Sanitation and Water Quality

by Isabella Schmitt

I’m a new blogger Wells Bring Hope, so in deciding my first blog topic, I figured I’d start by looking first into Niger – its size, its water resources to see what rabbit hole I fell into from there. I have a background in science and am keenly interested in public health, so naturally I was drawn to the health aspects, particularly waterborne diseases. So, I thought I’d start off my barrage of blogs by doing a mini series on waterborne diseases and sanitation. So, first, let’s start with some basic information on Niger, water sources, sanitation, and a bit about waterborne diseases.

Niger is a country in West Africa that spans 489,076 square miles, only 116 of which contain water. To put this in perspective, the size of the land mass is almost twice that of Texas, with the amount of water one tenth of the size of Rhode Island. It’s a landlocked country, with a mostly dry, desert climate and recurring droughts. Water scarcity is a severe problem, causing women to walk hours each day to find water that is often not from a protected source.

The good news is that as of 2015, the country had 100% of its urban population using improved drinking water sources. This means their water was coming from a piped water connection, a dug well, a protected spring, or a form of rainwater collection, and as such, was safe from outside contamination. The bad news is that 41.8% of its rural population remains on unimproved drinking water sources, which run the risk of rampant contamination.

Improved water sources are one way to reduce water contamination; improved sanitation is another. Improved sanitation means there is a piped sewer system, a septic tank, flushable toilets, or a pit latrine with a slab. The main goal of sanitation facilities is to separate human excrement from human contact. As of 2015, 89.1% of Niger’s population was without improved sanitation sources.

For areas suffering with lack of improved water sources, lack of improved sanitation sources, or lack of both, the likelihood of contracting a waterborne disease is exceptionally high.

Waterborne diseases cause high levels of morbidity and mortality in developing countries, with diarrheal disease being one of the most lethal enemies. This tends to run especially high in children younger than five years of age, and in areas where water scarcity is a problem.

The good news is that organizations like Wells Bring Hope are working to improve drinking water and sanitation. Whenever WBH drills a well, the villagers must also construct pit latrines and receive training on proper hygiene. The combination of safe water, effective sanitation, and improved nutrition results in a 70% reduction in child morality. By simply drilling a well, we can come together to save millions of people from the pain, suffering, and in many cases, death, caused by waterborne illnesses.

As the World Health Organization says, “No other humanitarian intervention produces a more dramatic effect on life than access to safe water and sanitation.”



Tourism Potential in Niger

by Jennifer Dees

Picture a place rich in natural beauty with sunny, clear days and brilliant stars lighting the night sky over desert cities. High sand dunes glow golden; beneath them, dinosaur bones have rested for millions of years. Think of herds of giraffes and elephants, and lions prowling in the savanaa. Imagine millennia-old engravings in sandstone mountains, and ancient mud-brick villages with artistic,  Sudano-Sahelian architecture. This is Niger, and this is a place that, someday, many will be able to experience.

Agadez Grand Mosque, Niger

At this time, due to threats from extremist and terrorist organizations, foreigners are urged not to travel to Niger unless accompanied by armed guard. But Niger has the potential for tourism once it becomes more stable, and that is possible. Several countries have risen from poverty to economic stability and become popular holiday destinations. Namibia, for example, dealt with guerilla wars in the late 1900s, and now over a million people a year visit to discover its wildlife. Just 40 years ago, Cambodia was fraught with civil war and genocide; now foreigners visit its temples and immerse themselves in its culture.

Once a country becomes more stable, tourism starts small, usually through volunteering programs. Tours are created to target poverty in villages. Towns develop as local entrepreneurs gain the opportunity to grow their businesses. More jobs become available thanks to the influx of tourists. Eventually, enough cash flow invigorates national parks and museums. The same can happen in Niger.

Niger offers beautiful scenery and experiences. Hippos bathe in the Niger River, which passes through mangrove trees and other lush vegetation. Park W, a UNESCO World Heritage site, protects rare species of elephants, hyenas, lions, oryx, and more. West Africa’s last remaining herd of giraffes lives in the Kouré Giraffe Reserve, and is quite friendly with the locals. Tourism can also have positive environmental impacts by helping to fund security.

Niger’s ancient culture is preserved through engravings and paintings in the northern Aïr Mountains among ancient volcanic craters. In Iwellene, animal engravings over 8,000 years old are spread over 10 acres, including two life-sized giraffes, one of the greatest works of prehistoric art.

In Niger’s capital, Niamey, tourists could haggle for handwoven blankets, intricately imprinted leather boxes, and colored straw mats, and snack on ginger-spiced sourdough pancakes and moringa leaf cous-cous. The  adventurous could climb the minaret of the Grande Mosque and admire the colorfully patterned buildings. Visitors from around the world could experience cultural festivals throughout Niger and meet friendly people with a lively, resilient spirit.

Niamey market

One day, I hope that Niger will be known around the world for these experiences. We cannot expect change to come at gallop, although Wells Bring Hope helps provide a little more stability, one village a time. Niger is a country with great potential, naturally and culturally, and I’m hopeful that someday the rest of the world will experience it too.

Education in Niger

by Mehreen Quadri

According to a UNICEF report from 2013, 23.2% of women in Niger are literate. Factors such as culture, family and societal pressures, and the fact that Niger’s economy relies heavily on agriculture, perpetuate some of the highest rates of illiteracy and the lowest rates of formal education in Africa.

