Boko Haram’s Devastating Impact

By Chidiebere Aguziendu & SatyaLakshmi Settem

Source: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid

Boko Haram insurgency began in 2015 in the border region of Diffa. Though the attacks decreased in 2017 and 2018, the end of 2018 and 2019 saw an increase in violent attacks in the region. It has led to the death of many civilians and displacements of about 18,000 people in March 2019. Diffa city currently has over 300,000 displaced persons and refugees. The attack has led to the closure of schools, and children are at risk of being exploited, kidnapped, or recruited into the armed group. Girls are at risk of being forced into early marriage. Children who are displaced by conflict repeatedly are prone to trauma, anxiety, or depression.

The impact of the attacks extends far beyond education, affecting every aspect of life in the region. The increase in the number of IDPs and refugees has put a strain on the availability of food, healthcare, WASH facilities, and shelter. It has led to overcrowding in camps and host communities, thereby increasing the spread of diseases. Most of the households lack access to clean water.  The available water point is located at a far distance, thereby exposing women and girls to violent attacks such as rape, kidnapping, and abuse.

Humanitarian aid in the areas of health facilities, clothing, a makeshift shelter, and water must be available to the host communities.

On 19th February 2020, UNICEF released a statement indicating that roughly three million people in Niger are in urgent need of aid. Alarmingly, more than half of those requiring this humanitarian assistance are children.

One of the biggest drivers of this increased need for aid is the significant increase in terrorist attacks against civilians and the military in Niger that has occurred, in recent months. According to the UNICEF report, attacks against civilians in the Lake Chad region have kept nearly 263,000 people in Diffa from returning to their homes in Nigeria.

Nearly 1.4 million children were displaced in Nigeria and neighboring countries, due to the violence carried out by Boko Haram (an Islamist militant group). UNICEF’s Regional Director –  for West and Central Africa, Mr.Manuel Fontaine, pointed out the tragedy thusly, “’ Each of these children running for their lives is a childhood cut short… It’s truly alarming to see that children and women continue to be killed, abducted and used to carry bombs.’”

Along with the government leaders and other NGOs in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger, UNICEF is expanding efforts to assist thousands of children and their families in these terror-struck regions. They are hard at work providing access to safe water, education, counseling, vaccination, and treatment for acute malnutrition. Despite these expanded programs, the increasing number of refugees and the limited resources available have put a tremendous strain on organizations seeking to provide life-saving assistance to these refugees. With the added challenge of COVID-19, the need for aid is more urgent than ever.

References:

https://www.un.org/press/en/2019/db190405.doc.htm

https://www.acaps.org/sites/acaps/files/products/files/20190405_acaps_start_briefing_note_displacement_in_diffa_niger_0.pdf

https://www.voanews.com/africa/boko-haram-militants-target-civilians-nigers-diffa-region

http://www.rfi.fr/fr/afrique/20181223-niger-jihadisme-boko-haram-diffa

http://documentos.bancomundial.org/curated/es/120511530128010996/pdf/Project-Information-Document-Integrated-Safeguards-Data-Sheet-Niger-Refugees-and-Host-Communities-Support-Project-P164563.pdf

https://sofrep.com/news/boko-haram-terrorists-strike-again-in-niger/

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/unicef-3-million-people-in-niger-need-urgent-aid/1738699

https://www.un.org/africarenewal/news/boko-haram-violence-displaces-14-million-children-nigeria-and-beyond-%E2%80%93-unicef

https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/unicef-goodwill-ambassador-orlando-bloom-meets-children-and-families-affected-boko

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13809501

History Repeats Itself

By Nick Baldry

In an effort to encourage you, dear reader, to part with hard-earned cash for a water system for the Kelloum Bawa Health Care Facility in rural Niger, I’m going to take you to… Vienna General Hospital in around 1846. That seems like a logical route, right?

Around this time, medicine was progressing from the glorified butchery that characterized the profession in the years preceding this period to a more data- and observation-based science. Vienna and its General Hospital were at the forefront of this advance.

This was a point in history where giving birth at a hospital was regarded as a last resort because all too often, an otherwise healthy woman would come into the hospital, have her baby and swiftly develop a fever that would progress to convulsions and eventually death. This horrifying death was commonly called ‘childbed fever.’ Giving birth in a hospital was seen as incredibly risky. In some of the worst months, up to 30% of the women who had their babies in hospital wards died of Childbed Fever.

