SEATTLE — The North African country Niger is a vast and arid state on the edge of the Sahara desert. Niger is one of the least-developed countries in the world, with almost half of the population living below the poverty line. The water quality in Niger is one of the big issues impacting people’s daily lives throughout the country.
The international organization WaterAid estimates that some eight million people in Niger do not have access to safe water and 17 million do not have access to adequate sanitation. As a result, more than 6,000 children die every year from diarrhea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation.
Niger is prone to droughts and, as there is little rainfall, most people in rural areas rely on groundwater to meet their daily needs. While there is sufficient water available underground, few people can afford to build safe and efficient systems to bring it to the surface.
Most people rely on hand-dug wells for water, which presents several problems. These wells are generally not lined with concrete and as a result, are easily contaminated by seepage of waste and other contaminants. The water quality in Niger thus contributes greatly to the disease burden in the country, which in turn impacts negatively on education and economic growth.
These traditional wells also have no pumps, so water must be hauled up by hand. Adding to the burden is the fact that wells are few and far between. The task of fetching water, which usually falls to women and children, is thus a demanding and time-consuming chore. In recent years, international organizations like UNICEF and the World Bank have been building modern drilled wells and pump systems to alleviate these problems
Niger has one of the fastest-growing populations in Africa, with an average of 7.6 children born to each woman. The United Nations projects that Niger’s population will more than triple to 72 million by 2050. While only about 16 percent of the population currently live in urban areas, this group is growing at an average of four percent a year. This will put increasing pressure on already lacking infrastructure in the country.
Niger is also of the four countries reliant on the Lake Chad Basin for water supplies. Lake Chad was once one of the largest water reservoirs in the Sahel region, covering an area of about 10,000 square miles. But due to changing climates and environmental degradation, the lake is drying up. This is causing tension among communities around Lake Chad with repeated conflicts among nationals of different countries over control of the remaining water.
This whole region is facing a multi-faceted crisis as a result of drought-related famine, under-development and violent extremism with thousands of people being displaced due to Boko Haram violence.
While the current famine in the region is pressing, access to water and the water quality in Niger is a growing problem. The development of the country is in many ways reliant on providing and securing access to safe and adequate water.
– Helena Kamper