Turning Over a New Leaf: Land Regeneration in Niger

by Lilia Leung

In 1960, Niger gained independence from France after a nation-wide referendum, and the country celebrated its 59th Independence Day on August 3rd, of this year. Freedom and self-governance weren’t the things being celebrated on August 3rd, however, as Niger also observes Arbor Day on the third of August. In 1975, the Nigerien government decided that Fête de l’Arbre would be celebrated on the same day as Independence Day to signify the importance of trees for Niger’s future and independent identity. The Nigerien government encourages every citizen of Niger to plant a tree on this day in the hope of staving off desertification, the degradation of fertile cropland and forests caused by droughts and deforestation.

Aside from the founding of Arbor Day, there have been other practices put in place to encourage the planting and preservation of trees and greenery in Niger. The Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) is an approach created by Tony Rinaudo, an Australian agriculturist. Rinaudo has worked with local farmers to identify useful tree species and develop ways to prune and protect them. The goal of FMNR is to educate farmers to promote sustainable land restoration techniques that would ultimately increase tree growth and food production. In turn, this will help to alleviate hunger and poverty.

FMNR has been a massive success in Niger. The land regeneration technique has been used on over 50 percent of Niger’s farmland, and the results can clearly be seen in aerial photographs and field surveys.

One of the tree species that was identified as useful for land regeneration was the gao tree, which is now seen as “magical” by local Nigeriens. It has large roots that draw nitrogen from the air and fertilize the surrounding soil. Its leaves fall in the rainy season, which allows sunlight to shine through to the surrounding crops during a crucial time for their growth and development. Crops nourished by gao trees tend to hold water better and generate more produce. The trees also create a cooler microclimate and attract animals. Local Nigeriens can even crush the gao tree bark into powder for medicinal use.

A program with the goal of fighting desertification on a grand scale is the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative (GGWSSI). The implementation of this project involves planting a “wall” of trees that spans over 20 countries, from Gambia in the west to Djibouti in the east (including Niger). This program was originally envisioned as a project that would restore the deteriorated landscape in the Sahara and Sahel regions while providing jobs for residents of the countries involved. If the program succeeds, both food security and resilience to climate change would be increased for the participating regions.

Because Niger has shown its land regeneration technique to be such a success, GGWSSI has now redirected its focus to sustainable land and water management, rather than strictly forestry. Since the launch of GGWSSI in 2007, it has evolved into an effort to surround the entire Sahara region with a belt of trees. Along with other tree planting programs around the world, FMNR and GGWSSI are demonstrating results in their attempt to “greenify” our earth once again, and Niger is playing an instrumental role in this endeavor. In addition to bringing wells into villages that provide easy access to water for gardening, Wells Bring Hope strives to play a part in sustainable skills education by teaching locals drip farming techniques and ways to use gray water for watering plants. Through hard work and perseverance, we may be able to provide a better environment for our future generations.

#CoupleGoals: How Social Media is Changing Marriage Culture in Niger

by Shayna Watson

We scroll past it daily on our timeline. That girl we did a group project with from middle school just got engaged, under the Eiffel Tower, with the biggest diamond ever. We like the picture and keep scrolling, but if many of us are honest we indulge in a bit of “Instagram .vs. reality” comparisons as we celebrate her excitement. For those living in the major cities of Niger, the requisite engagement ring shot is replaced by “brideprice photos,” images of suitcases filled with money that announce the upcoming nuptials. In many cultures, prospective grooms are expected to give a sum of money or quantity of goods to the parents of their intended bride. This is typically done to provide the family assurance that the groom-to-be is capable of providing for their daughter. Thanks to social media, what was traditionally a very private exchange has become very public.  These brideprice photos generate in Nigerien women the very same pressure and anxiety that ring-selfies can bring out in women in many other countries and a worry that they are falling behind in the marriage race.

With 75% of women in Niger married before their 18th birthday, there is increasing concern that these displays of wealth and prosperity will lead young women to think marriage is their only chance at success. Many fear that social platforms like Facebook and Instagram are having a negative impact on how some women in Niger view marriage and increasing the risks they are willing to take in order to attain the security they think marriage provides.