Most families in Niger would rather have their daughters contributing to the household than attending school. Throughout West Africa, the burden of supplying water for the household falls to the women and girls. If there is no well in the village, this chore can occupy much of the day as the closest water source may be miles away.

A woman’s lack of education affects the country’s economy, her perceived self-worth, and the future of her own family. According to Dollar & Gotti 1991, a woman’s education can lead to a .3% increase in GDP. SAFE Schools, Mercy Corps. and other NGO’s in Niger have built schools that bring in an average range of 20 to 30 students to the more rural areas where the nearest school is inaccessible. This serves as a great advantage for these girls, but the retention rate is still low. In an agrarian society, families feel that a formal education cannot help with the work required by an agricultural lifestyle nor with their household duties as wife and mother. Furthermore, when girls are sent to a high school, families report that they’re different when they return home. They no longer want to fulfill the traditional roles, bearing the duties of wife, mother, and maintainer of the household. What families might not realize is that education can give a woman more economic power. According to Amete & Amusa 2010, the more formal education a woman has, the more decision making she has in the farms, which is also correlated to how much farm land she has. In a predominantly agrarian society, this would be highly beneficial.

A group of girls taking part in one of Mercy Corps’ Safe Spaces programs in the village of Baura, Maradi region, Niger, February 2014. In the center is Badariya, the girl whose eagerness for an education inspired the SAFE Schools initiative to help get girls back up to speed so they can enter or re-enter Niger’s schooling system. [Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps]

Another reason for such low rates of retention is that the culture of Niger reinforces early marriage and child bearing. Seventy five percent of girls are married by the age of fifteen. It is not uncommon to marry even earlier than fifteen if the girl is pressured to. When Anti-Slavery International asked older women in these conservative communities why early marriage is a good idea, they say because it could potentially be dangerous to remain unmarried (“Child Bride or Slave? Girls in Niger are Both”). They feel that an unmarried girl is more vulnerable to rape. Rape, sex before marriage, and children out of wedlock cause great shame in these communities. In addition, marriage allows a woman to secure economic stability for herself and her family. Thus, marriage is believed to be a protective factor.

For most women, security really is dependent on marriage. Besides marriage being a cultural norm and expectation, it can also be a necessity. If a family is suffering from poverty, they may either pressure their daughter to marry someone rich if that is an option, or they may sell her as a ‘wahaya.’  Wahaya is what they call being a fifth wife. In Niger, a man is legally allowed to have four wives. If a man decides to have a fifth wife or ‘wahaya’, he has chosen to take a woman into his household without marrying her. Thus, she will not have any legal or societal rights. She is essentially a modern day slave. The wahaya will perform all the household work without any pay, be used sexually, and beaten if anything goes wrong. Young girls are either usually sold before the age of fifteen to older men as wahaya because of poverty or they are daughters of women who are also wahaya. This problem is more prevalent in towns where men have a higher economic status and have the ability to provide for a larger household.

Regardless of the reason, the fact is that education is out of reach for the majority of girls in Niger, and the lack of schooling makes them even more vulnerable to the challenges they face. It  takes more than just building schools in rural areas (essential as that is) to increase literacy and education. We have to ensure that girls have access to that school. There are many factors that affect access, but one of the most easily addressed is water. If a girl’s village has a well, her water-collecting chores can easily be accomplished before and after school, freeing her from that educational barrier. The societal norms are more intransigent and will take much longer to address, but the first step must be freeing girls from the burden of walking for water.


by Andrea Levin

Food Security and Livelihood

by Michelle Wolf

At the end of every month, my husband and I go over our budget for the month ahead. We allocate an agreed upon amount of money for groceries and attempt to keep track of how much we use in electricity and gas. Every other week, we withdrawal money from our bank account to pay for groceries, which we tend to buy in bulk, at a nearby Costco. It’s easy for us to justify spending hundreds of dollars on groceries every month because we have reliable jobs at stable companies where we are paid a generous income. We can confidently rely on our employers to pay us on time and in full. We can pay for the gas that powers our cars and house. We don’t carry an ax with us to chop down wood in preparation for this year’s upcoming Minnesota winter. Our home will be warm and our kitchen will be stocked with food.

In Niger, more than 1.5 million people do not have enough to eat and 50% of households do not have a source of income. In Diffa, food and income are astonishingly difficult to maintain. Turmoil from Boko Haram, stresses from the influx of refugees and internally displaced persons, security, trade and crop restrictions, and lack of clean water impede access to food and economic growth.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and RRRP Partners have set up programs at refugee camps to help aid in food assistance and introduce gas as the main source of household energy.

Gas energy is needed in areas where reliance on wood energy and excessive cutting of wood is further deteriorating the environment. All new households in refugee camps will be supported with gas energy, and 5,000 existing households, outside of the camps, will be provided with gas stoves and cash transfers for the purchase of gas.

Humanitarian agencies like UNHCR and Wells Bring Hope, help provide an environment that allows Nigerien communities to prosper. Taking steps to assist in obtaining basic human needs creates a sort of snowball effect. Once basic, physiological needs are met, communities can direct their resources to satisfying higher-level needs. As Maslow outlined, before individuals can fulfill their highest potential, basic needs like water, food, and shelter must be satisfied. With these stepping stones in place Nigeriens can begin to feel safe in their environment and begin to work toward building lives that allow them to pursue their dreams.




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!


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 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


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



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.

  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.
  11. Tibbetts, J.(2006). Louisiana’s Wetlands: A Lesson in Nature Appreciation. Environmental Health Perspective, 114(1), A40-A43.