Rubbish is piling up in Bamako, the capital of Mali – especially along the banks of the Niger River. The riverside is covered with decomposing organic material, plastic and scraps of metal. Our Observer filmed these unauthorised dumps to denounce inaction on the part of the authorities.

There are more than two million people living in the Malian capital and, like many large African cities, it has struggled to manage its waste. There are at least 40 unauthorised dumps where rubbish is piling up and polluting the air, water and soil. In 2008, Forbes ranked Bamako as the 16th dirtiest city in the world.

Omar Sissoko, age 21, is a student in history and archaeology in Bamako. Inspired by an initiative launched by our Observer Fatoumata Chérif in Guinea, he started making videos of unauthorised dumps in Bamako and sent them to our team.

"The colour of the water changes when it has come into contact with rubbish”


I made these videos in Kalaban Coro, a neighbourhood in Bamako located along the Niger River. I don’t live in this neighbourhood but, when I was a child, I went there to swim with my friends. At the time, it was clean. I was shocked to see the state of it today. It’s basically a landfill.
The banks of the Niger River were covered with rubbish on February 9, 2018. (Photo by our Observer)

There are lots of black plastic bags, which are used by market sellers. I also saw lots of clothes and shoes and even a toilet bowl, which really surprised me. How could that end up here?

I also saw several abandoned pirogues, which are used to gather sand from the bottom of the river for construction.


Our Observer was extremely worried about the fauna that depends on the river, especially the fish, which represent the livelihoods of local fishermen. (Photos by Omar Sissoko.)
 

It’s obvious to me that the river is polluted. You can see the colour of the water change when it comes into contact with the rubbish on the banks. The smell around there is unbearable.

And yet, I saw people washing their laundry in the water and children playing nearby. Just above the river are fields where locals grow tomatoes, cucumbers and other vegetables. The rubbish is dangerous for these people.

 
A “mountain” of rubbish in the Kalaban Coro neighbourhood in Bamako, on the banks of the Niger River. (Photo by our Observer)


To explain the increase of these improvised landfills around town, Malian authorities have pointed to the rapid increase in the city’s population (about 6% per year), which public services have struggled to keep pace with.

These past few years, the city has organised several different citizen clean-up operations called "Bamako ville propre" (Bamako clean city), where dozens of residents are hired by the city to clean the streets. And thanks to funding by the African Development Bank, two water purifying stations will soon be built.

Article written with
Liselotte Mas

Liselotte Mas