Striving to Do It Better

By Barbara Goldberg

In 2008, we set out to solve the water crisis in Niger, West Africa, to put an end to death and disease from contaminated water. We also wanted to put an end to women and girls as young as seven walking miles to get water. We’re doing that.

But there is something we couldn’t do then.

Let’s turn back the clock to January of 2009, our first trip to Niger. We saw villages without safe water and talked to women who lost children from contaminated water. Our hearts broke.

We also visited villages as wells were coming in, and we shared in that joy, but as I watched women laboriously use the hand pump to get water from the well, I winced. I thought, “Does it have to be this hard?”  A while later, I posed that question to Sam Jackson of World Vision, our partner in drilling wells. Is there an easier way to access water?

It was then that he told me about solar-powered, mechanized wells, big projects costing $50,000 and serving villages with populations of 2,000 or more. World Vision was beginning to implement these mechanized wells, which are markedly easier to use, but it wasn’t yet happening in Niger.

Sam said that if we wanted to learn more, we could be part of a project being done in Mali, right next door to Niger. With an investment of $25,000, we shared ownership of this project and were able to visit and learn more about these new water systems firsthand.

We talked to women who no longer had to pump up water—they simply turned on a tap. I spoke to a grandmother who was thankful that she didn’t have to depend on her grandchildren to get water for her. She experienced newfound independence, she said she no longer felt so old.

Source: Wells Bring Hope

I spoke to a woman who was thrilled that she could now send her children to get water for the family, including her sons. Providing water was no longer a job for women, scoring “points” for gender equality!

Source: Wells Bring Hope

At that time, these big water projects weren’t cost-effective for us, so we waited until technology caught up with the need. We, along with the women of Niger, have waited a long time for this technology to become cost-effective, and finally, it has! As of September 1, 2021, we are funding solar-powered, mechanized wells that draw water to a tap stand where safe, clean water is accessible at a tap, or faucet, much as it is here. It is a joy to see the burden of Nigerien women eased in yet another way, to help make their work more bearable.

Climate Change Makes Life Increasingly Difficult for Niger’s Farmers and Nomadic Herders

By Amber Nicolai

As with many issues faced by developing nations, climate change is intensifying many of Niger’s existing difficulties, such as the lack of access to land for farming and grazing. About 80% of Niger’s population relies on farming or herding for sustenance, and suitable land is becoming increasingly difficult to find.

Source: Peter Casier

Settled Zuma farmers are losing crops due to often unpredictable, extreme weather conditions brought on by climate change, with severe droughts or flash floods wiping out their only means of income. Meanwhile, these same conditions are forcing the nomadic Fulani herders to travel further and search longer for pastureland and water for their animals.

 

Source: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid

This conflict has been ongoing since 1944 and has noticeably increased as temperatures have risen and desertification has increased. The effects of climate change continue to make usable land even more scarce in the country and clashes between Zuma farmers and Fulani herders continue to escalate and become more violent as both groups try to find land capable of supporting them and their families.

The best hope of mitigating this conflict is for Nigeriens to combat climate change’s effects and build resilience against them. Many groups in the country are doing this by diversifying food production, building food banks, and generating alternate sources of income, among other things.

One of the ways Wells Bring Hope is helping families in Niger to generate income is by empowering women to get educated, start their own small businesses, and have greater access to health resources. This allows them to be self-sufficient when they are left alone to care for children as the men in the family go off in their long search for farm or pastureland and increase the families’ quality of life overall.

You can learn more about what we do here.

Sources:

10 Facts About Sanitation in Niger

https://borgenproject.org/10-facts-about-sanitation-in-niger/#:~:text=In%202016%2C%20an%20estimated%2070.8,3%2C842%20deaths%2C%20all%20in%202017.

