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Mark's Blog - Early completion for Mali barrage

Week 4 – The barrage reaches completion. The barrage is complete apart from the finishing touches. The lead contractor is back on site so the final phase of the work has sped along thanks to the last of the manual labour. Final checks and expert opinions abound.

Mali is also ready for the rain. Green mangos wait patiently on huge trees but wells have begun to run dry. The sense of relief and excitement from the expected benefits of the barrage is evident throughout the village. Finished on time, the barrage is ready to collect precious water.

The main problem during the project was a matter of communication. Malian societies are structured to respect age so all decisions that concern the village must be passed through the village elders. Following a survey that highlighted potential flooding to a vital road bridge, the villagers assessed and accepted a revised location. But this was just two days before the project was due to star. It forced significant, late design changes to be made on site, which pushed the project over budget. Who will foot the bill is still under negotiation.

Although not a huge dam, the barrage has involved considerable design expertise and manpower. With no concrete mixers, earthmovers or scaffolding, the 25 meter span, 4.5 meter high structure is a considerable achievement for an adobe village many miles from an asphalt road. Other similar projects are currently underway throughout Mali. Thanks to a stable government and the land aspirations of the population, the momentum of progress throughout Mali is picking up.

To see the successful delivery of a project such as this leaves a great feeling of satisfaction. The barrage project was conceived by the village, designed by Malian engineers in Bamako, and brought to site by a Malian contractor. Perhaps the most inspiring aspect is the village workforce who readily turn up six days a week to work for the benefit of their community.

The barrage, when in operation, will be overseen by community committees who will delegate maintenance and water management duties to the appropriate people.

Like all projects the end has arrived. Soon we will be flying back to Gifford’s offices, unclogging the in-box and facing new project challenges. However, working with Jeunesse et Dévéloppment, we are hoping to monitor the success of the barrage over the coming years. This will extend beyond purely civil engineering inspections to review the social and economic benefits, and assess environmental impacts.

Hopefully, the most rewarding time will come several years down the line when the village is still feeling and recognising the positive benefits of this initiative. Meanwhile, tonight we will have our final peace ceremony and dance with the village and the hairy forest spirits.

Read part one of the blog here.

Read part two here.

Read part three here.

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