Increased use of social media is impacting romantic relationships in other ways as well. Women in Niger are forming connections with women abroad who they perceive as empowered in their careers and relationships. Traditionalists in Niger fear that this glimpse of a different way of life is ruining marriages in Niger. In an article published by The Guardian, marabouts of Niger speculated that social media has a direct influence on the increasing divorce rates in their country. Their anecdotes assume a correlation between how easy infidelity has become on social media platforms, and how women in Niger have started to assert their authority over men – going against the tradition of Niger gender roles. A leader of the Islamic association, headquartered in Niger’s capital, commented, “Most of the time, the women are the problem. They watch TV series from abroad and see how women earn money and are equal to men. But here in Niger men look after women and they are superior.” Thanks to the expanded worldview that social media provides, women in Niger are being exposed to a wider range of models for modern relationships. In response to this change in culture, Niger-based social media initiatives have developed in response to this rise in female empowerment and equality.

NigeriElles is one such platform. Dedicated to supporting Nigerien women’s want of something other than the traditional path of early marriage, the organization aims to push women in Niger to “take on womanhood” through training programs, events, and business clubs. NigeriElles offers training and support for female business owners and anyone who hopes to create their own means of income as an entrepreneur. The group’s objective is for every woman in Niger to find success by becoming her own boss.

NigeriElles also provides eye-opening statistics about how much women contribute to the total economy on the continent of Africa and throughout the world. A poll conducted at the end of July revealed that 69% of women in Africa exert an economic activity rate (the workforce supply of the labor market) higher than that of the other economic zones in the world. In Africa specifically, women produce 90% of the food goods consumed and sold. The food and agriculture economy in Africa would not exist without women, and NigeriElles is making sure that they are getting the training, support, and resources that they need to succeed. Education and empowerment allow women all over the world make decisions for their relationships and futures based on their own needs and wants, not from a place of fear or survival. NigeriElles is continuing this very important effort of women supporting women and working together to create a healthy future for girls in Niger. Social media may always be flooded with images of envy-inducing courtships and success attached to relationships, creating a sometimes dangerous expectation of marriage. Thankfully, organizations like NigeriElles are working hard to ensure that photos of empowered, independent businesswomen will also have a prominent place on timelines across Niger.

 

Sources:

https://www.facebook.com/NigeriElles/

https://twitter.com/pollniger/status/1024326290793537536

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/jul/23/how-social-media-is-revolutionising-marriage-in-niger

Charity versus Solidarity

by Jennifer Dees

It’s safe to say that Wells Bring Hope is charitable. But I don’t think charity is the best word to describe what’s being done. Charity is akin to pity, to feel sorry for someone. While pity can be benevolent, it can also stem from negative perceptions. When you take pity on someone, you’re regarding them as less than, as separate. You have something the other person lacks, and their existence must be less because of it. In this frame of mind, the other person is a victim. When someone is labeled a victim, they may feel defined by that label, stuck in whatever circumstance life put them in. So on one side is the victim, and on the other is the hero, an archetypal story playing out through countless charities.

Big change doesn’t happen through charity, but through solidarity—unity in feeling or action. Change happens when we recognize that everyone has wisdom and resources to make the world better, including those who receive “charity.” This mindset is more respectful because the recipients have a say in the solution. It’s not about giving handouts and expecting nothing. Wells aren’t handouts. Wells Bring Hope isn’t just giving rural villages water; it’s giving them a resource. With it, the villagers can work more productively to improve their own lives. With the microfinance program and drip-farming workshops, women have built their own businesses, which provide them with money they can use for food, healthcare, and education for their children. This kind of impact ripples through generations, changing the world.

Global solidarity is already apparent in Niger’s giraffe conservation and in efforts to harbor and support refugees. They have the ability and the desire to do great things; many only need resources, knowledge, or encouragement. By drilling wells, Wells Bring Hope is sharing a resource that will help others to do their part.

Of course, compassion is also key to solidarity. Empathy is not enough. I can search for a point of commonality between my air-conditioned life and the life of a Nigerien woman who has to walk miles for water. But I’ve never been in her shoes, so I can’t claim to really understand her experience. Rather than wallowing in guilt, I can channel my emotions into compassion. When you feel compassion towards someone, their type of suffering doesn’t matter. What matters is that they are suffering. Compassion literally means “to suffer with.” What makes compassion different from pity is shifting from a victim-hero relationship to one of mutuality. I at least recognize what it’s like to be sad and to want help. Even a thousand miles apart, the woman drawing water from a dirty pond and I can nod and hope better for each other. That is where I find my point of commonality.