It took a young doctor from Hungary called Ignaz Semmelweis to identify the cause of this deadly problem. Dr. Semmelweis, being a curious student, dove into hospital records and realized that there was an anomaly in the death rates between the two maternity wards at his hospital. One ward was run by some of the best doctors in the world at the time, the other was run by midwives. It probably will not shock you to learn that the death rate was significantly lower on the ward run by midwives. The why, was the fascinating part. Basic hygiene.

A doctor in a teaching hospital would typically start his day conducting autopsies to expand his knowledge of human anatomy before moving on to his daily work. For Dr. Semmelweis that was on the maternity ward delivering babies, the maternity ward with the horrifying mortality rate. Handwashing was not a commonly used practice, but Semmelweis soon realized that washing his hands in a diluted bleach solution made a significant difference in his patient outcomes. This intervention brought the death rate down close to zero.

Unfortunately for Ignaz Semmelweis his ideas were not wholeheartedly adopted at first, but today it is a given that having a clean environment to perform medical procedures saves countless lives. Most of us cannot fathom a world in which medical professionals aren’t engaged in near-constant hand washing. Clean water is absolutely essential to this fundamental best practice.

Returning to present-day Kelloum Bara, patients at the clinic need clean water to make undergoing a medical procedure a significantly less risky proposition. The clinic is currently drawing its water from two open wells which are all too often contaminated. A mechanized, solar-powered well drilled by Wells Bring Hope donors will provide running water to the Kelloum Bara Health Care Facility as well as a safe water source for the nearby village of Kelloum Bara. With this water system will come hand washing station inside the clinic that will help ensure that patients aren’t subject to the same fate as the women of 19th century Vienna.

In February of this year, a solar-powered mechanized water project was completed at Kawaye Health Center, thanks to Wells Bring Hope’s generous donors.  This is an intervention that almost 200 years later, would have made Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis proud. It has made the people of this community in rural Niger proud that their health care facility now fits more with the modern world than the bygone era of 19th century Europe.

Please donate today to the gift of good health.

Water Project in Niamey

By Chidiebere Aguziendu

Source: analogicus

Located on the banks of the Niger River, Niamey is Niger’s capital and largest city. From lively markets and ornate mosques to national museums and the striking Niger River, there is much to see and do in Niamey. However, the city offers one less-than-appealing sight as well –  heaps of trash littered in public places.

Niamey’s waste collection system is only capable of managing about half of the daily waste produced by its residents. The consequences of this go far beyond aesthetics. In the rainy season, the uncollected garbage blocks drains, which leads to stagnant pools of water that breed mosquitoes. These pools of polluted wastewater eventually run off into the Niger River, which supplies the city with drinking water.

The water supply network in Niamey needs improvement to meet the needs of its residents, and this has necessitated the construction of a water purification plant. This plant will extend the water supply network in Niamey. The Goudel (Iv) purification plant is being constructed by the Spanish company, Denys SAS, which aims to supply 40,000 m3 of water per day. As part of the project, Electrosteel France will supply the pipes that will transport the water from the plant to Niamey city. The Agence Française de Développement (AFD), the European Investment Bank (EIB), and the Netherlands financed the project. It is an ORIO project funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs to support public infrastructures in developing countries. Thanks to this global initiative,  the residents of Niamey will soon be better able to protect themselves against deadly diseases such as coronavirus, cholera, and typhoid.

References

https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news/2004/04/28/niger-river-action-planned-river-shrinking

https://www.afrik21.africa/en/niger-electrosteel-to-provide-pipelines-for-water-project-in-niamey/

https://www.rvo.nl/subsidies-regelingen/projecten/extension-existing-water-supply-system-niamey

https://snv.org/update/cleaning-niamey-one-innovation-time

Rethinking Womanhood: Childless in Niger

By Elsa Sichrovsky

In a nation where the fertility rate is 7.5 children per woman[1]–the highest in the world–being childless is considered the mark of failure for a woman in Niger. Nigerien movie director Aicha Macky, herself struggling with infertility, bravely tackles the sensitive and painful social and psychological issues surrounding fertility in her first documentary feature, The Fruitless Tree (2016).

