Investing in Clean Water Still Matters

by Stephanie Coles

I’m a new addition to the Wells Bring Hope team. As I was learning more about the organization, I spent time reading and watching videos from the field. One story in particular stuck with me. A mother living in Zinder, Niger tells of her life before a well for safe water came to her village. She said, “Before the new well, I lost five of my children because I had to leave them alone all day when I went to get water and they had nothing to eat or drink all day long.” The cruelty of being forced to choose whether or not to leave her children in order to get the ultimate necessity, water, is devastating. It is an incomprehensible choice to the vast majority of us who will, thankfully, never have to experience anything like it.

I write for Wells Bring Hope because I believe in the cause. In a world where tragedy is commonplace on the news each night, I want to help draw attention to what isn’t often talked about: people are still struggling to get the basic necessities that most of us take for granted.

In order to help understand the true story of Niger, I thought it would be helpful to quantify their struggle. Using data provided by the World Bank Group, a worldwide organization working to fight poverty, I was able to view their situation through an analytical lens.


(Note: Scroll down in frame to change date of data)

In 1990, the average life expectancy of a child born in Niger was only 43.5 years. At that time, only 33.7 percent of people had regular access to safe water. Through investments in improving access to clean water, a child born in 2015 can expect to live more than 16 years longer than a child born in 1990. That is a massive improvement to quality of life in only 25 years.

However, Niger is still lagging behind more than 90 percent of the world’s average life expectancy at birth. In fact, there is not a single country outside of Africa that is worse off.

The good news is we can all help! While regular access to safe water is only one of many indicators that can affect life expectancy, there is a powerful correlation. Donating to Wells Bring Hope helps provide clean water access where it is desperately needed. Once the need to walk miles for water is gone, time is freed up and possibilities are opened. At Wells Bring Hope, we engage with communities for 15 years after the wells are drilled to teach basic hygiene, drip farming, and provide microfinance training. Staying involved ensures communities are equipped for long term success. Although having access to safe water is just the first step in transforming lives, it is something we can all support to encourage further change for the people of Niger.

 

Empowered Women: A Force for Economic Growth in Niger

by Kristopher Coulston

Access to clean water is not only essential for life, it is also essential for a thriving economy. When a nation’s citizens do not have ready access to clean water, every aspect of the country is negatively impacted, especially the economy. Women and girls are the citizens who are most affected by the lack of access to clean water. Thanks to generations of rigidly defined gender roles, women and girls are responsible for gathering water in addition to their other daily domestic duties. The burden of searching for and collecting water holds them back from pursuing an education, finding income-generating work, and taking leadership roles in their communities. Ultimately, the lack of access to clean water coupled with gender disparity disempowers women, which slows economic and political progress.

Empowering the women of Niger is crucial for economic development and long-term growth. While work is being done to achieve gender parity and eradicate discriminatory practices, progress is slow. Empowering women is central to enabling Niger to reach its full potential. For the country to experience strong economic progress, it must make full use of the talents and abilities of all its citizens, especially those of women. Eradicating gender disparity and empowering women would substantially increase its productive power. This increase in productivity would have a positive economic impact.

The best way to empower women is through education; and the key to ensuring that all women in Niger receive an education is eliminating gender disparity. In Niger, the majority of those who are lucky enough to receive an education beyond the primary level are male. From 2005-2012, only 2.5% of women aged 25 years or older had some secondary education. When women do not receive an education, they are more likely to stay at home, tending to domestic duties or take jobs in lower-paying fields, such as clerical and housekeeping. When women are forced to take these types of jobs, their skills and abilities are under utilized, and the Nigerien economy suffers as a result.

While some progress has been made to close the gender gap in Niger, women still face a range of barriers, from gender-restrictive cultural practices to discriminatory laws and a labor market that does not recognize the skills and abilities of women. Gender disparity confines women to the home, leaving them without adequate representation in the economic and political spheres. The lack of female representation in the economy and the government will only exacerbate gender inequality and slow economic progress. When women are empowered, everyone benefits

Until women are empowered to fully engage in society and contribute to the economy, their decision making power will be limited. It is crucial that women’s skills and abilities are put to full use. On the continent of Africa, growth rose by 6% in 2015, yet the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has reported a 61% loss in development because of gender disparity. These numbers show how important women are to any economy, especially Niger’s economy.