By shifting the mindset from charity to solidarity, it’s easier to see how everyone is important in making a change. To get to where we need to be, we must raise each other up every step of the way.

Read Shayna Watson’s post on “doing well by doing good” for an example of this kind of solidarity in action.

 

 

In the Sahel, Strong Women Create Strong Communities

by Elaine Wallace

When we hear about the Sahel in the news, it’s often in connection with a humanitarian crisis. Droughts and other disasters regularly push the region into a state of crisis, and the international community usually responds with a large-scale emergency relief effort. In 2012, USAID recognized that these repeated crises occur because communities in the Sahel lack the capacity to withstand adverse events like droughts. They also recognized that emergency relief efforts, which are essential for saving lives, are expensive and do little to address the chronic vulnerability that lies at the root of the crises. In response, USAID adopted a new approach for development in the Sahel. It’s known as “resilience programming,” and its purpose is to build the capacity of local communities to withstand environmental crises. Resilience programming is based on the theory that creating stronger, healthier, and more economically-diverse communities will lead to fewer crises.

The Resilience in the Sahel Enhanced (RISE) program works with communities in Niger and Burkina Faso. One key objective of the RISE program is to empower women. According to USAID, empowering women is critical to building resilient communities. Although women tend to be worse off than men socially and economically, they often have an immense impact on the well-being of others. Building women’s knowledge and skills, increasing their access to assets such as land and livestock, and promoting female leadership improves the economic and physical well-being of the entire community. For example, when women are given the same access to agricultural resources as men, crop yields increase by 20% to 30%, and children tend to be better nourished. Women’s access to these resources strengthens the community by increasing the food supply and improving health.

The RISE program addresses multiple interconnected problems, including chronic poverty, malnutrition, poor health, land degradation, and low agricultural productivity. For example, RISE increases women’s economic engagement by helping them to identify market opportunities, providing the resources and skills needed to take advantage of them, and developing the external systems needed to support them. Since many of the market opportunities are agriculture-based, the project improves economic and physical well-being and helps address ecological problems such as land degradation and low agricultural productivity.

In the Maradi region of Niger, RISE helped women create savings and loan associations to finance small business opportunities. One group of women learned how to transform nutrient-rich niebe (black-eyed peas) into products such as porridge, couscous, and flour for pasta and cookies. They now sell the products at regional markets and agricultural fairs organized by USAID and the Nigerien government and use the proceeds to rent more land, grow more niebe, and buy equipment. The women also planted moringa trees, which mature quickly and produce leaves that are high in protein and vitamins. RISE taught them how to harvest, dry, and grind the leaves into a powder to sell as a food supplement for pregnant and nursing women.

In other communities, RISE trains women to raise sheep and goats for milk, meat, manure, and leather, as well as for offspring that can be sold or given to others in the community to start their own livestock businesses. RISE also teaches agricultural techniques that increase crop yields, such as making compost to enrich soil. By producing more products and bigger yields, these projects bring more food, more economic growth, and stronger, healthier communities. Perhaps just as importantly, they also bring more hope for a better future.

 

Sources:

https://www.usaid.gov/documents/1860/usaid-resilience-sahel-enhanced-ii-technical-approach-working-paper

https://www.usaid.gov/news-information/frontlines/may-june-2017/surviving-sahel-these-women-give-new-meaning-tough-girls

Science of the Nigersaurus

by Lilia Leung

Dinosaur fossils have been discovered on every continent on earth (though of course when dinosaurs roamed, there was still only one supercontinent, Pangaea). There have been numerous fossils found in Africa, including some in Niger. One of the most well-known fossils found was the Nigersaurus, named after the country where it was discovered.

The first Nigersaurus fossils were found around 50 years ago in the Erlhaz Formation, located in Niger’s Ténéré Desert. They were discovered in a paleontological expedition led by French paleontologist Philippe Taquet. It was the first expedition of its kind in Niger, and it proved to be very fruitful.

