At a glance: Niger

Kilima’s burden: Access to water a daily struggle for women in Niger

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Niger/2006
Women at a village well. Access to water is challenging for many women in Niger, who are traditionally responsible for fetching water for their families’ daily needs.

By Natalie Fol and David McKenzie

SAFO NASSARAOUA, Niger, 23 March 2006 – Kilima Sabaou has dreams for her family. She wants to find a job to earn some extra money so she can buy food. She wants to know where her children are in the mornings and help them with basic care. But she cannot do any of this. Water is Kilima’s burden.

In this remote village, there is only one working well to use. From the early morning on, women and young children travel to and from the well to collect water for their families’ needs.

“It is difficult for me because I have six children at home,” Kilima says at the well. “And before I come here I have other things to do for my children.” It takes Kilima 20 minutes to complete the round trip to get water with her baby carried on her back, and she has to do it around 15 times a day.

Diarrhoea a fact of life

Kilima is certainly not alone; access to water remains a major daily issue for many women in Niger. As a rule, they are responsible for fetching water for their families. In addition to water for drinking, women need to bring water to prepare and cook food, bathe the whole family, wash cooking and eating utensils, do laundry and provide water to the cattle.

And water is not Kilima’s only burden. Her family is struggling to survive. During the last ‘lean season’ – the period before the annual harvest, when grain stocks run low – they got into debt in order to be able to buy food. So when the good harvest came, that had to sell all of it.

What’s more, the water in Safo Nassaraoua is not clean. “My two oldest children have diarrhoea all of the time,” says Kilima. “Most of the children here have the problem.” Indeed, diarrhoea is a fact of life for this village. The water is clean at its source, but all of the activity around the well takes its toll. Animal matter and bacteria are deposited into the well. The ropes of the women's plastic buckets often act as a carrier for disease.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Niger/2006
In Kilima’s village of Safo Nassaraoua, the water source is clean but dirt is kicked in the well and ropes bring in animal matter and bacteria.

Reducing child mortality

Over 80 per cent of Niger’s total population lives in rural areas, where only 59 percent of the people have access to safe drinking water. The remaining population in those areas gets water from unimproved wells, the Niger River or standing bodies of water such as ponds.

The lack of clean water leads inevitably to a lack of hygiene. Niger’s average rate of access to adequate sanitation is a problematic 20 per cent. In rural and semi-rural areas, the rate is even worse, at 5 per cent. An estimated 80 per cent of infant and childhood deaths in rural Niger are linked to exposure to contaminated water, lack of hygiene and inadequate sanitation.

“Reinforcing access to safe water has a high impact on child survival,” notes UNICEF Niger Representative Karimou Aboudou Adjibade. “It is a crucial investment to reduce the country’s under-five mortality rate, which is one of the highest in the world”.

High cost of access

In the village next door, UNICEF has installed a solar-powered pump for the population. It works without many moving parts, so it is long-lasting and environmentally friendly. Most important to the women who use it, the water is safe. The village has started a fund for repairs to the pump, and though the women still have to wait for hours to get water, they say it is worth it as there are now few cases of diarrhoea.

Even though three-quarters of Niger’s vast territory is covered by desert, an abundance of underground water has great potential for meeting the public’s needs. The volume is estimated at 2.5 billion cubic metres of renewable hydraulic resources per year – less than 20 per cent of which is currently exploited.

However, the cost of access to water remains very high in Niger. On average, it costs between $8,000 and $14,000 to drill a borehole through hard rock or construct a modern well. The water table can be hard to reach, sometimes at over 100 metres in depth.

Improving access to safe water and basic sanitation is one of UNICEF Niger’s highest priorities. In 2004 and 2005, UNICEF supported the construction or rehabilitation of 60 boreholes and 17 cemented wells. This year, UNICEF Niger is allocating over $2 million to provide some 120,000 people – including 60,000 women and 24,000 children under the age of five – with greater access to drinking water and adequate sanitation.


 

 

Video

23 March 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Sabine Dolan reports on Nigerien Kilima Sabaou’s daily hardships for safe water.

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