This isn’t the first time for Aicha Macky to speak up for Nigerien women about distressing but socially unacceptable issues. Her first film, Moi et ma maigreur (Me and My Thinness, 2011) addressed body image and the connection between thinness and AIDS in Africa. In 2013, she released her thesis film Savoir faire le lit (Know How to Make the Bed, 2013), which explored how girls receive–or fail to receive–sex education from their mothers. Her master’s degrees in sociology and documentary filmmaking give her both the cultural sensitivity and cinematic skill to produce a widely received, thought-provoking film that speaks for Nigerien women even when social norms wrap reproductive health issues in a cloud of shame. The Fruitless Tree received 50 different prizes at film festivals, including the Africa Movie Academy Award for Best Documentary,[2] and was pre-purchased by international channels, including Japan’s NHK[3].

Aicha Machky

In an interview with She Does the City[4], Aicha Macky explained that she wants to raise awareness for infertility as a public health issue that needs to be addressed. What’s more, she wants to return women their humanity, “especially in Niger where a woman cannot be simply a woman without being a mother and a wife”. Not having children herself, she knows too well that the pain of being seen as a lesser person for not having a family is a devastating blow to one’s self-confidence. She asks the hard question that every oppressed woman has probably asked herself: “When people look down on you, you wonder how you’ve wronged them[5].”

Her documentary begins by addressing the title, which is also the derisive label that infertile women are called: trees without fruit. “Here, a woman is a tree, casting shade for her resting husband, for whom she bears fruit…I’m a tree that casts shade, but I’m merely ornamental[6].” Without children, women are seen as unworthy wives who are treated with suspicion and scorn, and ultimately replaced with cowives who can bear children for their husbands[7].  In some cases, it is the husband who is infertile, but still, women are completely blamed for the lack of offspring, which takes a high social and psychological toll. Aicha Macky speaks to her mother, who died in childbirth when Aicha was only five years old: “By giving life, you lost yours. Whereas I, I’m dying a slow death by not being able to give life.”

Despite her pain, Aicha offers glimmers of hope in her film. A letter tells of an infertile wife who was brought to court by her mother-in-law and tried publicly on the accusation of using witchcraft to keep her husband from taking a second wife. Her husband stood up and bravely confessed to the assembled crowd that it was he who was infertile, and his wife had sworn never to leave him.

Another woman tells of how her husband remained by her side through 19 years of marriage, turning down every offer from other women, despite the fact she was unable to conceive. These stories show that when women are valued as individuals and treated with dignity, there is hope for women to be able to lead positive, productive lives even without bearing children[8].

In addition to her film projects, Aicha engages young people in conversations about short films that address violent extremism and political conflict. She also speaks about social prejudice, which is violence even if it doesn’t involve shedding blood: “Verbal violence marks us for life and prevents women from emancipating themselves.” [9]

For her work, she has been awarded the Chevalière des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters)by the French Republic’s Minister of Culture. Although she is unable to contribute a child to society, through her advocacy work she contributes something even more important: the ability to start greatly needed conversations to bring about positive change in the way childless women are viewed in Niger and other places in the world. As she declares in The Fruitless Tree, “I believe I am able to affirm myself as a woman among mothers[10].”

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Niger#Birth_rate

[2] https://afridocs.net/watch-now/the-fruitless-tree/

[3] https://www.3continents.com/en/individu/aicha-macky-2/

[4] https://www.shedoesthecity.com/hotdocs17-the-fruitless-tree-w-director-aicha-macky

[5] https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-africa-51589542/niger-what-s-it-like-to-be-a-childless-woman

[6] https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-africa-51589542/niger-what-s-it-like-to-be-a-childless-woman

[7] http://africultures.com/the-fruitless-tree-by-aicha-macky-13693/

[8] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47tYxwKPPOc

[9] https://www.shedoesthecity.com/hotdocs17-the-fruitless-tree-w-director-aicha-macky

[10] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47tYxwKPPOc

Uranium Mines in Niger: Blessing or Silent Killer?

By Elsa Sichrovsky

Source: Marcin Wichary

Although nearly 90% of Niger’s population lives without electricity, rich deposits of uranium in the northern regions of the country provide France with nuclear energy for electricity through the French nuclear energy company AREVA, which has been mining in Niger since 1958[1]. One out of every three light bulbs in France is lit with Nigerien uranium.[2] Uranium exports account for 75% to 90% of Niger’s national export income[3], but this revenue comes at a steep cost to the local population.