Upon studying the fossils, the Nigersaurus was determined to have lived in the Early Cretaceous period, more than 100 million years ago. The Nigersaurus was a rebbachisaurid sauropod (which means it was a long-necked, long-tailed, small-headed dinosaur that walked on four legs and belonged to a family of fossils found in South America, Africa, and Europe). The Nigersaurus was estimated to weigh four tons (about the average weight of an adult elephant) and around nine meters long, which is short for a sauropod. It had a wide, rounded muzzle with 500 teeth that were replaced at an astonishing rate of every 14 days.

The blunted muzzle of the Nigersaurus provides a clue on what it ate during the Cretaceous period. The Nigersaurus is often referred to as the Mesozoic Cow since paleontologists believe it often grazed with its head close to the ground. In fact, the Nigersaurus was a megaherbivore, whose diet likely consisted of soft plants, such as ferns, horsetails and flowering plants (grass had not even evolved at that time, and would not have evolved until the Late Cretaceous period). This suggests that back in the Early Cretaceous period, the vegetation of the Ténéré Desert at least included soft plants.

Plant fossils found in the region of the Sahara Desert showed the existence of cycads and conifers in the Cretaceous period (though they were unlikely to have been fodder for the Nigersaurus, as they were not at the appropriate height) in addition to ferns. From the evidence of various fossils, it was hypothesized that the Sahara region had greenery and fast river systems millions of years ago. In the same expedition, the fossils of the Lurdusaurus, the Ouranosaurus, and the Elrhazsaurus were also found in the Erlhaz Formation, and all of these dinosaurs were found to be herbivores as well. This further supports the hypothesis that the area had an abundance of greenery.

While the structure of a dinosaur skeleton provides information about the environment at the time it was alive, it doesn’t provide much information about the climate. Luckily, we’re able to rely on other types of evidence, such as plant fossils, sediments, and our knowledge of the dinosaurs’ diets to learn about the climate. Paleobotanic evidence shows the probability of episodic droughts and semi-arid climates, which would still allow flowering plants and other soft vegetation to prosper.

While it’s certainly interesting to learn what the earth and land used to be like millions of years ago and how it has changed, scientists also believe that gaining an understanding of the environment in the Cretaceous period can help inform our understanding of the process of global warming, which has a direct impact on life today, particularly in drought-prone countries like Niger where people now die not just from drinking contaminated water, but from dehydration as well.

To see all the dinosaur fossil discoveries that have occurred around the world, visit the Paleobiology Database.

 

Resources:

  1. Sereno, P. C., Wilson, J. A., Witmer, L. M., Whitlock, J. A., Maga, A., Ide, O., & Rowe, T. A. (2007). Structural extremes in a Cretaceous dinosaur. PLoS One, 2(11), e1230.

Russell, D. A., & Paesler, M. A. (2003). Environments of mid-Cretaceous Saharan dinosaurs. Cretaceous Research, 24(5), 569-588.

Sew Empowering: How Sewing Classes are Changing Lives

by Shayna Watson

The phrase “doing well by doing good” has been said many times to express the importance of making an impact with our altruistic actions. Documentaries like “Poverty Inc.” warn us about the dangers of giving to communities in need without allowing them to make a future for themselves. With good intentions, aid programs often displace local merchants with the donation of food and clothing in villages who once had their own goods economy. NGOs are becoming aware of these potential pitfalls and are adapting accordingly by ensuring that locals are involved in the development of long-term, sustainable aid programs that work to build on existing local economies and trade.

The Association of Unemployed People, in partnership with USAID, is a local resource that works to give young people in Niger the opportunity to learn trade skills. With unemployment on the rise after a shift in the (local) uranium mining industry, many young people were turning to illegal activity in order to provide for their families. The correlation between the high unemployment rate, mortality rate, and increased crime can be seen in countries throughout the world. In 2016, the association, with support from international aid initiatives, was able to refurbish sewing machines and secure training so Nigerien youth could learn to sew traditional clothing as a trade. Young adults who may have otherwise suffered from the decline in employment opportunities are able to take advantage of the two-year training program that includes sewing, knitting, and current events discussions. Students of the program are able to sell their clothing in the studio’s boutique and also take their talents back to their village to teach others.

