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.

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


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.



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:

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.


Maintaining High Vitamin Supplementation Coverage in Children Lessons from Niger:

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

Helen Keller International and VAS

Vitamin A Supplementation handbook

Importance of provitamin sources in Africa


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.






2020 – A Recap and the Gift of Gratitude

By Lara Khosrovian

Source: Jonathan Cutrer

With some loops more bearable than others, 2020 was a rollercoaster of a year that we can all agree we would not want to ride again. The most prominent challenge of this year, COVID-19, gave us so much to reflect on. It caught us by surprise, tested our abilities to overcome a drastic shift in lifestyle, and oddly presented us with the priceless opportunity for growth and appreciation. It was not until life dramatically changed, that I realized how much I have to be thankful The countries and people that often escape Americans’ daily conversations were dealing with difficult circumstances long before the pandemic began. For them, hardship was not limited to 2020 or COVID-19.

Hardships such as a lack of clean safe water, weather-related disasters, and political unrest have been part of Nigerien life for years. Even before the pandemic, many Nigeriens were constantly struggling to survive with few resources. This disparity is important to remember as many people settle back into a more “normal” year and approach a more familiar lifestyle.

Last year provided me with new gratitude for my own blessings and reminded me of the many ways I can be of help, especially to those for whom a return to normal is anything but ideal. Here are a few small and simple contributions I’m considering:

  1. Recognize – Understand where I stand as an individual, the circumstances I am lucky to live with, and what that can mean with regard to my ability to help others.
  2. Educate myself – There is so much to learn about the countries that struggle to maintain livable conditions; people in wealthy countries have the power to empower those in developing countries to fulfill their potential by helping to ensure that everyone has access to basic human rights like clean drinking water.
  3. Share – Our wealth of resources enables us to provide for those who have less. Whether it be monetary donations, volunteering precious time, or spreading information, each of us has something to contribute.






Combating the Effects of Climate Change in Niger

By Kayleigh Redmond

Every year, Niger experiences heavy rainfalls that often lead to high surges in local water levels. Last August, at least 45 people were killed and over 226,000 were displaced when torrential rains caused the Niger River to flood. In Niamey, Niger’s capital, entire neighborhoods were submerged. In addition to homes, more than 22,000 acres of farmland were destroyed, leaving many to face the issue of food insecurity. Unfortunately, climate change is a leading cause of these increased downpours, and as it continues to be a prevailing force in the world, Niger will not be safe from this level of impact.

Climate change is not only predicted to bring increased flooding to Niger, but also excessive droughts, sandstorms, and forest fires. Nearly 43 percent of Niger’s GDP comes from agriculture, forestry, and livestock sectors, and 80 percent of the country’s workforce is involved in these industries. Frequent unpredictable weather patterns – from water surges that wash away soil to extreme temperatures that kill the grass that feeds livestock – will continue to disrupt food production and hurt Niger’s economy and people. With these climate risks expected to become worse over the next few decades, something must be done to prevent further loss and insecurity.

The Nigerien government is taking measures against climate change through the implementation of climate-resiliency initiatives, like the National Adaptation Programs of Action (NAPA). The plan aims to alleviate the harmful effects of climate change by incorporating the crisis into Niger’s planning and budgeting. Through NAPA, 14 adaptation options were determined to be viable courses of action, including promoting food banks, developing anti-erosion infrastructures, encouraging smaller-scale crop production, and restoring basins to foster crop irrigation. Many of these strategies were successfully executed; in 2010 a project was carried out that led to a growth in sustainable market gardening and the re-seeding of deteriorating grazing areas in all eight regions of the country.

Other plans, like Niger’s Sustainable Development and Inclusive Growth Strategy (also known as “2035 Vision”) and the Nigeriens Nourish Nigeriens (3N) initiative, also outline goals related to the strengthening of the country’s rural development. One major aspect of these strategies is the modernization and diversification of Niger’s food production, which should hopefully lessen the chance of widespread food insecurity due to climate change. Practices like investing in irrigation infrastructure and using improved seed varieties that can withstand harsher weather are expected to give farmlands a better chance of holding up against the increasingly erratic climate.

