Witnessing Famine Relief in Niger, West Africa

by Barbara Goldberg

{grain storage with rapidly dwindling reserves}

When we visited Niger in January 2012, we saw the beginning of the famine that was coming to wreak havoc on the Sahel, West Africa. As we drove into the village of Miyaki where we had drilled a well three years earlier, we saw mothers lined up to have their children evaluated for malnutrition and to receive food supplements that our partner, World Vision, was distributing. Wells Bring Hope is very proud of the work that we do to deliver safe water to some of the poorest people in the world; we are equally proud to be affiliated with a humanitarian organization like World Vision that is doing so much to alleviate the food crisis in West Africa.

As we saw the suffering of the women and children at the clinic, it was heart-breaking to know that the worst was yet to come. It was even more devastating to know that many in other parts of the country will receive no food supplements, will have no access to help at all. Remember, this is the second poorest country in the world, with a government equally as poor.

{a nurse preparing to treat malnourished children}

The famine is the outcome of the most severe drought Niger has suffered in many, many years, and droughts have become increasingly frequent. The rainy season started in late June and we can only hope that it will last a long time and enable crops to grow, providing food for the people.

As of mid-June, feeding centers across the country have admitted and treated 130,596 children under the age of 5 for Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) and close to 200,000 have received treatment for Moderate Acute Malnutrition (MAM). (See video link below to view children being evaluated and categorized.)

Despite the fact that, since April, each day an average of 1,000 new cases of SAM are admitted for treatment, the system is coping with the increased workload, which, overall, remains below the levels recorded during the 2010 crisis.

This is likely due to the massive treatment of MAM cases, averaging over 10,000 per week, as well as to the early response measures to contain food insecurity and malnutrition, put in place in November 2011.

Watch the video filmed, edited and narrated by Daniel Yadlosky of our experience in the village of Miyaki and see famine relief in action.

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Water for the World

by Lauren Adamson

If passed by Congress, the Water for the World Act will help bring safe water and sanitation to millions of people who suffer a lack of access to clean, safe drinking water, which in turn leads to disease, malnourishment, and often death. Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly plagued by this lack of safe water, and while Wells Bring Hope has drilled 171 wells in Niger, the WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) crisis continues in developing countries worldwide. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee took an important first step toward ending this crisis by voting unanimously in favor of Water for the World Act on June 19. If Congress as a whole passes the bill, it would initiate the process of providing 100 million people with safe water and sanitation (usually in the form of toilets or latrine).

Safe water is not a partisan issue; it is a human rights issue, which is why the Water for the World Act is one of the rare acts with bipartisan support. In addition to being being a moral imperative, providing for safe water and sanitation in the developing world is sound economic policy as well. Every $1 spent on WASH yields an $8 return in saved health costs and increased productivity. Nevertheless, the Water for the World Act needs national attention and support from the House of Representatives before it can begin to have a transformative effect on millions around the world.

As we often mention here at Wells Bring Hope, safe drinking water completely transforms the lives of the people who obtain it for the first time. In Niger and other impoverished countries, clean water especially benefits women and girls. When a well is drilled in a rural community, women and their daughters no longer face the hazardous, grueling task of walking miles for water that often makes them and their families ill, despite their efforts. A well allows girls to go to school (often for the first time) and provides their mothers with extra time to generate an income using the microloans Wells Bring Hope provides. We hope to see The Water for the World Act passed soon so that 100 million people can have the basic need for safe water met. Having access to safe, clean water is something the developed world rarely thinks about, because it is so readily available here. It is important to remember that there are still over 800 million people without access to safe drinking water.

Read more about The Water for the World Act here.

To voice your support for the act, you can go here to contact your senators and representatives.

Niger’s hunger crisis could lead to more child marriages

The Washington Post published a chilling story on July 9 about how the famine in West Africa could lead to even more child marriages in Niger, which already has the world's highest rate of child marriage.

According to the article, in Niger:

“Roughly one out of two girls marry before age 15, some as young as 7. As a hunger crisis affects millions here and across the Sahel region of West Africa, aid workers are concerned that struggling parents might marry off their daughters even earlier for the dowries they fetch, including animals and cash, to help the families survive.

'The fear is, if the food crisis continues, that more parents will use marriage as a survival strategy and that we’ll see more girls married before the age of 15,' said Djanabou Mahonde, the head of child protection at UNICEF.”

Additionally, marrying at a young age means girls become mothers sooner, which brings its own set of health issues. The Post article notes that Niger has high rates of obstetric fistula, a medical complication that often affects girls and “usually develops when an unborn baby gets stuck in the pelvis, cutting off blood circulation and leading to rotting of tissue.”

One of the root causes of the famine is the lack of clean water, and Wells Bring Hope is doing its part to alleviate the problem. Remember, when a water well is drilled, it results in girls getting an education, which in turn leads to delayed marriage and child birth — and better overall health outcomes.