Climate Change Threatens End of Trail for Niger’s Nomadic Herders

https://www.rappler.com/environment/climate-change-threatens-fulani-niger-nomadic-herders

Building Climate Change Resilience in Niger to Keep Hunger Away

https://www.oxfam.org/en/building-climate-change-resilience-niger-keep-hunger-away

Farmer-Herder Conflict Between Fulani and Zarma in Niger

https://climate-diplomacy.org/case-studies/farmer-herder-conflict-between-fulani-and-zarma-niger

 

 

 

 

Contraception and Family Planning

By William Beeker

Source: Wells Bring Hope

Modern contraception is a vital tool in women’s empowerment and the fight for gender equality. In countries like Niger, where gender inequality is still highly prevalent, contraception use for married women is about 14%, compared with 30% across Africa and 55% globally. This is troubling for a few reasons.

Firstly, about 75% of Nigerien girls are married before they’re 18-years-old, which means they start having children at an extremely young age, which results in frequent complications, and even mortality, for both mothers and babies. It also means that young girls are unable to attend school because they’re tasked with caring for children. Without an education, women have access to fewer economic opportunities and inevitably become more deeply entrenched in their roles as caretakers.

These consequences combine to narrowly limit a Nigerien woman’s possible opportunities. Getting married and having kids comes to seem like the only way forward, which reinforces the motivation to have kids, which maintains these adverse consequences, and so on, perpetuating a cycle that can be difficult to overcome. Contraception use is something that can disrupt this cycle and give young women more autonomy in the decision to conceive.

Young women, especially those who are married, face immense societal pressure to conceive, and in a country where large families (10+ children) are still the norm, it means these women spend the bulk of their young lives pregnant or caring for very small children. The pressure to conceive is so deeply ingrained that many women who manage to get access to contraceptive methods end up discontinuing use. A recent study found that in Niger, 96.8% of young women who started using contraception discontinued use while still at risk of getting pregnant. Respondents cited pressure from their husbands and families as the primary reasons for stopping contraception.

This deeply rooted cultural norm has contributed to one of the highest fertility rates in the world (7.3 children per woman in Niger, compared to an average of 4.6 across Africa and 2.5 globally). With Niger’s population on track to triple by 2050, its government has rightfully put more emphasis on family planning in recent years, with contraception playing an important role. However, in Niger, the cost of modern contraceptives can be prohibitive.

Source: Wells Bring Hope

The microfinance training that Wells Bring Hope provides enables women to become more financially independent, which can delay early marriages, lower maternal mortality, and provide women with the resources to pay for contraception. By drilling wells, women and girls are freed from the daily burden of finding and retrieving water, which allows them to attend school and further improve their situation. Contraception, education, and economic opportunity are all crucial to making Niger a safer and more sustainable place for everyone, especially women and children.

 

Sources:

https://bmcwomenshealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12905-021-01326-0

https://womendeliver.org/2018/bridging-education-contraception-climate-change-niger/

https://www.familyplanning2020.org/niger

https://www.pathfinder.org/power-of-contraception/

The Prospect of Renewable Energy in Niger

By: Adhithi Sreenivasan

Source:Pencils for Kids, Libore, Niger

With the progression of climate change and a greater awareness of the harm that non-renewable energy can cause to the environment, there has been a greater push around the world to utilize more sustainable sources of energy. Niger in particular is taking more direct initiatives to adopt environmentally-friendly sources.

Recently, Niger’s Ministry of Energy has agreed on a collaboration with the International Finance Corporation via the World Bank Group as well as Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). As a new nation under the World Bank Group’s Scaling Solar program, Niger will participate in a project to capture up to 50 megawatts of solar power that will be grid-connected. The Scaling Solar program claims the solar power will amount to approximately “20 percent of the country’s current installed capacity.”

The implications of this transition are great. Solar power is sustainable, which aligns with Niger’s goal to increase the country’s renewable power sources by 30% by 2035. Participating in the Scaling Solar Program also will significantly boost available electricity so more Nigerien citizens will be able to access it and reap the benefits in their homes, schools, and businesses.

Furthermore, this partnership is just one part of a larger plan involving several West African nations in the West Africa Power Pool (WAPP) to improve access to energy and power in the region. Besides Niger, some of the countries participating in this effort include Mauritania, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, and Mali. Increased access to electricity is expected to spur economic growth, ultimately leading to a stronger Niger.