In a desert nation that already struggles to provide clean, fresh water for its citizens,  AREVA has used over 270 billion liters of water in the mining towns of Arlit and Akokan. This strain on local fossil aquifers increases the rate of desertification, which is devastating, considering that only 11.5% of Niger’s land is arable. Worse yet, uranium has been contaminating the water supply above the WHO’s recommended limit for drinking water. Alpha activity levels have been reported to be 10 to 100 times higher than the safety levels suggested by WHO. After reports from Greenpeace exposing high water pollution, AREVA closed several wells, attributing it to “natural pollution.”

Nigerien filmmaker Amina Weira’s 2016 film, La Colere Dans Le Vent, or Anger in the Wind, gives a personal glimpse into how the uranium mining industry has impacted her hometown of Arlit. AREVA has been mining uranium in Arlit since 1976. Her father worked in the uranium mines for 35 years and helped put her in contact with other miners who shared their stories of danger and exploitation.

In a Greenpeace report, Salifou Adinfo, a former driller who worked in the mines from 1966 to 2000 recalled the working conditions at the time: “In that time, there was complete ignorance! No mask, no protection. Then [later] we received protection. Before, we worked with our bare hands! …The mining company never informed us about the risks…we relied on what God decided.” [6] Due to persistent pressure from activists and locals, in recent years AREVA has finally started to provide better protective gear for its employees.

In her film, Weira commented that the danger to local residents is particularly significant since they are not educated about radioactivity: “Radioactivity is not something you can see and the local population knows nothing about the risks associated with it. At certain times of the year, the entire town is covered in sand due to the strong winds.”[7]  Due to the sandstorms that plague the region, radioactive particles are spread far and wide across the land, posing a threat to the health of all residents.

The effect of radiation on local health is undeniable. The rate of death from respiratory infection in the mining town of Arlit is double what it is in other parts of the country.[8] A local journalist reports miscarriages and birth defects among villagers: “Villagers sought spiritual interventions against the high rate of death, miscarriage, and deformed babies. There are cases where children were born with four legs, four eyes, with no eyes or with an enlarged head. Animals were born with six legs.[9]” Like many other miners, former AREVA employee Hammett has had to retire due to extreme chronic pain: “I had to quit because of unbearable pains in my joints, but I can consider myself lucky. The cases of heart attacks, strange skin conditions or permanent migraines in this place cannot be counted[10].”

Yet, all is not lost. Nigeriens are standing up for their country. Ali Idrissa is a human rights activist and co-founder of ROTAB, the Network of Organisations for Transparency and Budgetary Analysis, which seeks to promote transparency and fair negotiations between the Nigerien government and French nuclear energy companies. His goal is to properly manage Niger’s natural resources and distribute them for the benefit the people of Niger. His campaign, “Don’t touch my uranium,” has encouraged public figures and influential members of society to demand transparency and equality in the government’s handling of Niger’s natural energy resources[11].

Idrissa has suffered violent clashes with armed forces, arrests, and threats. Still, he carries on: “But even if I am scared at times, fearing for my life, I won’t give up this battle for Niger, for my people, for my family.”

[1] http://niger.areva.com/

[2] https://www.geopoliticalmonitor.com/uranium-in-niger-when-a-blessing-becomes-a-curse/

[3] https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/de9dff2f59964ab1a1bb46c2ea905f0c

[6] https://www.geopoliticalmonitor.com/uranium-in-niger-when-a-blessing-becomes-a-curse/

[7] http://www.filme-aus-afrika.de/EN/film-database/a-z/film-details/w/11130/

[8] https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/de9dff2f59964ab1a1bb46c2ea905f0c

[9] https://www.geopoliticalmonitor.com/uranium-in-niger-when-a-blessing-becomes-a-curse/

[10]https://africanarguments.org/2017/07/18/a-forgotten-community-the-little-town-in-niger-keeping-the-lights-on-in-france-uranium-arlit-areva/

[11] https://www.geopoliticalmonitor.com/uranium-in-niger-when-a-blessing-becomes-a-curse/

The Tuareg and Agadez

By Talei Caucau

Niger, West Africa, is not a place visited by many tourists, because there is not much to see, except for the northern part, most notably Agadez and the vast expanse of desert that lies beyond it, known as The Air.

