Coronavirus is Impacting Vaccine Programs in Niger, Endangering Children

By Omair Ali

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a great strain on Niger by creating massive delays in supply distribution and other hurdles that have been detrimental to communities’ well-being. One, particularly concerning consequence of COVID-19, is that many children have not yet received essential vaccinations, leaving many vulnerable to serious infections.

Vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and polio had devastating effects on populations across the globe for centuries until vaccines were created and eventually distributed worldwide. As an immunity-boosting tool, vaccines stimulate our immune system by introducing a weakened microbe, a dead microbe, or a molecule from the microbe into our bodies. By mounting a response against the agent introduced by the vaccine, our immune systems gain memory of a microbe such that it can produce an effective immune response if re-infection occurs. Vaccines work effectively to protect children around the world but are particularly critical in regions like West Africa, where vulnerability to highly fatal infections is high.

Earlier in the pandemic, the World Health Organization advised several countries, including Niger, to postpone their vaccination programs to limit the spread of COVID-19 [1]. Additionally, healthcare workers in Niger have been reassigned to COVID-19 treatment efforts, and vaccine supply chains have been disrupted [1,7]. These measures, along with social distancing restrictions, have stalled vaccine programs. Furthermore, growing fears about COVID-19 have kept parents away from clinics that they view as hotbeds for COVID-19 transmission [1,7].

While the focus on treating and preventing COVID-19 is warranted, especially as Niger has been receiving coronavirus-related aid [2], these efforts shouldn’t impede other public health efforts like vaccine programs. Vaccinations are essential for everyone, especially children. When children don’t receive their recommended vaccines, they are left with very little protection from diseases that have killed millions in past years. As vaccine-preventable diseases, such as polio in Niger and measles in other African nations [1,3],  have been reappearing as small-scale outbreaks, unvaccinated children are in an even more vulnerable situation. Additionally, vaccine-preventable diseases have deadlier and more frequent consequences than coronavirus for children, so lack of access to vaccinations further entrenches future generations in extreme poverty.

Reaching all infants and children in Niger has long been a challenge for NGOs. UNICEF’s 2017 vaccine coverage survey revealed that fewer than 4 out of 10 children in Niger received all recommended vaccinations before turning one [5]. The survey also showed that 80.2% of children had received the Penta-3 vaccine, a vaccine that provides coverage against Diphtheria, Tetanus, Meningitis, Hepatitis B, and Polio, which was short of their 90% target [5]. A 2018 vaccine survey shows a decline from 2017 in coverage for all available vaccines, highlighting existing gaps in participation [4]. Part of the problem is a lack of community awareness and health misconceptions, which are further exacerbated by coronavirus-related concerns.

Despite the ongoing challenges, there is hope that Niger can overcome these challenges as vaccination programs resume operations. The World Bank-sponsored Population and Health Support Project has been acting quickly to meet the needs of Nigerien communities. Through the project’s “Rapid Results Initiatives,” Nigeriens have been receiving health services during the pandemic, including active vaccine programs that have been allowed to operate in areas like the Maradi Region [6].

Good health for children has also been hard to achieve in Niger due to a lack of access to clean water. Because of poor water access, families are forced to consume water that is often from sources contaminated with disease-causing microorganisms, which leaves children vulnerable to diseases that can lead to poor growth, permanent injury, or death. In response to Niger’s water crisis, Wells Bring Hope ensures access to clean water by drilling wells that ensure not only the current survival of communities but also a healthy future for children.

 

Sources:

[1] https://www.bbc.com/news/health-52911972

[2] https://www.afdb.org/en/news-and-events/press-releases/african-development-bank-approves-20-million-contain-spread-covid-19-g5-sahel-nations-36118

[3] https://www.zmescience.com/science/with-vaccination-suspended-niger-gets-hit-with-a-new-polio-outbreak/

[4]  https://www.who.int/immunization/monitoring_surveillance/data/ner.pdf

[5] https://www.unicef.org/niger/stories/childrens-immunization-everyones-responsibility

[6] https://reliefweb.int/report/niger/rapid-results-initiatives-niger-advancing-women-s-health-outcomes

[7] https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/facing-twin-crises-of-covid-19-and-climate-change-refugees-will-suffer-the-most/

Did COVID-19 bring anything good to the Planet?

