by Sarah Ravazza
Lack of access to clean water negatively impacts many communities in Niger, including the Tuareg people, a nomadic tribe that inhabits the Sahara Desert. This ancient African tribe has been popping up in the news recently due to their involvement in uprisings and with various rebel groups. Although the reasons behind these rebellions are complicated, an undeniable exacerbating factor is the competition for natural water on their indigenous land. The Tuareg have lived in the water-scarce Sahara Desert for centuries, but a mix of climate change and the increased water resource exploitation has seriously impacted their ability to survive in their indigenous homeland.
A very brief background of the Tuareg: dating back to as early as the 4th century, the history of this tribe is vibrant, complex, and has been influential to modern Africa. Traditionally nomadic, the clans traveled throughout their indigenous home of the Sahara Desert living off of resources and their livestock and were heavily involved in trans-Saharan trade. By the 19th century, there were quite a few clans split throughout their indigenous Sahara region, and these tribes were some of the strongest opponents to French colonialism. Once African countries gained independence in the 1960s and the modern country borders were established, the Sahara Desert (and by extension the Tuareg) had been split between 5 nations, a majority of which (around 2 million people) currently live in Niger.
One of the major challenges the Tuareg are currently facing is the depletion of water in the already resource-sparse Sahara Desert. In Niger, the Tuareg are a marginalized group and have little economic or political power. Their homeland is also rich in uranium, a prized metal that is sought by many nuclear companies. According to the University of Texas’ Climate Change and African Political Stability research, this uranium has led to serious conflicts between Tuareg tribes, the Niger government and the French company who currently mines the area. As the report states, uranium mining “is water intensive, both in underground and open pit operations, and Niger has both.” This has led to a major depletion of water resources, and access to clean water is becoming increasingly limited. Although the French company has stated they are incorporating water-saving updates that will lessen the amount of water taken from mining, with new mines being developed and other environmental issues involved when extracting uranium, the Tuareg are desperate for autonomy and ways to ensure their continued access to clean water.
With the actions of Wells Bring Hope, vitally important access to water is being brought to Tuareg and others living in the water-sparse areas of the Sahara Desert. As CCAPS research indicates, “adaptation to increasing water scarcity need not be high tech or guided by national-level policy.” Empowerment through access to clean water has a significant impact on individuals and communities. This will help not only the survival of these clans but will also impact relations between the Tuareg, neighboring towns, and the government of Niger through easing the burden and fear of not having access to a clean water.
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