A thriving economy is only possible when everyone is invited to participate. When women are denied an education and an opportunity to contribute economically, the entire nation suffers. Women are the untapped life force for growth and progress in Niger, both in the economic and political arenas. They should not be limited to household duties like searching for and collecting water or to low-paying jobs. The women of Niger must be fully empowered to contribute to the economy and to have a voice in their homes and communities.

Read more about empowerment through water here!

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Educating Girls: A Key Part of the Climate Change Solution

By Barbara Goldberg

Paul Hawken, a well-known author and activist recently published a book, Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever to Reduce Global Warming. In it, he identifies the 100 top solutions to reducing global warming.

I was shocked and delighted to learn that number six on the list is educating girls. It is something that no one, at least to my knowledge, has talked about as a means to combat climate change.

Considering the enormous positive impact that education has on the individual lives of girls, that it can also help slow the effects of climate change is just “the icing on the cake.” One might even argue that the impact on our planet is even greater than the benefits to individuals.

We at Wells Bring Hope have long known that when girls receive an education, they are less likely to marry as children or against their will. We know that they bear children later, and have fewer children. We know that this results in a reduced rate of maternal and infant mortality and improved family economics. We know that educated women and their children lead healthier, more productive lives.

What we hadn’t previously considered is the broader effect that educating girls has on our planet. Hawken points out that since women with more years of education are much more likely to take control of their reproductive health and have fewer children, educating girls is “one of the most powerful levers available for avoiding emissions by curbing population growth.” 

In addition to resulting in reduced emissions, “education also shores up resilience and equips girls and women to face the impacts of climate change. They can be more effective stewards of food, soil, trees, and water, even as nature’s cycles change. They have greater capacity to cope with shocks from natural disasters and extreme weather events.”

We had seen the strength of women in Niger first hand and can attest to the resilience of these women, but education is essential, and safe water makes that possible.

We thank Paul Hawken for giving the world one more reason to educate girls throughout the world.

The Nomadic Life in Niger

by Jennifer Dees

I’ve always thought of the nomadic lifestyle as idyllic. I’ve spent hours reading travel blogs, staring at exotic pictures, and admiring those who’ve grabbed a backpack and left everything behind. I havn’t, however, given much thought to the realities of a nomadic lifestyle, or the struggles that come with constant travel. While writing for Wells Bring Hope, I investigated the various tribes that populate Niger. I discovered why they live the way they do, the culture that makes tribes unique, and the challenges that threaten their lifestyle and those of other pastoral farmers.

 

Nomadism

Nomadism is often found in places with arid land. The dry, hot environment of northern and eastern Niger is no exception, with 80 percent of Niger covered by the Sahara Desert. Nomadic tribes travel either irregularly or do a seasonal migration called transhumance. Those who practice transhumance remain in the Sahara during the brief rainy season and travel north to graze and sell animals in the dry season. The animals eat grasses and shrubs while the people use them for meat, milk, and wool. The time between grazing allows the land to replenish itself in time for the next migration. Some nomads use fire to burn away invading plant species to increase the quality of grass. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, nomadic pastoralism is between two and ten times more effective than farming in a single region. When changes to the environment occur, tribes exchange information with each other—separate tribes forming a kind of nomadic network. The major tribes in these areas are the Tuareg, Wodaabe, and Toubou. The vegetarian Toubou trade salt for food and objects. The Tuaregs have been called the “blue people” because their indigo-dyed clothes stain their skin blue. The Wodaabe clans gather every September for the Cure Salée salt market, when young men adorn costumes, perform the Yaake dance, and are judged by marriageable women. Each tribe has their own customs and traditions, although challenges are now threatening these identities.

