Climate change and desertification compounds water and sanitation needs in Niger

تم النشر: 21 مارس 2007 0:00 CET

Robert Fraser, Senior Officer, Water and Sanitation Unit, Geneva

The vast landlocked West African country of Niger faces an increasing demand upon its scarce water resources, the lack of which - when added to poor sanitation and hygiene - results in high levels of death and disease among its 13 million inhabitants.

Many of them subsist on less than a dollar a day following traditional farming and livestock rearing in this harsh and uncompromising climate.

Niger is one of the countries that form the Sahel Region which has seen recurring drought, food insecurity, and increased desertification over the last 30 years, a result - at least partly - of global climate change and overuse of scant natural resources.

During the last two years, food insecurity and drought reached abnormally high levels, prompting a response from the international community and an intensive food security operation undertaken by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The International Federation provided food, livelihood inputs, health and logistics support to the Niger Red Cross Society to avert a greater disaster, reducing death and disease and restoring dignity to the most affected communities.

As the situation stabilised, the medium to longer term needs of those affected were considered and a very important water, sanitation and hygiene promotion programme was established. This was part of the International Federation’s ten-year Global Water and Sanitation Initiative (GWSI), which aims to contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals by scaling-up existing capacities.

More than 250,000 people in some of Niger’s poorest communities will benefit from this project, supported by the Qatar Red Crescent Society and implemented by the Niger Red Cross and an International Federation technical support team based in Niger and Senegal.

The Niger project joins 15 other large-scale water, sanitation and hygiene promotion projects being established by the Federation Global Water and Sanitation Initiative in some of the poorest countries in the Caribbean, Africa and Asia - with the objective of improving the lives of more than five million people by 2015.

The particular challenge in Niger is to ensure that the project will not increase desertification – but carefully use existing resources wisely and to their best advantage – while increasing sustainability at community level, with full Government participation, and contributing at the same time to further capacity building within the Niger Red Cross Society.

Existing water points should be rehabilitated, this to ensure that already established water sources are used as much as possible – preserving unused sources for the future. Only where there are no other options should new water sources be developed.

Appropriate and simple technologies will be used, so that communities can operate and maintain water supplies at village level, and at low and affordable costs.

Community buy-in and participation will be maximised – a ‘felt need’ among the population is a prerequisite to intervention. A special focus on behavioural change and hygiene promotion has as much importance as the engineering and construction aspects.

Also, there is a need for school latrines to convince children to change their hygiene habits, and to integrate parents and pupils in the construction and maintenance of the latrines.

As the project develops and its benefits become apparent, the ever-present threat of cholera, which is endemic in Niger – and numbers of deaths and disease cases, especially among young children – will also be reduced significantly.

The first results show that after sensitization within communities, no cholera cases have been reported in the Maggia Valley, where the disease usually occurs every year.