewater, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, etc.). These factors influence on the water regime and quality, modify aquatic ecosystems and negatively affect biodiversity. Their impact is worsened by various attacks on the banks and easements, particularly in urban and semi-urban centers (anarchic occupation by agricultural plots, housing, private services, large construction sites, car garages, etc.). These multiple uses, together with the climatic factors, constitute the essential elements that quantitatively and qualitatively influence water resource .
Key policies and governance approach
Mali is actively undergoing reforms for the WASH sector.
Both the Water Law and Water Policy have been technically validated and are under review by the Conseil de Ministres (in 2020). At the same time the National Drinking Water Program and National Sanitation Programs are in the process of being costed and will be submitted for review and approval by the Conseil once the Water Policy has been signed.
The National Policy and the Programme Sectoriel Eau et Assainissement (PROSEA II), guides national efforts through the national action plans including access to drinking water (PNAEP) and the implementation of IWRM (PA-IWRM). It is the document that will guide the sector to the end of the Sustainable Development Goal period in 2030 .
The 2004 Health and Environment Policy addresses hygiene and WASH plans for health centers.
The National Strategy for the Development of Drinking Water Supply in Mali was adopted in November 2007, with the objective of implementing appropriate approaches, principles and concepts to contribute to the sustainable development of water supply. This document reviewed the strategy adopted in March 2000 to deal exclusively with the supply of drinking water and attempts to find solutions to the problems and shortcomings noted previously .
Mali also has a WASH Strategic Plan for schools, including menstrual hygiene, that was developed in 2017.
In 2019, Mali developed a National Water Hygiene Sanitation and Nutrition Strategy, which is integrated into a 2020-2024 Multisector Nutrition Plan. The GoM further manages a national database to track municipalities that have been certified as “Open Defecation Free”.
Successes and remaining challenges
The multiple policies and initiatives established by the Government of Mali and its partners constitute the main assets for building major environmental projects, including energy transition, rehabilitation of Malian forests, improvement of agricultural, pastoral and fishing systems, significant reduction of risks and nuisances, information and effective and widespread environmental education, and the consequent financing of the environment .
The new “Equivalent Point water Modern” (EPEM) recorded an increase of 60%, from 1,538 EPEMs installed during 2015 to 2,430 in 2017, so that the number of villages benefiting from at least one (1) PEM went from 10,817 in 2015 to 10,888 in 2017, which constitutes an increase of 0.65%. During the same period, the number of SOMAGEP SA water connections increased from 12,428 in 2015 to 13,297 in 2017, or around 7%. These achievements increased the proportion of the population with access to drinking water from 63% to 65% in rural areas and from 70% to 75% in semi-urban and urban areas between 2015 and 2017.
In any case, beyond the socio-sanitary advantages, the construction of modern water points has positive environmental benefits through the related protection and sanitation measures, aimed at preserving these waters from all sources .
Initiatives and Development Plans
The Government of Mali established several structures, programs and projects to promote a sound water management focused on watershed development, bank protection, and depollution of the river and its tributaries among others.
Through the National Program for the Safeguarding of the Niger River the Government aims to maintain the Niger River in its economic, environmental, social and mobility functions. In the meantime, the cleaning and development of the banks of this river as well as the removal of invasive plants are continuing. In order to implement the program, Mali has established institutions and structures acquired for the environmental cause (National Assembly, Government, High Council of Communities, Economic, Social and Cultural Council, National Environment Council, etc.)  .
UNICEF supports the Ministry of Energy & Water and the Ministry of Environment, Sanitation & Sustainable Development to improve equitable access to clean water and sanitation, with an emphasis on the needs of girls and the most vulnerable children. In 2019, UNICEF and partners provided water supply services to over 194,500 people and built water points and separated latrines in 95 schools and 61 health centers .
Goals and Ambitions
Mali’s High Priority Plan Country Goal is to have a sustainable and equitable access to safe drinking water, sanitation services and hygiene behaviors improved to support Mali’s governance, resilience and prosperity .
- The population's access rate to drinking water recorded an increasing trend from 2013 to 2017 in both rural and urban areas. In 2017, 68% of Malians had access to drinking water, including 75% in urban areas and 65% in rural areas.
 PSEAUO1. Available: https://www.pseau.org