Agadez is an ancient and important market town located in the desert,  northeast of Niamey, the capital of Niger. Constructed with clay and sticks, the architecture of Agadez is stunning and otherworldly. It looks like a relic of an ancient city, but it remains a lively and bustling town. It is an Islamic city with a mosque that is said to have one of the highest mud minarets in Africa.

View of Agadez from the mosque – Source: Dan Lundberg

Agadez has a fascinating history. The city prospered because of its position as a trading hub. A century ago, it became the marketplace for everything merchants had to sell – salt, ivory, slaves, etc.   For over a thousand years, caravans have been bringing salt, which is a very lucrative commodity in this area, to Agadez. The caravans merge at Agadez to sell their goods after crossing the desert.

In Agadez, caravans can gather food for themselves and their horses and camels before they begin the next part of their journey. Their way of life is mostly unknown to the rest of the world. The caravans do what they must to endure droughts and constant conflict in the region. They continue to make their way through the desert and wander through the harsh lands they know so well.

In the 15th century, Agadez was the home of a Tuareg sultanate. The Tuareg are pastoralists who inhabit North and West Africa. Niger was taken over by  French colonialists in the early 1900s and their reign over the city was brutal until the Tuaregs, a large Berber ethnic confederation of nomads, fought against their cruel oppressors in an act of desperation and defiance. It took four months for the French to quell the rebellion. Even colonial powers could not easily defeat the mighty Tuareg in the region. The language spoken by the Tuareg is said to have been used by ancient Libyans.

A Tuareg Rider – Source: Jason Hall

In 2010, it was estimated there were around 2 million Tuareg. Their lifestyle is ancient but fascinating. The Tuareg, in North Africa, inhabit the desert regions and live in feudal communities in tents and wield traditional weapons. It is apparent the Tuareg, noblemen, and clergy, are deeply entrenched in their culture and live according to their own laws. The Tuareg are considered “uneducated” by many, however, they are very intelligent and have survived the harsh landscape of Niger for thousands of years. They have preserved their ancient language and culture. They have learned everything they know from their elders. It is evidently a tough way of life, however, the caravans have survived for over a thousand years. It is a beautiful and otherworldly way of life.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4ZrdEt6D_Q

https://www.britannica.com/place/Agadez

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Tuareg

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/12/niger-tuareg-people-living-drought-conflict-171231161532135.html

The Last Master: Malam Mamane Barka

By Elsa Sichrovsky

In the 1980s, a teenaged teacher would often entertain locals in the town of Tesker, Niger by playing the ngurumi, a traditional instrument with a calabash shell body and iguana skin head[1] that is often used by the Toubou people of northern Niger. The Toubou schoolteacher went on to become headmaster of a local school at the age of sixteen, but he still found time to continue writing songs for the ngurumi and developing his musical skill. Little did that headmaster, a young Malam Mamane Barka, know that he would go on to become another kind of master: an internationally recognized musician and guardian of traditional music.

Word spread of Mamane Barka’s mesmerizing tunes that celebrated the nomadic culture of the Toubou people, and he began receiving performance requests from across Niger and neighboring Nigeria as well. But Mamane Barka had even bigger dreams. He wanted to revive the popularity of a boat-shaped string instrument called the biram, which is native to the Boudouma tribe. In 2002, he was awarded a UNESCO scholarship to travel to Lake Chad to pursue the study of the biram with the world’s last remaining biram master, Boukar Tar. The aging master had all but given up hope for preserving this ancient art, but Mamane Barka rescued it from oblivion. After Mamane Barka had undergone numerous purification rites, Boukar Tar began imparting his precious knowledge of the biram and the lyrics to traditional songs. Before he died, Boukar Tar gave Mamane Barka his last biram, thus endowing him with the responsibility of bringing the biram onto the international music scene.