Before the revitalization of the studio, only women were trained to sew in most villages. After the revamp, both women and men (ranging in age from 14-27) are able to take part in the training curriculum, and gain a very valuable skill set to provide for themselves and their families. The surrounding communities have shown support and excitement for the growing program, with many tailors hiring students from the studio to help in their shops.

The positive effects of building sustainable opportunities for communities plagued with poverty and terroristic threats can be seen on both the smaller and larger scales in the change it has brought to the Agadez region of Niger. In addition to the trade program, community cohesion initiatives have worked to aid local citizens in detecting, preventing, and responding to threats of violence with awareness training and workshops. These programs hope to empower local organizations to identify at-risk youths, connect them to programs, and advocate for their needs and concerns.

With the inaugural class of students graduating from the two-year program, the sewing studio is still flourishing and even has a waitlist of young adults hoping to join future classes. The citizens of Agadez will hopefully continue to feel the social impact of a program that focuses on addressing financial, social, and emotional needs in their local and worldwide communities.

 

Source:

https://www.usaid.gov/results-data/success-stories/sewing-studio-opens-new-opportunities-youth-niger

The Lifeboat of the Desert

by Jennifer Dees

On June 20, 2018, the world honored millions of refugees for World Refugee Day. Along with their bravery and resilience, I also want to honor Niger, one of the countries that has given refugees hope for a new life.

To understand Niger’s role, we first need to understand the refugee crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa. From Mali and Chad, Cameroon and Libya, hundreds of thousands of women, men, and children have fled the ruins of their homes and the threat of death. Many cross through Agadez, Niger on their way to Libya and on to the Mediterranean Sea where they board tightly packed smuggler boats bound for the safety of Europe. Some never make it to the sea, caught by traffickers, rapists, or ransomers on the long trek. Those who do make it to the coast then begin the most dangerous part of the journey. In 2017, over 3,000 migrants drowned when their boats capsized in the Mediterranean Sea. These tragedies are increasing as more European ports close to migrants, leaving them stranded on the waters. The Libyan Coast Guard often sends boats out to bring them back to shore, but then they’re then held in detention centers where some remain for years.

Migrants wait before being deported by Libyan authorities

This is where Niger comes in, seeking out refugees in Libyan detention centers and on their long journeys north. The UN Relief Agency resettles the refugees most at risk, either in Niger with host families, or in a resettlement location in another country. After resettling 122 refugees in Niger, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, praised the nation: “One of the poorest countries is also one of the most generous. It has security issues, economic problems, and a complex neighborhood, but it has always kept its borders open.” Like a lifeboat in a tumultuous sea, Niger is often surrounded by conflict. Despite its limited resources, it continues to reach out and pull these desperate refugees to safety.

Nevertheless, the number of refugees and asylum-seekers coming to Niger is increasing, and with limited resources, Niger is struggling to keep up. It had to suspend refugee resettlement operations for two months because too few countries would accept them. In addition, many of the Nigerien communities that integrate refugees are extremely underdeveloped and lacking in resources. As Wells Bring Hope continues to drill wells, rural villages will be more equipped to help. Migrants suffer through unimaginable pain and loss, through heat, hunger, and absolute uncertaintythat anyone should have to walk miles for uncontaminated water is heart-wrenching. As Niger continues to keep its borders open, I hope it will serve as an example to the rest of the world, that even in great need, we can offer hope to millions of people just looking for something to hold on to.

 

Resources:

http://reporting.unhcr.org/node/4637

https://www.voanews.com/a/african-refugees-niger-resettlement/4284513.html

https://reliefweb.int/report/niger/niger-country-operation-update-may-2018

Water Action Decade

by Stephanie Coles

2018 marks the start of what the U.N. is calling “the Water Action Decade:” a decade-long quest to improve the world’s access to clean water. As outlined by the President of the United Nations General Assembly, “clean, accessible water is critical for sustainable development and the eradication of poverty and hunger, and it is indispensable for human development, health and well-being. There is sufficient fresh water on the planet to achieve this. But water-related challenges, including limited access to safe water and sanitation…remain high on the global agenda.”

The goals of this plan, however, are being rolled into the U.N.’s larger “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. Goals for this agenda include:

People – We are determined to end poverty and hunger, in all their forms and dimensions, and to ensure that all human beings can fulfill their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment.