 

Sources:

https://www.scalingsolar.org/niger-joins-scaling-solar/

https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2021/06/10/world-bank-group-provides-465-million-to-expand-energy-access-and-renewable-energy-integration-in-west-africa

https://pressroom.ifc.org/all/pages/PressDetail.aspx?ID=26406

 

Refugees and Displaced Peoples in Niger

By William Beeker

Source: Mali Refugee

The UN recently issued a report on the state of the humanitarian crisis in Niger that’s resulted from sectarian violence in the region. “The insecurity has forcibly displaced more than 537,000 people across the country,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said. “It has also affected people’s access to basic social services, including education and health care.” Routine attacks from various religious extremist groups have forced civilians in neighboring Mali, Burkina Faso, and Nigeria to flee their homes in search of safety in Niger. As the poorest country in the world, Niger is ill-equipped to handle this steady influx of refugees and the country is struggling to provide them with basic necessities while fending off the violence that’s been spilling over the border for years.

In areas where the Nigerien government has managed to get the violence under control, Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP’s) are being given the go-ahead to finally return home. Nearly 6,000 people displaced by violence in 2015 have returned to southeast Niger’s Diffa region already, with another 2,000-4,000 to follow. They are the first part of a bigger operation to return people to 19 towns and villages in the region. Niger’s government approved the return of these IDP’s “given positive changes in the [security] situation on the ground,” said Diffa regional governor Issa Lemine. This is a promising step forward, but much work will need to be done to rebuild the institutions and infrastructure that were neglected or damaged after locals were forced out.

Those coming home again will be faced with many of the same problems they faced while displaced. As IDP’s, children tend not to attend school consistently, if at all, and parents struggle to make ends meet. In order for locals to return to schools and work in their home villages, they need to have their basic needs met and that starts with having a reliable source of clean water. Women and girls are the worst affected in this regard because they’re the ones tasked with walking 4-6 miles a day to retrieve water for drinking, cooking, and farming. Girls are unable to attend schools and women are unable to start businesses or bring in income for their families because their days revolve around fetching water which is often unsafe to drink.

But many of these problems can be alleviated with a solution Wells Bring Hope is uniquely qualified to provide: a drilled borewell. These deep-water wells provide a consistent, clean source of water which improves sanitation and hygiene, and allows for drip farming, in addition to providing safe drinking water. The benefits of a drilled well are diverse and immediate: water-borne diseases plummet, child mortality drops by 70%, and school absenteeism is reduced by 40%. Having a reliable source of water frees girls and women to pursue education and economic opportunities. Wells Bring Hope has drilled over 680 of these wells and helped over 700,000 Nigeriens in need so far. Access to clean drinking water gives Nigeriens a necessary foundation upon which to rebuild villages that have been run down by years of conflict, as well as bolster towns taking in large numbers of refugees. Whether fleeing home or returning to it, refugees and IDP’s benefit greatly from drilled wells and they need our help now more than ever.

https://newsghana.com.gh/escalating-violence-threatens-suffering-civilians-in-niger-un/

https://www.voanews.com/africa/nearly-6000-displaced-return-home-after-niger-jihadist-attacks

https://drc.ngo/our-work/where-we-work/west-africa/niger/

The Risk of Malaria During Pregnancy

By Amber Persson

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage around the world, there is a silent killer that claims the lives of thousands in countries like Niger. The plasmodium parasite in mosquitoes causes malaria, a potentially fatal disease if left untreated. Malaria is responsible for 50% of all recorded deaths in Niger.

Pregnant Mothers at High Risk

Pregnant women and young children (<5 years) in particular are at high risk for malaria due to a weak immune response. According to the CDC, women lose partial resistance to malaria with the introduction of a new organ, the placenta, and other changes to their immune system during pregnancy.

