July 13, 2011

Struggling to Find Clean Water in West Africa

by Hadiara Diallo

As you wake up every morning, part of your daily ritual will include turning your faucet on, taking a shower, brushing your teeth, making a cup of coffee or tea then heading out for work.  Where I was born, Niger, West Africa, the morning ritual begins at dawn, grabbing a container or bucket, and heading for the nearest water source to start the day.  In rural areas, most women and young girls begin the day by making multiple treks to the local pond so that the household can have water for drinking and cooking. Showers and laundry are done by the pond after the water supply quota has been met for the day. 

This backbreaking job is what all young girls throughout Africa face as their destiny.  It is determined more by where they are born and certainly what gender they are. Fetching water is a matter of survival and it has also become part of the shackle that holds back many girls from being educated and empowered. Clean water is more than a physiological need, it is a conduit for empowering women not only in our village, but throughout Africa and the world.

If you take a quick look at the geography of Niger, what is striking is the fact that it and much of West Africa is landlocked and lacks access to sustainable clean water.  One river crosses the whole country of Niger, yet that river passes through only the southern tip of the country thus making other regions vulnerable to an arid desert and capricious rains that only last less than three months of the year. 

When it rains, ponds and “marigaux” as we call them, spring up outside of villages.  As the dry season sets in, those ponds dry up and force women and young girls to walk further and further for a chance to fetch a brown, muddied murk of water. This water is shared by animals and human beings alike as it is one of the most precious commodities in my homeland.  This same water is also the source of many water-born diseases that can be prevented if only one can ensure clean water to the rural population.

I was very fortunate to be born in the capital of Niger, Niamey, and was thus spared much of the hard work suffered by my cousins living in rural villages.  During summer breaks I used to go visit my maternal grandmother in the region of Tera.  At a young age, I was struck by the dismal difference between the fate of my maternal cousins and that of my paternal ones.  Access to clean water and education was the stark difference. 

One set of family lived by the river Niger while the other had to walk 2-3 kilometers to the nearest unsafe pond. Access to school for my maternal cousins was 20-30 kilometers away while my paternal cousins were no more than 6 miles away from elementary and secondary schools. As my female cousins were too busy helping my aunts with the daily chores, they were also systematically denied a chance at an education and the subsequent feeling of empowerment that comes with it.  Lack of an education also means getting married as a pre-teen—11, 12 or 13 years of age.  Isn’t that hard to imagine?  Early marriage generates another set of issues such as obstetric fistula, which occurs when a girl delivers at a young age, before her body is mature enough for the task. Early marriage also accounts for maternal ill health and high rates of infant mortality.  Studies have proven that education tends to delay marriage in the developing world, and thus can prevent many of these problems.

I am aware that all the ills in Niger, and other parts of Africa, cannot be resolved in one day, but am convinced that the work being done by Wells Bring Hope is essential in bringing relief for my woman folk, health for entire villages by giving people access to clean water, and crucial education for a forgotten segment of society—women.  By offering long term, sustainable solutions that involve the participation of village members, Wells Bring Hope will insure safe water for many years to come.  I urge you to lend your support to bringing clean water to villages in Niger.


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