Planet – We are determined to protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations. 

Prosperity – We are determined to ensure that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives and that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature.

Peace – We are determined to foster peaceful, just, and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence. There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.

Partnership – We are determined to mobilize the means required to implement this Agenda through a revitalized Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, based on a spirit of strengthened global solidarity, focused in particular on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable and with the participation of all countries, all stakeholders and all people.

The agenda in total lists 169 targets in 17 goal areas.

I recently read a book by Greg McKeown called Essentialism. The core of the book can be distilled into three sentences:

  1.  “Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless.”
  2.  “The way of the Essentialist rejects the idea that we can fit it all in.”
  3.  “When faced with so many tasks and obligations that you can’t figure out which to tackle first, stop. Take a deep breath. Get present in the moment and ask yourself what is most important this very second – not what’s most important tomorrow or even an hour from now.”

There’s a very powerful image in the book that demonstrates how much more progress can be made when channeling your energy into one goal, rather than splitting your focus in 12 different ways:

While I can’t help but feel inspired by the lofty goals of the U.N.’s agenda, it is hard to feel empowered to help as an individual when their objectives are so numerous and widespread. I worry that the lack of focus and prioritization will end up preventing them from being as effective as possible. I can’t help but wonder if the U.N.’s resources were focused on one priority, like solving access to clean water, what might be accomplished and how quickly?

Essentialism helped justify my continued support of the mission of Wells Bring Hope, which focuses strictly on solving the water crisis in Niger, the world’s poorest country. It does not try to fix every issue. Wells Bring Hope determined their priority, and how they could make their greatest contribution to solving that problem. This year, Wells Bring Hope was proud to announce that over 500 wells have been funded, transforming the lives and communities of those most in need.

If you are reading this and considering donating, I hope this comforts you. I believe that a small organization like Wells Bring Hope can have a huge impact, simply based on their focus and sense of purpose.

 

The West African Giraffe: Niger’s Success Story

by Elaine Wallace

In the past 30 years, Africa’s giraffe population has been reduced by 40% due to habitat loss, poaching, and civil unrest. In some areas, it has plummeted by more than 80% bringing some giraffe species close to extinction. The future looks bleak for many of Africa’s giraffes. But in Niger, home of the West African giraffe, a different story is unfolding. Giraffes are making a comeback thanks to a conservation strategy that has the government, conservation groups, and local communities working together to save them.

photo taken in 2015 by Barbara Goldberg at the Giraffe Park in Niger

A hundred years ago, West African giraffes numbered in the thousands and their habitat stretched from the coast of Senegal to the middle of Africa. By 1996, the population had been decimated. Only 49 giraffes remained, and their habitat had shrunk to one small part of Niger. The West African giraffe looked certain to disappear forever. Under pressure from conservation groups, Niger became the first country in Africa to adopt a National Giraffe Conservation Strategy. Other African countries and the wider international communities have been slow to respond to the plight of the giraffe, in part because of a public misperception that the iconic animal is “everywhere” in Africa. Niger was the first country to recognize the severity of the threats facing giraffes and its conservation strategy has been remarkably successful. Today, there are more than 600 West African giraffes in Niger.

Niger’s conservation strategy was three-pronged. The government passed, and actually enforced, strict laws forbidding hunting and imposing jail terms and large fines for poaching. Recognizing the potential importance of ecotourism to Niger’s economy, the government also allocated resources to promoting giraffe-based ecotourism. Most importantly, the government also took steps to resolve ongoing conflicts between giraffes and local communities. This has been a key factor in the success of Niger’s conservation policy because it has brought local communities into the conservation effort and given them a stake in the outcome.

photo taken in 2015 by Barbara Goldberg at the Giraffe Park in Niger

Most of Africa’s giraffes live in protected areas far from human activity. But Niger’s giraffes live on community lands alongside farmers, villagers, and nomadic herders, and they have to compete with people for scarce resources, such as trees and water. Giraffes eat 75 to 125 pounds of leaves per day; when people cut trees for firewood or to plant crops, the giraffes’ natural food source disappears and they must find other food to survive, which often means raiding fields and eating crops. Giraffes also get most of their water from leaves; without trees, they must compete with people for other water sources, such as lakes and rivers. The government tried to solve these problems by banning woodcutting in the giraffe zone, but people ignored the law because they needed firewood. Better solutions were required.