Source: Wells Bring Hope

Malaria Intervention Plan

Pregnant women are encouraged to attend antenatal care appointments starting in the first trimester where they will receive a long-lasting insecticide net (LLIN) and begin the intermittent preventive treatment (ITPp) dose series. She will receive 3-4 doses of sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine, a well-known anti-malarial drug, over the course of her pregnancy that will effectively prevent malaria when combined with the use of LLIN’s. After paying a fee for a health card, antenatal care and ITPp are free of charge and readily available. Still, less than 30% of pregnant women receive antenatal care during their first trimester. While the majority of pregnant women do receive their first dose of ITPp, less than half ever receive their third. Without the proper prevention, there is little hope in fending off malaria for these soon-to-be-mothers.

Reasons for low ITPp administration:

  • Missing antenatal care appointments
  • Postponing antenatal care appointments until the last trimester
  • Lack of access to healthcare
  • Only 47% of health professionals are trained to administer ITPp
  • Certain cultural beliefs pertaining to keeping the pregnancy a secret may contribute

Source: PMI Impact Malaria

Niger has prioritized improving maternal and pediatric health and family planning in recent initiatives that will contribute to increasing antenatal care visitation. Improving access to healthcare, training more healthcare professionals on how to administer ITPp and overall female empowerment will significantly help the situation.

Access to Clean Water and Risk of Malaria

Access to clean water is incredibly important for lowering the risk of malaria not only by improving overall health but limiting exposure to mosquitoes that carry the parasite. In Niger, women and girls walk miles every day to collect water from sources that can be infested with mosquitoes. Higher exposure to mosquitoes equals a higher risk of malaria. In this way, drilling wells can decrease women and girls’ chances of contracting malaria while continuing to improve their health every day.

 

 

Niger’s World Heritage Sites

By Kayleigh Redmond

Although day-to-day life can be difficult in Niger, it is a country rich in history and culture, with historical and natural wonders that have lasted for centuries. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) assigns a World Heritage Site status to natural or man-made landmarks that are deemed to have cultural, historical, or scientific significance, and that provide “outstanding value to humanity.” Niger currently has three World Heritage Sites: two natural sites – the Aïr and Ténéré Natural Reserves and the W-Arly-Pendjari Complex and a cultural site, the Historic Centre of Agadez. All three locations are representative of Niger’s heritage and the beauty that the country has to offer.

The Aïr and Ténéré Natural Reserves is the largest protected area in Africa and is considered a sanctuary for a variety of plants and animals. Within the reserve, there are two main areas: the Aïr Mountains and the plains of the Ténéré desert. The Aïr Mountains stand at over 6,600 feet tall and offer a transit zone for many migratory birds. The area also features the “Blue Mountains,” which are marble stones that give the hills a beautiful blue appearance. The Ténéré desert houses 40 species of mammals, including three different threatened species of antelope. The Reserve’s valleys offer a specific habitat that allows certain kinds of acacia plants to thrive.

Rocks in Ténéré desert

Source: Alessandro Vannucci

The third site is the W-Arly-Pendjari Complex, which is a transnational property owned by Niger, Burkina Faso, and the Republic of Benin. The Complex is home to a wide range of habitats – including wetlands and wooded savannahs – and is a refuge for larger species like cheetahs, leopards, and antelopes. It hosts 85 percent of the region’s savanna elephants and is considered to have the only viable lion population in the area. The Complex is also a widely-used stop-over site for birds like ducks, swans, and herons.

African savanna elephants in Niger

Source:Roland

The Historic Centre of Agadez is located on the southern edge of the Sahara desert and features a Grand Mosque and the Sultanate of Aïr’s palace. Dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries, the site was previously home to a kingdom founded by the Tuareg people, which became instrumental in the development of economic and cultural exchanges in the region. Today, the center includes many private homes in addition to religious and cultural buildings and is credited as having the tallest mud-brick minaret (a large religious tower) in the world, standing at nearly 90 feet tall.

Minaret in Agadez

Source: Francisco Ortega

Because these sites have a World Heritage Site status, they are legally protected through the UN and are highlighted to encourage their continued preservation. There are currently 19 other cultural and natural landmarks being considered for nomination, and each addition to the list ensures that Niger’s history and beauty will continue to be cherished. Nigeriens can take pride in UNESCO’s recognition of the importance of their heritage. Wells Bring Hope is creating a different form of heritage – wells that will provide safe, life-giving drinking water for generations to come.