 

by Raphaela Barros Prado

Source: Del-Uks

For months now, the world has been suffering from COVID-19, and citizens across the globe have been trying to find unique ways to fight the pandemic and adapt to a strange new reality. The planet has also changed since this crisis began, and many of these changes have been for the better.

When the virus started spreading in China, the government quickly enforced a lockdown, closing all non-essential businesses and requiring the entire population to stay home. It was a significant effort to slow the spread of the virus. China has one of the world’s biggest economies, with thousands of factories active almost 24 hours a day to keep its economy running full steam. All of that full-time production causes intense air pollution. Once the lockdown started, the lack of cars in the streets and the shuttered factories resulted in a dramatic improvement in air quality as the carbon dioxide emissions dropped.

A similar thing happened in India, where urban air pollution levels are often among the world’s worst. Before the pandemic, it was not uncommon to see Indian people wearing masks because of the bad air quality. But with the fast spread of the virus, the country also implemented a lockdown, and as a result, the biggest cities saw a significant decrease in air pollution and enjoyed clear blue skies for the first time in years.

With millions of people staying home, fewer people driving in the streets, beaches close to empty, and tourism at a  standstill, nature has started to revert to a healthier state. In Venice, with tourists gone and only residents using boats, the water in the canals has changed color, becoming more clear and less polluted.

An article published by Nature notes that with the significant changes we have seen in the environment, there is a chance to see a return to abundance in the oceans. If we put in the effort we have a chance to counter the damage done from pollution and overfishing by 2050.

As we contemplate newly clear skies, cleaner water, and more abundant wildlife, and as we appreciate being able to live more peacefully, with less traffic and less pollution, we must realize that this may only be a temporary respite,. Once countries start reopening, factories resume production, and people begin traveling again, the environmental benefits caused by the lockdown will decrease or disappear unless we take serious action. Although all the changes we have seen maybe short-lived, we have a unique opportunity to recommit ourselves to doing what we can for the planet’s future.

https://www.inquirer.com/science/climate/earth-day-coronavirus-philadelphia-wildlife-pollution-climate-change-20200422.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pollution_in_China

Rahmatou Keïta’s The Wedding Ring: Celebrating Niger’s Beauty

By Elsa Sichrovsky

Source : Rahmatou Keïta

Do you know what Niger’s first entry at the Academy Awards was? It was Rahmatou Keïta’s 2016 film The Wedding Ring (Zin’naariyâ!), and it was entered in 2018[1].  It follows the adventures of an aristocratic young woman named Tiyaa (starring director Rahmatou Keïta’s daughter, Magaajyia Silberfeld) as she struggles to readjust to life in her village in the Sultanate of Zinder after studying at university in France. Although she is returning as an educated woman who has had the luxury of seeing the world outside of her village, her life is frustrated with the pain of waiting as her suitor in France has yet to make a formal offer of marriage.

She seeks the advice of a wise man, who tells her she should get the foreign symbol of marriage, a plain gold wedding ring, by the eve of the new moon. While she waits, she has time to rediscover the rituals and stories of her native culture, and the love stories of the women around her. The film celebrates the experiences of women in love as they navigate the cultural and familial complexities of Sahelian traditional culture.

The Wedding Ring echoes director Rahmatou Keïta’s own life story. She too is a descendant of multiple empires: Sundiata Keïta (Mandigo Empire), Askia Mohammed (Songhoy Empire), and the Fulaani’s kingdoms of Macina[2]. Just like her heroine, she studied philosophy and linguistics in Paris. After graduating, Keita made sure she didn’t just stand out only for being the first African journalist on French television. Her work with the television magazine L’assiette anglaise won two prestigious 7 d’or awards in 1988 and 1989[3]. She also directed a 26-episode TV series, Women of Africa (Femmes d’Afrique), which was broadcasted throughout the Africa.

Rahmatou Keïta yearned to continue the tradition of storytelling from the griots in the Sahel. She wanted to bring the richness of Sahelian culture to the world[4]. In 1993, she decided to pursue her true passion: film writing and cinema. Her first documentary feature film, An African Actress (Al’lèèssi…, 2004), described the struggle of those who first built the African film industry. The film won Best Documentary Award at Montreal and FIFAI (International Film Festival of Africa and the Islands) and the Sojourner Truth Award at the Cannes Film Festival, which brought her into the international cinema industry’s spotlight.