A Tuareg refugee

Challenges

Niger suffers from desertification, caused by intense droughts or harsh agriculture. Normally, tribes keep their herds moving to avoid overgrazing, but once one source has dried up, it leaves few options. And farmers’ herds, which graze the same area every day, also cause desertification. Another threat to nomadism is the seizure or privatization of land. Cities grow where the water is, and farmers don’t want someone else’s animals grazing their land. With a 3.8% rise in population every year (the United States’ is 0.7%), Niger is running out of open arable soil. Nomadic tribes are often held responsible for depleting resources, although issues such as climate change and preexisting conditions seem to be a larger cause.

Niger stressed by drought and poor harvest

Becoming Sedentary

Tribes that become sedentary can try to cultivate land or move to cities in search of employment. If they fail to find a job, they may end up in slums in even worse conditions. If they develop a permanent base outside of town, sometimes the men will do migrant labor, splitting from their families for months at a time. While there are good things about sedentism, such as better access to education, the shift away from nomadism results in a huge loss of identity and autonomy. Nomads must also be careful about sanitization, especially when it concerns water. Unclean water attracts disease-carrying insects, which spread the disease quickly in a confined area like a village. If a water source becomes undrinkable or dries up, women and girls must walk for miles to find another. Relocating closer to another source is difficult and often fruitless. They must pack up their families, belongings, and herds, and abandon homes and farmland. If all sources of water are contaminated, then moving closer won’t solve their problem. So not only is desertification affecting nomads, it continues to afflict those who settle or have settled. According to the World Bank “Only 20 percent of the Sahel’s irrigation potential has been developed” and a quarter of that is in disrepair. Since “women account for the majority of Africa’s farmers,” they are impacted the most.

Sedentary farmers in Niger

Wells Bring Hope

Wells Bring Hope helps villages that lack a clean, nearby water source. We drill wells and educate the community on how to care for them. For nomadic-to-sedentary tribes, water means staying together as a community and holding onto their heritage. And as more wells are drilled and more people learn how to farm and care for the land, there is hope that someday desertification can be reversed. The people of Niger, nomadic or sedentary, can continue their traditions and culture and make a better life for themselves, wherever they are.

Wells Bring Hope provides sustainable agriculture

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Crumbling Defenses Against Flooding

by Mehreen Quadri

From hurricanes and earthquakes in the west to torrential rains in the east, the last few weeks have been difficult for many around the world. In Niger, heavy rains have caused flooding, especially in Niamey, the city where it meets the upper Niger delta. Reports state that the flooding has destroyed thousands of homes and has caused the death of roughly 44 people. Many have taken shelter, but will have nowhere to return when conditions improve. Historically, flooding is not new to the Niger Delta. So, why has it become more severe in the past few decades?

According to an article in the Journal of Africa Earth Sciences, flooding has become increasingly problematic in the Niger Delta because of deterioration of the coast’s natural drainage system, which has been caused by industrialization and urbanization. Prior to development, the delta’s wetlands mitigated damage by absorbing water during rains and leaking them into nearby rivers (Abam, 1992). Another major factor for the flooding is blockage of the man-made drainage channels.

The same factors have contributed to increased destruction during recent monsoon seasons in India. Flooding over the past two months has caused the death of over 1,000 people in India and across the subcontinent. As a result, public transportation and schools have been brought to a standstill as people wait for the flooding to subside. As in Niger, India’s heavy rains are an annual event. Again, it is said that one major factor in all this is the blockage of drainage channels. The Mithi river in Mumbai is currently full of plastic waste that has been accumulating over the years due to the lack of maintenance and government regulation. Another interesting element in all of this is the mangrove, a shrub which is important for the absorption of water. The thousands of mangroves along the riverbanks used to help absorb flood waters during monsoon season. However, in the past few decades, mangroves have been removed as areas have been urbanized.

Another famous example of how the deterioration of natural barriers led to historic flooding was 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. In Louisiana, swamps that once acted as natural barriers against hurricanes and flooding had been developed, leaving cities like New Orleans vulnerable to hurricane flooding (Tibbetts, 2006).

