Four-year effort kicks off in rural Mali to bring clean water to a growing population


Sikasso on a windy and dusty day in April 1994

Almost three decades after the laying of the first water pipes in Sikasso and Koutiala, Danish water experts return to expand supply, help authorities address water loss control, explore groundwater options and improve energy efficiency

January 25, 2022

Back in the mid-eighties, NIRAS (or NR as it was called at that time) launched a Danida rural water supply project in the Sikasso region. Building on its success, a second project was awarded to NIRAS in 1992 and implemented in the regional capital. We managed the project until 1998, supplying detailed designs, hydrogeological surveys and procurement documents, and supervising the Danish contractor Kampihl.

Fast forward to 2022, and here we are picking up where we left off all those years ago.

“This project was at the time the biggest and most important development project for us,” says Claes Clifford, Technical Director of Water who was involved in the original works. “Today, Danida often cite and praise it as one of its most successful and sustainable infrastructure projects. The water infrastructures - such as the water treatment plant, the reservoirs, the distribution system, and the water pumps - were all designed and built in accordance with Danish standards and the supervision was serious and strict. At one stage, an entire large water reservoir was demolished and re-built at Kampihl’s expense because we did not accept that it was placed 50 cm too low.”

+ 380000

people living in Sikasso in 2020, up from 150,000 in the 90s

This was the first project DANIDA had in Mali, and as the only representative of DANIDA in the country, I has the special experience to convince the authorities in Bamako that the project should be launched at all. Christmas 1985 became a little more exciting than desirable because planes from Burkina Faso bombed Sikasso in connection with a border conflict. No people in Sikasso were killed. I was 1½ years in Mali, but the project continued, and in the period up to 1992, 400 wells with hand pumps and 4 water supply plants based on solar energy were established. From 1992 to 1998, the water supply to the city of Sikasso was renovated with the construction of 2 spring sites with drinking water wells, waterworks, 4 elevation tanks, 315 km of pipelines and 7,000 branch pipes for 100,000 inhabitants.

Aage Hanse, first resident engineer on the Mali project in Sikasso (1985-1987)

Same place, new challenges

Over the next four years, NIRAS will provide technical assistance to Mali’s national water utility company, SOMAPEP to expand water supply in Sikasso and Koutiala, both of which lie southeast of the capital Bamako. We will contract drilling companies, supervise operations and provide detailed design of equipment and connection works as well as environmental and social impact studies. The project team will also support authorities in reducing water losses, through repair and prevention of leakages, and introduce greater application of renewable energies as part of efforts to build climate change resilience in a country which faces serious challenges from global warming. A system will be put in place to build water resource management knowledge and local monitoring capacity while hydrogeological and geophysical investigations will be conducted to identify potential groundwater resources to cover the medium-term needs of the growing cities.

Inge Schou, a social anthropologist and senior project manager at NIRAS who frequently works in West Africa, is excited to see NIRAS returning to the area and recalls the approach use at the time to raise awareness among the local community. “NIRAS introduced an innovative way of conducting information campaigns about safe water and hygiene involving theater groups and local musicians in street happenings as well as many community radio emissions addressing specific target groups. The training of the water management committees was done by local NGOs and associations which was a new approach in Mali 25 years ago, and many of these methods are still in use today. It will be interesting to see how renewable energy is addressed and how the communications outreach is conducted this time around where climate change plays a prominent role.”

The well-planned and durable construction and inclusive information and training activities are the main reasons why the water supply infrastructures still stand today in Sikasso. Clean water has been flowing to  customers ever since the water plant was commissioned in 1998. Improved living conditions has resulted in a more than doubling of the local population from 150,000 in the late nineties to more 380,000 in 2020.

So in spite of NIRAS having the foresight in the 1990s to lay down water distribution pipes in yet uninhabited but planned expansion zones around Sikasso, today the city needs more water groundwater sources due to the population growth. It also needs to improve water loss control and energy efficiency including the use of non-fossil fuels.

“We are naturally thrilled to start our second tour in and around Sikasso (not to forget Koutiala situated 135 km to the north) with a fresh team of water experts,” Claes exclaims.   

Claes Clifford

Claes Clifford

International Technical Director Infrastructure

København, Denmark

+45 2920 7489