The government and conservation groups have adopted a variety of solutions designed to provide viable alternatives to woodcutting, poaching, and other activities that harm giraffes. To reduce deforestation and preserve water sources for giraffes, they provide free firewood and drill wells for local communities. To reduce poaching, they bring local people into the conservation effort to assist with protecting giraffes, including training local guides to track the giraffes’ locations and behaviors. They also educate local communities on the cultural and economic importance of the giraffe, provide strategies for avoiding human-giraffe conflict, and create local committees to resolve conflict.

photo taken in 2015 by Barbara Goldberg at the Giraffe Park in Niger

Women have also played a key role in Niger’s conservation strategy. For example, to combat deforestation, local communities established nurseries to grow seedlings and have replanted thousands of trees, with women sowing the majority of the seeds. In addition, many women have received microloans to start small businesses, such as raising and selling livestock, in return for pledging to be “pro-giraffe.”

Because of Niger’s conservation efforts, local communities view giraffes as bringing aid, development, and eco-tourism to the region rather than as a threat to their livelihoods. The future of the West African giraffe is still far from guaranteed, but Niger’s success has made it a model for other countries, such as Kenya and Uganda, which are now developing their own national giraffe conservation strategies.

Clean Water: Why accessibility to adequate water matters

by Britt Lipson

March 22nd, 2018 was World Water Day, but not everyone observed it. Among those who didn’t celebrate were the people of Cameroon who are suffering from frequent water cuts which means the water is turned off and stops running. As a result, water is not easily accessible.

Schools in Cameroon are particularly affected by the water shortage. When this occurs, the government shuts off the water so they can’t access it easily. They must trek far and carry gallons of water. Buea School for the Deaf is just one example. Located near the mountains of southern Cameroon, the school operates from Monday to Friday, but some students remain over the weekend if their commute is too far. The school is nestled amid beautiful mountains and trees. It almost seems an ironic background for such a serious crisis. For those who have to stay for the weekends, it is hard to leave the school in search of water as the school is located a few miles up a mountain. There is occasionally running water however the government shuts it off often to conserve it. When this occurs is not predictable to them. Also, some students are as young as 5 years old and not strong enough to carry water. They have 1 employee who remains with the students on the weekends to watch over them. This affects the students because they require water to cook. Without the ability to cook, they struggle to eat. Cameroon plans to solve the crisis by tapping into the largest river, the Sanaga, This is especially helpful for those who remain in the dorms on the weekends because they cannot go home to eat with the family. They completely rely on the school’s supply of water and food which is often limited.

Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, has a population of over three million. Residents need a daily supply of about 300,000 cubic meters of pipe-borne water, but just 35 percent of it is supplied by the city. People have resorted to unsafe sources to get the precious liquid. Some must rely on rainfall. Most cannot afford the cost of a water bottle which is normally 5 cents for 1.5 liters.

Cameroon has plans to help solve the crisis by tapping into the largest river, the Sanaga, which is 600 kilometers in length. It will increase the water supply. This would help thousands of people access more water in the capital of Yaounde. Unfortunately, that is one solution and it is not enough. This water shortage needs to be brought to everyone’s attention.

Having the opportunity to teach in Cameroon for one year, I witnessed the water crisis firsthand. I experienced the struggle of finding enough clean water to meet my needs. Children are particularly susceptible to water-borne diseases like cholera, which causes diarrhea that can result in life-threatening dehydration. They are particularly sensitive because they have young immune systems, which aren’t yet developed.

With access to clean water, the risk of illness and death drops dramatically. Some 768 million people still do not have access to an improved source of drinking water; 40% of them live in sub-Saharan Africa. There is still a long way to go, but progress is being made. If 100% of people had access to clean water, the number of water-borne diseases and deaths would be close to zero. Clean water is critical to human health. By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity1. That’s why creating water infrastructures and drilling wells is so important. Everyone deserves access to clean water.

 

 

Sources:

  1. 1. http://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/scarcity.shtml
  2. 2. https://www.voanews.com/a/cameroon-water-shortages/3769100.html