The British Blacklist praised the film’s artistry and presentation of Niger, “The cinematography is quite beautiful and adds to the modern feel of the story, whilst presenting the Republic of Niger in such a way that it might just make your list of places to visit one day.”[5] Rahamtou Keita clearly succeeded in her mission, as overturning stereotypes about her nation was one of the driving motivations behind her art. “Through The Wedding Ring, I wanted to show that there are happy people in Africa, beyond the dark images of economic poverty and terrorism…Material wealth isn’t always necessary to be happy,”[6] she says.

Through her film The Wedding Ring, Rahmatou Keïta strives to show her nation’s beauty to the world. “We are nations to whom dialogue and research of harmony are of the utmost importance for us, and we cultivate inner and exterior beauty and elegance[7].” Rahmatou Keïta took the time to pay painstaking detail to the decor and costumes in her film. She employs henna, dyes, and facial scarring to showcase the artistic and creative beauty of traditional Sahelian culture: “I want to pay tribute to beauty, to age-long and sumptuous architecture and costumes[8]”. She even uses clothes from her grandmother and realia from her family, such as a calabash[9].

Rather than reinforcing the popular image of African women as victims or powerless figures in the background, The Wedding Ring portrays socially active, assertive women who mirror  the positive role models Rahamtou Keita had growing up. “The women in Africa are fiercely independent and strong. My grandmother had caravans and traded gold and fabrics, she left with her employees on the backs of camels from the Niger Sahara to Arabia and even sometimes in China on business purpose. I grew up seeing such women.[10]

Yet even with such a beautiful vision of cultural celebration, Rahmatou Keïta’s script initially failed to attract sponsors from European countries. In despair, Rahmatou Keïta was about to discard her script when she learned during FESPACO 2009[11] that Algeria was planning to sponsor four feature films. To her shock and delight, the judges were awed by her script, and she was awarded funding for film production. Her confidence boosted by this success, she was able to enlist the help of film industries in other African countries such as Congo, Rwanda, Morocco, and Uganda.

Having been raised in a culture that idolized Western film, Rahamtou Keïta believe passionatelythat Africa must develop its own film industry in order to tell its own unique stories. To put her people on the screen is to give them power and confidence. “In those days cinema was about white men who were portrayed as having somewhat of a divine nature. Images had such power that we did not doubt what we saw on screen, until the day African actors appeared on the screen. The African women were not vamps and the men were unlike any of the Hollywood stars we were used to watching. They were ordinary people with a normal tan and normal features. People were shocked.” Rahmatou Keïta continues to be passionate about promoting African culture and language on an international scale. She founded ASPAC (Pan African Association of Culture)[12]and with friends founded Sonrhay Empire Productions, which seeks to produce films that give a voice to marginalized communities in Africa.

Wells Bring Hope shares Rahmatou Keïta’s vision of bringing Niger’s beauty to the world. By empowering women and girls to educate themselves and their children, Wells Bring Hope is building a future Niger where women and girls have the means to express themselves and create art that celebrates their stories. Join Wells Bring Hope in tackling, and breaking down, the economic and cultural barriers that keep Nigerien women and girls from becoming their best selves. So much of Niger’s beauty and wonder awaits to be unlocked!

 

Watch the trailer for The Wedding Ring here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50uN8xn6fJE

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wedding Ring_(2016_film)

[2] https://www.metmuseum.org/blogs/now-at-the-met/2020/sahel-west-africa-cinema-rahmatou-keita-fanta-nacro

[3] https://www.africanfilmny.org/tag/rahmatou-keita/

[4] https://www.metmuseum.org/blogs/now-at-the-met/2020/sahel-west-africa-cinema-rahmatou-keita-fanta-nacro

[5] http://thebritishblacklist.co.uk/lff2016-zinnaariya-the-wedding-ring-80-out-of-100/

[6] https://iffr.com/en/blog/%E2%80%9Cafrica-needs-to-tell-its-real-stories-now%E2%80%9D

[7] https://womenandhollywood.com/lff-2016-women-directors-meet-rahmatou-keita-the-wedding-ring-ad392d63610e/

[8] Ibid.