These are only a few examples of major cities that have been weakened due to the destruction of natural barriers and the lack of maintenance of man-made levees and drainage channels. As climate change continues to increase the strength and frequency of hurricanes, monsoons, and other significant weather events, there will inevitably be more tales of entire communities that are completely decimated, and as is so often the case, it will be the poorest, most vulnerable people who will pay the price.

References
  1. https://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/cash-flow/mumbais-flooding-problems-are-often-man-made-this-can-be-changed/
  2. Abam, T.K.S. (1992). Geomorphic processes and the threat of increased flooding in the Niger delta. Journal of African Earth Sciences, 15(1), 59-63.
  3. http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2012217_2012252_2014247,00.html
  4. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/089953629290006X
  5. https://www.naij.com/1114394-flood-nigeria-latest-disaster-happen.html
  6. http://floodlist.com/africa/niger-floods-niamey-august-2017
  7. https://reliefweb.int/disaster/fl-2017-000078-ner
  8. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/08/monsoon-rains-bring-mumbai-standstill-170829134146264.html
  9. https://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/toi-edit-page/truth-about-urban-flooding-cities-like-mumbai-get-inundated-regularly-due-to-administrative-apathy-not-climate-change/
  10. http://theconversation.com/mumbai-floods-what-happens-when-cities-sacrifice-ecology-for-development-83328
  11. Tibbetts, J.(2006). Louisiana’s Wetlands: A Lesson in Nature Appreciation. Environmental Health Perspective, 114(1), A40-A43.

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Protecting Refugees and IDPs in Niger

by Michelle Wolf

Continuous population movement has weakened the security and protection systems in Niger. With over 302,000 refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and Nigerien nationals in the Diffa region, the need to protect residents is at an all-time high. In 2016 alone, Boko Haram carried out a reported 40 attacks. And as recently as July, Boko Haram fighters attacked a village near the Nigerian border, killing nine people and abducting 40 women and children. After these attacks, an increase in arbitrary arrests highlighted the need to train defense forces and educate them on human rights. 450 of the 1,400 individuals detained under suspicion of terrorism are believed to be innocent. Assigning individuals to collect, verify, analyze and develop an updated, reliable database of targeted terrorist activities and human rights violations is essential.

Increased tensions between IDPs and refugees, and increased insecurity in the region has exasperated conflict. 82% of the Diffa population does not have the identification documents necessary to establish their nationality, which puts thousands of people at risk of statelessness. This creates challenges in tracking movements and seeking safety. To register these people, biometric technology will be needed and community participation is crucial during each step in the process.

An astounding 52% of refugees and IDPs are children. Many of these children have suffered extreme distress and have been separated from their families as they travel in search of safety. Children traveling alone are at a higher risk of neglect, exploitation, forced labor, abuse and coerced Boko Haram recruitment. Survival sex, and sex and gender-based violence (SGBV) is on the rise. It can take up to two hours a day for girls and women to collect firewood and many more hours to locate and collect safe drinking water, making them extremely vulnerable to assault and abuse.

Niger law enforcement and security services continue to actively engage in detecting, deterring, and preventing acts of terrorism but they have insufficient manpower, financial support, and equipment. Additional state and non-state “duty-bearers” need to be assigned to protect the rights of IDPs and other affected populations. Finally, increased border control facilities along Niger’s long border are needed to deter cross-border smuggling.

Much work remains, but the government of Niger and the international community are rising to the challenge. In a visit to Niger earlier this month, UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, commended the government for their efforts while recognizing the need for additional support. “I was impressed to see how brave aid workers are working with the Government to deliver assistance to the most vulnerable people in Niger under difficult and dangerous circumstances.”

 

Preschooler’s Water PSA

A quick PSA from blogger Andrea Levin’s daughter Lily:

Back in 2010, two years before the California drought officially started, we had already attempted to teach our then 4-year-old daughter the importance of water conservation. Apparently, it worked because one day my husband turned the camera on her and she launched into this unscripted water conservation PSA.

