by Pat Landowska

Niger is the second-worst place to be a mother ­– ahead of only Afghanistan – according to Save the Children’s annual State of the World’s Mothers report. The organization compares living conditions of mothers and children in 164 countries. Norway, Australia and New Zealand top the ranking this year as best countries for being a mother. Among the 10 bottom-ranked countries, eight are from Sub-Saharan Africa with Niger ranking the lowest in the region. Sub-Saharan Africa also accounts for 18 of the 20 lowest-ranking countries.

In Niger one in seven women dies in labor or from complications during pregnancy. Only a third of expectant mothers either deliver at hospital, health post or with the help of a trained midwife at home. As a result, a significant number of women who survive birth giving lives in isolation due to complications during labor like fistula and incontinence. Scarcely 5% of women use modern contraception. Less than 50% of pregnant women in Niger are receiving some prenatal health services.

A typical woman of Niger has fewer than 4 years of formal education and will live to be 53 years old. 1 child in 5 dies before his of her fifth birthday whereas 41% of the five-year-old survivors suffer from malnutrition. The contrast between Niger and the top-ranked country, Norway, is striking. Skilled health personnel attend virtually every birth in Norway. An average Norwegian woman has 18 years of formal education and will live to be 83 years old. 82% of women are using some modern method of contraception, and only one in 175 will lose a child before its fifth birthday.

One of the factors taken under consideration in preparing the report’s so-called Mother’s Index is population’s access to safe water. Only 48% Nigeriens have access to clean water. By drilling wells and securing water for more people, situation of mothers and children can change very quickly for better.

The report does not mention that only 15% women of Niger are literate (as opposed to 43% of men). This heart-breaking number is directly related to the fact that burden of fetching water falls on shoulders (literally!) of women and girls. Lack of literacy accounts – directly or indirectly – for poverty and malnutrition, low or no access to professional health services, and ultimately premature deaths of mothers and children. Drilling wells is a single most sufficient action that can help to raise the rank of Niger in future World’s Mothers reports.

“These statistics go far beyond mere numbers. The human despair and lost opportunities represented in these numbers demand mothers everywhere be given the basic tools they need to break the cycle of poverty and improve the quality of life for themselves, their children, and for generations to come.”

(State of the World’s Mothers report, 2011)