Source: USAID U.S. Agency for International Development

While having policies and strategies in place to deal with the effects of climate change is a huge step in the right direction, it is not enough. In order for these initiatives to work, they need public support. In 2015, Niger launched its National Climate Change Learning Strategy, which aims to strengthen existing mitigation efforts in addition to raising public awareness of climate change. Workshops designed to educate teachers and professors about the impacts of the crisis have been held, and songs and plays have been written to bring this issue to light in local communities. In 2015, a Youth Climate Dialogue conference was held in Switzerland, in which Swiss and Nigerien students met to share their thoughts about climate change.

No country is immune to the impacts of climate change, but experts agree that the hardest hit will be developing nations like Niger. However, the plans and programs that are currently being carried out are showing great progress, and with each success story, Niger is becoming even more prepared to deal with the fallout of this crisis.




Ouma Laouali: A Pioneering Nigerien Pilot

By: Adhithi Sreenivasan

Source: U.S. Embassy Niamey

Around the world, women are often severely underrepresented in aviation. The thought of a pilot typically conjures an image of a male in a uniform with epaulettes and insignia. Despite women having been involved in the origins of aviation and aircraft development, women represent a mere percent of all pilots across 34 major global airlines, according to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots in 2018.

However, countries like Niger are experiencing a shift in the aviation status quo. In recent years, Captain Ouma Laouali has been breaking barriers and improving gender equality in aviation in her home country of Niger. On October 21, 2015, at the age of 28, Laouali became the first female pilot in Niger and served with the Nigerien Air Force. This was a pivotal moment for all aspiring female Nigeriens who dream of becoming pilots.

Captain Laouali, when reminiscing about the origins of her desire to become a pilot, commented that to fly was to be like a bird in the sky and to have the opportunity to see a unique, larger view of the world. She also acknowledges the burden present in representing female Nigerien pilots and paving the way for other women in her country desiring to become pilots like her.

As of 2020, Laouali has accumulated around 2,600 flying hours and recently successfully finished the U.S. Air Force’s C-130 Formal Training Unit’s training program located at the Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas, U.S. She is now a certified C-130 Hercules pilot and will undoubtedly continue on to earn more accolades and accomplishments as a female Nigerien pilot.

Her spirit and drive will inspire all women who want to become pilots and pursue a career in aviation, regardless of where they are from.




A School for “Model Husbands” to Promote Maternal Health

(Excerpted from Le Monde, March 22, 2021, and edited for this format)

In Niger, where the fertility rate is seven children per woman, men are called upon to change attitudes.  At the end of February, about ten men sat cross-legged on a mat shaded by the foliage of a neem tree. These “model husbands,” were gathered for class in the courtyard of the health center of Sona, a small rural town on the banks of the Niger River located 85 km from the capital, Niamey. They were not studying algebra or geometry, but rather, the story of the wildly rising curves that represent the illnesses and deaths associated with childbirth. Despite limited formal education, the farmers endeavored to learn and promote the basic rules of maternal health with the aim of saving lives and limiting births.


Source: Wells Bring Hope

Historically in Niger, 30% of girls are married before the age of 15, 76% before 18. Forty-two percent of women are mothers before 17, 75% before 19. Giving birth is not without risk, because the country is under-equipped with health facilities. Every two hours a woman dies in childbirth or from its consequences. In the same interval, six newborns lose their lives.

The idea for The Husband School came in 2007, taken from a study carried out by Nigerien sociologists. It emerged that men are a major obstacle to improving the health of their wives, and without them, there will be no solution.

The Sona health center is the only one for the fifteen surrounding villages and their 16,000 inhabitants. In 2013, there were only 14% assisted deliveries. Today, 55% of women come to give birth here. This is all thanks to the Husband School. As in sports, where not everyone can be on the team, not all men are eligible for Husband School. They must meet nine basic criteria such as being married, available to others, having good character, supporting a family … and agreeing to participate on a voluntary basis, without remuneration.

Slowly, the word has been carried from village to village. The network now has more than 1,000 schools spread across the country. But there is still a long way to go before attitudes change radically.