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New safe-water systems in rural Niger enable children to go to school

Under the theme, ‘Clean Water for a Healthy Word,’ this year’s World Water Day, 22 March, aims to spur action on improving water quality worldwide. Here is a related story on UNICEF's safe-water efforts in Niger.

Chinwaghari Village, Niger, 22 March 2010 – Surrounded by a throng of other children, each carrying empty containers, Fatima Hamouma, 8, walked to the new, modern water taps in her village. In just a few minutes, she had filled all six of her containers. Just a year ago, fetching water from the old traditional well would have required at least three hours of hard work.

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"It’s easy," Fatima said. “Before, we had to queue for a long time to get the water. And most of the time, it was dirty."

Water taps installed
The new water taps, which were installed a year ago, provide direct access to potable water for the 1,100 inhabitants of Chinwaghari village. They’re part of a state-of-the-art, ‘mini’ water distribution system set up by UNICEF, the Government of Niger and other partners. The aim is to increase sustainable access to drinking water and sanitation in the community, thereby reducing the prevalence of waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea among children.

The project was carried out in collaboration with Rotary Belgium and the Belgian National Committee for UNICEF. To date, Rotary Belgium has contributed approximately $400,000 to this initiative.

"Ensuring access to safe water is a crucial investment to increase child survival in a country that has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world," said Georges Richard, a Rotary Belgium representative, on a recent visit to Niger.

Nomadic people marginalized
Most people in Fatima’s dry and remote village are nomadic Tuareg stockbreeders. Nomads are among the most marginalized populations in Niger, due to their mobile way of life and high rates of illiteracy.

New safe-water systems like the one in Chinwaghari now provide increased access to sanitation facilities for over 19,000 people in hard-to-reach communities. Over 12 per cent of people in Tchintabaraden district, Tahoua region, now have access to improved water sources.

More than 80 per cent of Niger’s total population lives in rural areas, however, and close to three-quarters of these Nigeriens still have no access to safe drinking water. Instead, they get water from unimproved wells, the Niger River or bodies of standing water such as ponds. Moreover, only 7 per cent of country’s population (and just 3 per cent in rural areas) has access to adequate sanitation.

Poor sanitation and hygiene have a serious impact on child health. Worldwide, diarrhoea – often caused by the consumption of contaminated water – is the second leading cause of death among children under the age of five. About 1.5 million children die from diarrhoeal diseases each year.

Linking safe water and education
Back in in Chinwaghari, more village children are attending school thanks to the new water-distribution system – not only because they spend less time fetching water for their families, but also because the increased access to water leads nomadic groups to tend to settle in one place.

Three years ago, only seven children were enrolled in the village primary school. Today, over 60 students are registered.

"Before, it was difficult because the well was far from the village," remembered Aïchatou Mahamma, 28, a mother of six. "Water means life for us. What is happening in our village through this project gives us hope."

In addition to providing essential infrastructure, UNICEF and its partners promote hygiene through organizing focus groups, promoting dialogue and advocating for hand-washing with soap, a practice which can decrease diarrhoeal diseases by 40 per cent.

By Sandra Bisin



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