Empowered by Water

by Kristopher Coulston

Illness and family emergencies are typically the cause for school absence in developed countries. Unfortunately, this is not the situation in drought-stricken countries, such as Niger. Water is scarce and girls spend hours walking miles just to satisfy their desperate need for it, even if the water sources they are gathering from are unsafe. The task of collecting water is most often delegated to women and young girls, forcing the women to forgo income-generating work and the girls to abandon their educational pursuits. Ready access to clean water can help girls achieve their educational aspirations, giving them the opportunity to create a bright future for themselves.

The idea of walking miles to gather water is unfathomable to most who live in a developed country, but for girls in Niger, survival is dependent on just that. The women and girls of Niger lose hours every day to the obligatory task of searching for and collecting safe water. The privilege of a daily routine that consists of waking up from a comfortable night’s sleep to eat breakfast and prepare for the school day ahead is nonexistent for girls in rural Niger thanks to a lack of ready access to clean water.

Young girls waiting for water

While many young Nigerien girls take on the incredible feat of making the long trek to gather water, the sources they gather their water from are often unsafe. Access to clean water plays a vital role in the health and development of children. Drinking from unsafe water sources comes with a multitude of risks including life-threatening disease and stunted growth. Even if families were located near a water source and girls did not have to spend hours collecting water, the deleterious consequences of drinking from unsanitary water sources would continue to impede successful educational outcomes for young girls in Niger.

Ready access to clean water makes a world of difference for those who live in drought-stricken countries like Niger. It means that men and women can provide for their families. It means that their daughters can pursue an education. A successful future awaits those girls who are given the opportunity to attend school. Women who complete their education see higher earnings, are more productive, and are enthusiastic about being involved in the political and economic discourse, creating the potential for progress in their communities. Ready access to clean water is key to Nigerien girls having the opportunity to pave the way to a bright and successful future for themselves, their families and communities.

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More Than We Know: Discovering Nigerien Culture Through Art

By Jennifer Dees

As a writer, I feel that identity is tied to art.  I’ve wondered at the painter’s mind while staring at furious strokes of color. I’ve watched musicians lose themselves in a powerful song. And I’ve seen dance movements that express more than words ever could. So I set out to discover female Nigerienne artists and explore how these women empower themselves through their art.

My interested sparked when I came across a painter named Mariama. Her folk, abstract style is full of color and life, much like herself. According to an interview by Wali Africa, her fascination with bright colors comes from her cultural heritage. “If you give an African person some colors, most will pick the brightest, happiest colors. This is because that is what is in their hearts.” Her ethnicity is Tuareg, a seminomadic people whose women are confident, strong, and free.  Mariama  says that African people are full of life, that their greatest empowerment is their respect for themselves. This outlook definitely comes through in her paintings, which are in a style that I haven’t seen much of before.

Other artists express their beliefs and hopes through song. To me, to sing is to let your inhibitions fall away and to show what’s in your heart. Hamsou Garba is one such singer, and perhaps the most popular female singer in Niger. She hosts a radio talk show and uses her voice to cover themes like national unity, public health, and girls’ schooling. She strives to progress advance the rights of women and children as well as preserve traditions for future generations. Her music videos and style of singing are so unlike what I hear on the radio. It doesn’t feel like she’s playing out some story for the camera.

Another popular singer is Safiath, whose rich vocals has appeared in a variety of genres. She’s represented her country in international music events, many of her songs featuring themes such as children’s rights, education for girls, and leadership in Niger. According to an interview by Jeunesse Du Niger, she wishes that more people would be willing to listen to Nigerien music and less mainstream music. But whatever other people do, she is determined to push herself to do better. She maintains that “Good work forces respect.”