 

Sources:

https://whc.unesco.org/en/about/

https://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/ne

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/573

https://www.africanworldheritagesites.org/natural-places/deserts/air-and-tenere-natural-reserves-niger.html

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/749

https://naturalworldheritagesites.org/sites/w-arly-pendjari-complex/

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1268

https://www.africanworldheritagesites.org/cultural-places/trans-sahara-trading-routes/historic-centre-of-agadez-niger.html

It’s Hard to Imagine…

By Barbara Goldberg

Source: Wells Bring Hope

Since starting Wells Bring Hope 13 years ago, I’ve learned a lot about the impact of unsafe water in rural West Africa and how truly life-transforming clean water can be. Yet there was one thing I didn’t know until recently: many health clinics in rural Niger have no water at all. This means that women in labor have to carry their own water for their deliveries, and health care providers have no reliable way to wash their hands and instruments.

Both the lack of water and the unsanitary conditions of the health clinic made most women opt for giving birth at home in their village, putting both them and their babies at risk if there were complications.

Once again, we saw a simple problem with a simple solution but the solution required greater resources: $50,000 to provide water to a health clinic. Since a clinic can serve 5,000-10,000 people a year and provide safe water for everyone in the village where it is located, we considered this to be a worthwhile investment. Fortunately, many of our donors did too.

What makes this project so exciting is that the water system uses solar power to draw the water up to taps that are located in several places in the clinic – the exam room, the treatment room, and the delivery room. With enough water, both mothers and babies can be washed and made clean following delivery. Instruments and the delivery table can be cleaned between patients. The sanitary conditions are greatly improved and women feel safer coming to the health clinic.

Women who have delivered a baby at a clinic with clean water speak joyfully about what this means to them.  As one woman said, “When I gave birth to my third child, the health center had just been equipped with a pump. I was one of the first moms.  After giving birth, I was treated to a full bath. The acquisition of water restored our dignity.”

Source: Wells Bring Hope

In addition to providing safe water inside the clinic, these water systems make it possible to install a tap stand in a central location in the village, relieving women and girls of the arduous task of walking for water or even of having to manually draw the water up as they would with a handpump well. The ability to turn on a tap and instantly access safe, clean water is something we take for granted, but it is completely transformative for the people we serve in rural Niger.

We’ve funded and completed the construction of two water projects for health clinics and with your help, we’ll fund another one this year! To read more or donate: https://wellsbringhope.org/healthclinic/

The Long-Term Battle of Vitamin A Deficiency in Niger

With a special focus on women and children

By Amber Persson

Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD), the main cause of mortality in children living in areas that are considered at-risk, affects 20-25% of children in Niger. Vitamin A must be acquired through diet and plays a pivotal role in the immune system and visual system. Vitamin A Deficiency can cause stunting of growth, anemia, blindness, and death in extreme cases.

While serious, VAD is entirely preventable. Since December 1998, organizations studying the impact of VAD (UNICEF Regional Office for West and Central Africa and Helen Keller International) reported that vitamin A supplementation (VAS) in young children reduces their risk of premature death by 23%. An important component in fighting VAD is distributing Vitamin A supplements in capsules or fortifying the micronutrient in common food sources. Capsules have been distributed by organizations like Helen Keller International every 4-6 months in alliance with WHO guidelines.

Source: Ruth Fertig; Helen Keller International

The situation requires more than capsules, however, as that is a temporary solution. The best way to consistently increase Vitamin A uptake is through animal and plant products. Dairy products in particular are rich in many vitamins but are expensive and hard to come by in Niger. Vitamin A rich plant products such as carrots (which only 5% of Nigerien children eat) are difficult to access in a country that usually has only one harvest per year. In Niger, fortifying the micronutrient in common products like cooking oil helps Nigeriens gain access to it year-round.