In 2005, Mamane Barka brought the biram outside of Niger for the first time with a performance at the Desert Music Festival in Rissani, Morocco. The performance was a success, and Mamane Barka’s international career took off with further performances in France and Germany. In 2008, Mamane Barka and his fellow musician, percussionist Oumarou Adamou, performed at the WOMAD (World of Music, Arts, and Dance) festival and were warmly received. They caught the attention of London music producer Paul Borg, who began recording with them in the prestigious Livingston Studios where they produced their first album, Introducing Malam Mamane Barka.[2]

The album featured lyrics in multiple West African languages, Boudouma, Hausa, Toubou, and Kanuri. The multilingual album celebrated Nigerien diversity and transcended tribal borders. Some songs celebrated the courage of tribal young people who face danger from wild animals, intertribal warfare,  and the threats of nature. Some songs pondered Niger’s rapidly changing society and the challenges that young people face in adapting to it.

Mamane Barka was deeply conscious of his life’s destiny: “I felt a responsibility to the old man and to his instrument. Before he died, I promised him I would show the biram to the world and so that’s what I must do,”[3] he said. Along with the widely popular Nigerien band Etran Finatawa, Mamane Barka formed a The Endless Journey. tour. They traveled to China, Japan, Pakistan, Morocco, Algeria, France, Germany, Spain, and Holland as cultural activists striving to celebrate and preserve their traditional culture. In the face of relentless modernization, their mission was to help young people appreciate and find pride in their musical heritage. The tour was also showcased in a documentary film and photographic exhibition[4].

In 2018, Malam Mamane Barka passed away. His death was deeply mourned by the international music community. Mamane Barka left a legacy of gratitude and appreciation for traditional culture. Throughout his lyrics, he consistently paid tribute to his teacher. One of his most well-known songs is “Boulanga,” a song which. Was previously performed by his teacher Boukar Tar. “Boulanga” expresses the loneliness of an old man whose friends have died before him. Mamane Barka studied the lyrical and musical structure of the song for several months before releasing it as an homage to his teacher. In “Doro Lelewa,”Mamane Barka sings the praises of Boukar Tar’s Boudouma village[5]. While pioneering new sounds with an ancient instrument, Mamane Barka honored the cultural traditions of his ancestors.

Niger is a nation rich with unique music and culture. Sadly, Niger’s beautiful and vibrant artistry is often clouded by the struggles of poverty and deprivation. When young people gain access to the education and resources needed to achieve their dreams, they can go places previous generations could only dream of. Join Wells Bring Hope in giving Nigerien young people a chance to stop the cycle of intergenerational poverty, so Nigerien youth can enrich our world with more amazing art and music.

[1] https://worldmusic.net/products/introducing-mamane-barka

[2] https://www.accessallareas.info/mamane-barka-1959-2018/

[3] https://www.accessallareas.info/mamane-barka-1959-2018/

[4] https://www.worldmusic.co.uk/the_endless_journey_niger_to_tour_uk_junejuly

[5] http://fidjomusic.com/mamane-barka.html

Causes of Child Marriage and the Bigger Picture

By Michelle Nelson von Euw

A great deal of research has been done on child marriage in an effort to understand the causes, and effects, of this damaging practice. Child marriage refers to both formal and informal unions in which children under the age of 18 live with partners as if they are married. According to a recent study conducted by Girls Not Brides, 1 in 5 girls in the world are married before the age of 18. Over 650 million women alive today were married as children. Niger has the highest overall prevalence of child marriage in the world with 76% of girls under the age of 18 being married. One of the leading predictors of a high rate of child marriage is gender inequality. Girls are pushed into marriage because of how they are perceived by society: as a burden.

Due to limited economic and social opportunities, young girls in developing nations are often seen as liabilities and economic burdens. While women work in the home, this work is not valued as it does not generate income. This view of women has reinforced the use of the dowry and has contributed to the disempowerment of women and girls. The community structures that limit opportunities for young women are often the result of traditional practices. In many instances, traditional practices that are made the sole responsibility of women such as caring for children, housework, and water retrieval, are not questioned because they are seen as an integral part of a community’s identity. For example, in India, there is widespread awareness of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006, which was enacted by the Supreme Court of India, but child marriage is still prevalent as many people feel that traditions and social norms are stronger than the law.

The supremacy of traditional practices creates great barriers to change. For example, in many nations around the world, women and girls are solely responsible for retrieving water for their homes. Unfortunately, water points are often miles away from the rural villages where the women live and may require hours of walking. This time-consuming practice greatly hinders a girl’s ability to receive education and women’s ability to find income-generating work.