[9] https://www.awardsdaily.com/2018/12/16/rahmatou-keita-on-preserving-culture-in-the-wedding-ring/

[10] https://iffr.com/en/blog/%E2%80%9Cafrica-needs-to-tell-its-real-stories-now%E2%80%9D

[11]  Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou

[12] http://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.com/2015/02/fespaco-2015-rahmatou-keita-jinnaariya.html

Summer 2020: A Malaria Season Like No Other

By Omair Ali

Source: J. Bavier, Voice of America

Niger experiences extremely high mortality rates related to disease outbreaks, which are rooted in poor access to sanitation, lack of prevention, and limited treatment options. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, malaria is Niger’s leading cause of death[1]; however, this summer will be especially challenging as the global COVID-19 outbreak will coincide with malaria season.

Malaria is a protozoal infection that is caused predominantly by a parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, the most lethal of all Plasmodium species, in Niger[2]. The parasite is transmitted by Anopheles mosquitoes, which can acquire or transmit malaria through contact with human blood during its nocturnal feeds. Once malarial parasites enter human blood, they infect liver cells and multiply; the parasites then leave to infect red blood cells, where they multiply further and cause symptoms[3].

Common symptoms of malaria are very similar to COVID-19 and include fever, chills, nausea, fatigue, and headache[4]; this makes having tests for COVID-19 and malaria essential for appropriate diagnosis and treatment. Complications from unresolved malaria are severe bleeding, organ failure, seizures, severe hypoglycemia, and death. Pregnant women and children shoulder the highest burden of vulnerability to malaria. Additionally, widespread anti-malarial drug resistance has also challenged the effectiveness of existing treatment options. Compounding the problem is the fact that Niger does not have access to the malaria vaccine, Mosquirix, which is being tested in pilot programs elsewhere[5]. These shortcomings in medical management have made it exceedingly difficult for vulnerable populations in Niger to battle malaria.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), methods that effectively reduce malarial transmission involve the use of chemicals in high-risk wet areas to kill mosquitoes during the larva stage and the implementation of insecticide-treated nets, repellants, and window screens to prevent mosquito bites[6]. Implementing these strategies is critical during the rainy summer months when Anopheles mosquitoes use the newly formed wet areas as breeding grounds for rapid population growth[7]. However, as a disease of poverty, malaria has its most significant impact on Niger’s low-income families, whose access to prevention and treatment is at the mercy of the government and humanitarian aid.

As of June 17, there are 1016 total cases and 66 deaths from COVID-19 in Niger, but the worst is yet to come[8]. The World Health Organization’s models predict that the COVID-19 outbreak has negatively impacted malarial prevention strategies[9]. In Niger, the response to COVID-19 has led to lengthy lockdowns and other restrictions that have slowed down the distribution of anti-malarial treatments and preventive measures and has further endangered many communities.

Another reason that prevention is so critical is that malaria is challenging to treat because it frequently occurs with other health conditions. One study found an association between severe malaria and diarrhea-causing bacterial infections[10]. The rainy season also coincides with the “hunger gap” period, when many Nigeriens run out of stockpiled food from their previous harvest and are at risk for starvation[11]. When malnourished individuals have malaria, their weakened immune systems are less able to fight off infections, which leads to worse health outcomes.

Water scarcity compels Nigerien women to travel for several hours daily to find water, which also leaves them vulnerable to mosquito bites around the water sources they locate. But when people are desperate for basic needs, they don’t have the luxury to avoid high-risk areas where they can contract malaria.

Wells Bring Hope’s efforts are crucial to the survival and success of Nigerien communities, as we drill wells that ensure sustainable access to clean water. Giving people access to clean water frees people from the burden of relying on open water sources, allows them sufficient water for planting starvation-preventing gardens, and allows them to focus on critical issues like malaria prevention.

[1] http://www.healthdata.org/niger

[2] https://www.who.int/malaria/publications/country-profiles/profile_ner_en.pdf?ua=1

[3] https://www.cdc.gov/malaria/about/biology/index.html

[4] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/malaria/symptoms-causes/syc-20351184

[5] https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/23-04-2019-malaria-vaccine-pilot-launched-in-malawi

[6] https://www.cdc.gov/malaria/malaria_worldwide/reduction/vector_control.html

[7]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3816780/

[8] https://ne.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/covid-19-information/

[9] https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/23-04-2020-who-urges-countries-to-move-quickly-to-save-lives-from-malaria-in-sub-saharan-africa

[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3928319/

[11] https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/what-we-do/news-stories/news/niger-fighting-malnutrition-and-malaria-during-hunger-gap

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