I carried oncontinued my research into what I was looking forward to the most: literature. I came across Hélène Kaziende. Her short story “Le Déserteur” won against a thousand competitors in an Africa No. 1 radio station competition. She was the first woman to write a political novel in Niger, and she currently teaches and promotes Nigerien literature and culture. She writes of struggle and imprisonment, of hope and changing fate. I read the first paragraph of Kaziende’s Aydia, a story about two girls who work to control their fate, one through labor and the other through school.  I was hooked, albeit surprised. I, an English major, who am is supposed to live and breathe literature, haven’t hasn’t looked far beyond the Hemingways and Hawthornes of this world, so discovering this story felt like a gateway to a new library;  I have so much more to read and so much more to learn.

These Nigerienne women have used art to express their souls, their beliefs, and their culture. This art is a fountain of perspective and meaning. Most of what we read in America is American or European literature. We watch American television and discuss American politics. Even when we hear of other countries, we hear it through American news channels. And that’s alright; it makes sense. But before I wrote this article, I didn’t realize how much of a bubble I was livinge in, and how much of the world people miss out on. Now I’ve recognized how easily a culture can be covered up and ignored. But mMusic, dance, literature, and other art forms may be the key to sharing the vast, rich cultures in of Niger. Not solely for the country’s benefit, but to connect ourselves to something fuller and greater than we already know.

 

Safiath interview: http://jeunesseduniger.blogspot.com/2013/03/safiath-une-artiste-engagee.html
Mariama interview: https://waliafrica.wordpress.com/2012/08/09/nigerien-tuareg-art-meet-the-talented-mariama/

Annual Fundraiser

Click here or on any image to see and download these and more event photos.

On Sunday, September 10th, philanthropist, Stanley Black welcomed Wells Bring Hope back to his home for the fourth year in a row for its annual fundraiser. The day started off warm, but when it was time to sit down and listen to the talks, the clouds came in to cool us off, and the threat of thunderstorms never materialized, much to our relief.

Our event was a huge success, thanks to our generous donors, capable volunteers, and especially to Board Member, Carol Rosen who choreographed it all.

Thanks to the help of Marsha and Mark Hierbaum who contributed $30,000 in matching funds for Raise the Paddle, we raised enough money to fund 26 wells.

Guests nibbled on delicious food from Huntington Caterers and sipped wine generously discounted by The Wine House.

While everyone ate, drank, and chatted away, our fantastic volunteers enticed guests to bid in the silent auction.  The tables were loaded with exciting offerings and bidding for many items was fierce, especially for the Hollywood Bowl garden box, the Malibu Wine Safari, and a spa day at The Oaks at Ojai. Thanks to everyone who bid and made the auction lively and fun!

At the close of the silent auction, guests moved to the back lawn, where they were welcomed by Founder and President, Barbara Goldberg. This year we honored the women and girls of Niger who inspire our work. The more than life-size photos on easels of made them very real to our guests. Barbara announced the launch of our 10 Year Anniversary campaign, “500 in 10.” It reflects our goal to drill 500 wells in 10 years, giving us just 6 months to accomplish that in a race against climate change.

Stanley welcomed us all to his home, and then Barbara introduced WBH’s Nigerien-born Director of Microfinance, Hadiara Diallo, who talked about the extraordinary impact of the training that we give to women to start their own small businesses in every village where we drill a well.

Treasurer Larry Johnson spoke very movingly about his first trip to Niger last spring and the personal connection that he felt with the people he met, both our Rotary partners in Niamey and the rural villagers. Gil Garcetti closed with remarks about how he was touched by the hard lives of women and girls when he first went to West Africa in 2001 and how that motivated him to help change their lives.

Grant Snyder, auctioneer extraordinaire, took the stage for the fifth year in a row, helping us raise lots of money for wells.  He auctioned off exciting trips to Belize, Maui, and tempted donors with a week of skiing in Park City and playing “cowboy” at a dude ranch in Wyoming and flying on a private jet to some great California destinations. Once again Turkish Airlines gave us two business class tickets to any of their Africa destinations. They’ve supported us for the last five years and we so appreciate their generosity.

Thank you to all who came to support Wells Bring Hope’s nine great years!

To view and download all of these photos and more, please check out the album on the Wells Bring Hope Facebook page. Thanks to Debrah LeMattre and Aulona Gojani for their great photography!

 

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