Unfortunately, many young girls are taught that the only way to escape poverty is through marriage to a man with more wealth. This also means that women’s futures often rest in the hands of their spouses. For many, this means that there is no possible path to self-sufficiency. These cultural frameworks create an atmosphere of social and peer pressure that many girls feel unable to combat. This is particularly true in the case of the most vulnerable (orphans, those who have received little education, etc.) who are more susceptible to these forces. In order to break this cycle, child marriage must be stopped as the causes and effects are often circular. A lack of education leads to child marriage and child marriage often discourages, or completely eliminates, a girls’ choice to continue her education. In addition, child marriage is often associated with health risks like sexually transmitted diseases and obstetric fistulas, which further threaten a woman’s position in a community, making her even more vulnerable and reliant on her husband.

While the specific circumstances that lead to child marriage vary from girl to girl (limited education and economic opportunities, dowry systems, traditional and societal norms, and expectations, etc.), the underlying issue is gender inequality that disempowers women and girls. If there is hope for improvement, which I wholeheartedly believe there is, it is vital to understand that there is a need for societal standards that support gender equality. Communities must push back against prejudicial, traditional practices that marginalize half of the population. Increasing awareness of the laws that protect young girls can empower them to play an active role in making decisions that affect their lives. This can be a strong counter to societal pressures and can give girls the courage to break with tradition and operate outside of the status quo. Traditions and customs are not immutable, and empowerment is the gateway to change.

References:

Girls Not Brides. “Child Marriage Around the World.” Girls Not Brides, www.girlsnotbrides.org/where-does-it-happen/.

Steinhaus, M., Fenn, N., Gregowski, A. & Petroni, S. (2016). “’She Cannot Just Sit Around Waiting to Turn Twenty’ Understanding Why Child Marriage Persists in Kenya and Zambia.” ICRW.

United Nations International Emergency Fund. “Child Marriage.” UNICEF: What We Do.

Young Lives, Child Marriage and Female Circumcisions (FGM/C): Evidence from Ethiopia, Policy brief 21, July 2014.

So tell me again, why have we been panic buying toilet paper?

By Nick Baldry

When it became apparent that the coronavirus had not only reached the shores of the United States, but was taking hold to such an extent that we needed to shut down society as we know it, there was one fairly universal reaction. Panic.

That panic manifested itself in a number of ways. A common one was panic purchasing. Commodities flew off shelves. In very short order, my local supermarkets were stripped of fairly obvious items such as canned food and bottled water as people rushed to make sure that they had enough to survive an unknown period of time where they wouldn’t be able to leave home. This was despite the fact that stores would remain open and well-stocked during the lockdown. Scarcity created fear that other products would become increasingly scarce and a vicious cycle took hold.

Other less obvious products were purchased in almost unprecedented quantities. A report from the Guardian newspaper on March 17th described lines at the doors of marijuana dispensaries and video game stores in San Francisco prior to the local shelter in place order going into effect, as people prepared to spend day after day at home. Maybe a little less unexpectedly, alcohol sales also climbed steeply. In the US they were up 55% for the third week in March compared to the same time in 2019, according to CNN.

And then there was toilet paper…

I’ll be honest, if you had asked me at the beginning of the year what items I would have hoarded in a pandemic, I don’t think toilet paper would have made the list. Wine, definitely. Toilet paper would have been an afterthought at best.

Throughout the western world, we went potty over the stuff. Local Facebook groups were full of posts from residents asking for inside information on which supermarkets were getting a shipment in as they were down to their last roll or worse last few sheets. Some stocked up with a view to selling toilet paper at a markup, a practice that proved disastrous for one gentleman in Australia who tried to return $10,000 AUD worth of toilet paper and hand sanitizer that eBay was no longer letting him list for sale. The supermarket declined to offer him a refund. The toilet paper situation in Australia was apparently so dire that one newspaper printed a special edition with eight blank pages that could be ripped off and used in case of emergency.

Ultimately this was a staggeringly first world response to a pandemic. Toilet paper is not essential to survival. Water, yes. Food, yes. Wine, we’ll agree to disagree on that one. Toilet paper, no.

In the developed world we have the luxury of having at least one room in our home essentially dedicated to sanitation. We sit on the porcelain throne whiling away time on smartphones (at least 75% of us do according to a 2015 article and terrifyingly 63% of us have answered a call while using the facilities) safe in the knowledge that what we produce and any accompanying toilet paper will be whisked away cleanly and efficiently with a simple flush, never to be thought of again.