There has been an increased effort to combat VAD in women of childbearing age and lactating mothers along with children in the past few years. Children obtain their nutrients from their mothers while in the womb and while breastfeeding. A malnourished mother can lead to a malnourished infant. Mothers also require extra nutrients and calories while pregnant to accommodate their growing child. Increasing a mother’s vitamin A intake will not only benefit her child but will also prevent certain maternal complications during birth.

VAD is just as prevalent today as it was in 1998, but VAS is an affordable solution for improving maternal, child, and community health. When battling malnutrition, nutrient supplementation and access to clean water go hand in hand. Every time that a well is drilled, the villagers are trained in the use of greywater and drip irrigation. This allows the community to supplement their diets with vitamin-rich fresh foods that help to fight the epidemic of VAD.

Sources:

Maintaining High Vitamin Supplementation Coverage in Children Lessons from Niger:

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/156482650502600103

Intrahousehold management and use of nutritional supplements during the hunger gap in Maradi region, Niger: a qualitative study

https://bmcnutr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40795-019-0329-0

Helen Keller International and VAS

https://www.givewell.org/charities/helen-keller-international#What_do_they_do

Vitamin A Supplementation handbook

https://www.givewell.org/international/technical/programs/vitamin-A

Importance of provitamin sources in Africa

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/156482650102200403

 

Empowering Women and Girls in the Fight Against HIV

By Amber Nicolai

Source: NigerTZai, Wikimedia Commons

As the global HIV epidemic rages on, young women and adolescent girls in sub-Saharan Africa are disproportionately affected. Although women between the ages of 15 and 24 only make up 10% of the region’s population, they account for one in five new HIV cases.

Gender disparity plays such a large part in the HIV epidemic that organizations like The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria see empowering women as crucial in the fight against HIV.

How Does Gender Inequality Affect HIV Rates?

Gender-Based Violence

In regions where HIV is prevalent, gender-based violence is a significant factor in determining whether a woman or adolescent girl will contract the virus. Women in these regions are 50% more likely to contract HIV if they experience intimate partner violence.

Women who experience gender-based violence are often afraid to speak up and insist on safer sex practices, leaving them vulnerable to the disease. Child marriage, which dramatically increases a girl’s chances of being exposed to intimate partner violence, compounds the problem.

Educational Disparity

Women and girls receive less education in many sub-Saharan countries, such as Niger. Keeping girls in school longer is associated with lower rates of HIV for several reasons:

  • Girls with more education are less likely to become child brides and more likely to have control over their sexual health
  • Girls who stay in school are more likely to learn about HIV prevention
  • Better educated girls and women are better able to support their families

Unfortunately, many girls in Niger drop out of school at a young age to take on family responsibilities, such as walking several miles a day to gather water. This increases their educational and income disparity, leading to increased risks of gender-based violence and HIV contraction.

Lack of Access to Preventative Care and Education

Many countries in sub-Saharan countries have laws in place that restrict access to HIV screenings and other sexual health services for women and girls without parental or spousal consent. This prevents many women and girls from accessing the preventative care they need to stay HIV-free.

Improving access to preventative care and implementing HIV education programs can go a long way towards reducing HIV rates among young women.

Economic Empowerment for Women Can Help

Reducing gender-based economic disparity is crucial in improving women’s standing in society, which restores in them a sense of agency and empowerment. Empowering women in this way reduces risks of violence and poverty and improves access to health education, all of which decrease HIV risks.

Programs like the Wells Bring Hope Microfinance Training for Women in Niger give women the resources they need to generate income for their families, improve their position in society, and become role models for their daughters.

Sources:

https://www.cfr.org/blog/fighting-hiv-young-women-through-economic-empowerment

https://www.theglobalfund.org/media/1296/publication_womengirls_focuson_en.pdf

https://www.avert.org/professionals/social-issues/gender-inequality

https://www.unaids.org/sites/default/files/media_asset/2019_women-and-hiv_en.pd

https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/content/dam/global/reports/advocacy/child-marriage-niger.pdf