Los Angeles Senior High School Holds Successful Water Walk

By Dennis Ojogho

Dennis Ojogho is a former student at Los Angeles Senior High School. He is headed to Harvard University in the fall.

Despite very limited time to plan, Los Angeles Senior High School managed to have 53 students participate in its water walk on April 12. In order to understand what women in Africa must endure on a daily basis—trekking long distances to gather clean water—I brought four 80-pound cans of water for the students to take turns carrying during their one mile walk around the campus track at lunchtime.

I founded a Wells Bring Hope Water Circle on campus to raise funds to drill a well in Niger. So far we’ve raised nearly $1,000. The water walk was a perfect opportunity to bring awareness to the dire need for water in many countries around the world.

As we walked, I spoke about the situation in Niger and explained what we could do to help the people there. Organizing this walk was the most fulfilling experience of my life. To see teenagers, who are stereotyped as apathetic and selfish, going out of their way to support such a cause was truly heartwarming.

There is no better feeling in the world than to know that you have used your voice to speak for those whose voices aren’t always heard.


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Happy Fourth of July from Wells Bring Hope

As we enjoy this mid-week holiday, we have much to celebrate. Independence, of course, but there are so many other benefits that come with life in America, benefits that we often take for granted. Safe drinking water flows from our faucets on demand. In the U.S., education is free and compulsory for both both boys and girls. American mothers don’t have to worry that a simple case of diarrhea will lead to their children’s death. When we compare the basics of life in the United States with life in Niger, it is clear that we have much to be grateful for, on the Fourth of July and the other 364 days of the year.

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Teen Volunteerism

by Kevin Shi

Being a teenager is horrible in a lot of ways. It’s a point of your life when all of the pressures of adulthood are conferred upon you, without any of the merits. You’re starting to develop real opinions for the first time while every tiny drama turns into the greatest tragedy in human history because your body is slowly eating itself with hormones. But it’s also a point when you have the energy to sleep three hours a night and still have enough juice to whine about it the next morning. It’s a point when you can do absolutely crazy things for no reason whatsoever. It’s a point where you can spend all that energy writing bad poetry, partying ’til the break of dawn or, if you really want to, making a difference for the first time in your life.

All the same, there’s nothing quite so privileged as a suburban, middle-class lifestyle, and teens from these backgrounds do their best to spread the wealth in whatever way they can. In a way, they receive as much as they give. For the first time in their lives, teenagers have the power to define themselves through their actions, and they do so in a number of ways. Some choose to aid the sick; others, the elderly; and others, the young. By doing what they can to help, teens find out exactly what it is that they can do, and that sense of personal identity is more precious to them than anything else.

For me, I chose to volunteer for Wells Bring Hope for two reasons. The first was to reach out into the world. I had spent my whole life inside of a sleepy little town called Thousand Oaks and I wanted to see what else was out there. Stepping down from my comfortable little pedestal, I saw that there were millions of people in West Africa who would do well to have a fraction of what I have, people who need something as simple as clean water. The second reason was because Wells Bring Hope let me contribute in the one way I knew best: with my writing. Writing for a cause is as important, if not more even more valuable, than writing for a living, and volunteering is a stepping stone to see if this is something I want to do for the rest of my life.

Some leap into the process thinking, “I’m going to save the lives of one million babies!” and are quickly disillusioned. Others profess more selfish reasons; once they hit the magical number of community service hours needed for college, they’re going to drop their shovels and move on. But volunteering is more than that. It comes to a point when there are no ulterior motives, just the act itself and the love of it.

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Mapping the Aquifers of Africa

by Barbara Goldberg

{celebration following the drilling of a well}

The media, including the New York Times in a June 17th article, has picked up on a very comprehensive report mapping groundwater resources in Africa. Based on two years of study led by the British Geological Survey, this is the first quantitative continent-wide mapping of aquifer storage and potential borehole well yields from an extensive review of available maps, publications and data. (An aquifer is defined as water-bearing porous soil or rock strata that yield significant amounts of water to wells.) Maps have been generated pinpointing the locations of aquifers by country and region.

A key conclusion: For a continent where more than 300 million people lack access to safe drinking water, Africa is sitting on a lot of it. The researchers estimate that Africa's groundwater totals about 0.66 million cubic kilometers, which means the continent has over 100 times more water underground than on the surface.

However, groundwater resources are unevenly distributed: the largest groundwater volumes are found in the large sedimentary aquifers in the North African countries Libya, Algeria, Egypt and Sudan. The good news for Wells Bring Hope: Niger, the country where we drill, ranks seventh highest in available groundwater resources out of 49 African countries.

That plentiful supply has contributed to the high success rate we have had in our main drilling area of Niger, Maradi, last year. We’re proud to report that last year 100% of all attempted wells were successful, all wet wells. This is also due to the high level of professionalism of our partner, World Vision’s drilling team. We are grateful to be working in an area where aquifers are plentiful, where our efforts to provide safe water to the most rural areas of Niger have been productive.