On the ground, in Niger, the need is far more fundamental. Instead of a rush on toilet paper, the need is toilets. Around 96% of people do not have access to sanitation, not even a basic latrine. People are left with no choice but to practice open defecation, a practice which is a key part of the lifecycle for diseases such as schistosomiasis and trachoma, as well as a variety of life-threatening diarrheal diseases.

This is all before we get to the implications of a pandemic like a coronavirus, a disease where one of the best defenses is handwashing – a simple intervention when you have access to clean water. When, like 61% of rural villagers in Niger, you don’t have access to such a basic resource as clean water, the potential for rampant spread is unimaginable.

Does the emergence of the coronavirus in Niger (which has confirmed 701 cases at the time of writing) mean there is a sudden need for wells and sanitation in Niger? No. The need is far from sudden, it has been there for generations. In a country where one in seven children dies before the age of five, where diseases linked to the lack of adequate sanitation have been and continue to be rife, coronavirus is just another on a depressingly long list of reasons why there is a need to fund wells, access to sanitation, and all of the other critical interventions Wells Bring Hope provides to people on the ground.

I’m not so worried about toilet paper. I have access to a toilet, clean running water, and other fundamental defenses against disease. Of course, the pandemic is a concern for myself and my family, but at least it isn’t exacerbated by a real threat of the diseases of poverty that threaten people throughout the developing world on a daily basis.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/17/life-under-shelter-in-place-long-lines-empty-roads-panic-buying-cannabis

https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/01/business/alcohol-sales-coronavirus-trnd/index.html

https://www.newsweek.com/man-who-bought-10000-worth-toilet-paper-hand-sanitizer-denied-refund-1498343?amp=1

https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/wipe-out/

https://www.thecut.com/2015/05/science-of-us-guide-to-bathroom-behavior.html

https://wellsbringhope.org/the-need/

https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

My Journey as a Water Engineer

By Godfrey Oyuki

I come from a village called Abur in Osukuru sub-county, Tororo district, Uganda. My grandparents, father and all fourteen of his children were born there. It is located on a hill and the ground water table is very difficult to reach. There is no natural spring, no river, no stream, and no open water source in the entire area and it has been that way for many decades.

The only water source was more than six kilometers away and there were lots of hills to climb. I watched my grandmother fetching water, carrying it in a traditional pot molded from clay. If the pot fell, she would lose the water and also the pot. Her life was really difficult. It took a strong woman eight hours to walk back and forth to get water.

The other challenge was that this water source, our only water source, also served
animals that polluted the water. People would move their cattle every day from other villages and they do that to this day.

Rain was a major source of water and it collected between the hills, like small reservoirs, storing water for at least a month if animals didn’t invade the space. However, the water flowing through the soil and rock would pick up excess minerals and cause serious dental problems.

In 2003, our prayers were answered when the government drilled two borehole wells in our area. I was only eight years old. But sad to say, due to the high amount of fluoride in the well water, we were still forced to fetch drinking water from the same contaminated source. By 2014, the wells dried up. The high fluoride content made teeth very brown and impacted the lives of a whole generation of children who, upon leaving their village, faced ostracism for their appearance.

As a young child, I grew up believing that every society was like mine. It wasn’t until I got to high school that I realized other communities had very good water resources and lived a very good life. I also realized that I had to work hard to solve the water challenge in my village.  My dream to improve our water supply was strengthened when one of my village friends who got an electrical engineering degree, returned home and made sure the electrical grid reached our village. It made me believe that I could also bring about change in the life of my village.

The government has remained clueless about how to help people in our area and so the problem remains—my village has no other option than to use the same traditional water source shared with animals.

Having experienced these water challenges, my father encouraged me to pursue a course in Water Engineering as a way to give back to society. In 2018, I completed my B.S. degree in water resources engineering. I also did a project on aquifer recharge techniques to help solve the borehole drying challenges in my village and submitted it as a university undergraduate thesis.

I’m now working on a UN mission in Somalia as a Water and Sanitation Engineer, assigned to a company called I.A.G International L.L.C. I’m very proud to have achieved my goal and hope to one day have the resources to solve the water problem in my village.