By far the largest nation in West Africa, Niger was 5,000 years ago covered in fertile grasslands, home to pastoralists who passed on a culture stretching back to at least 10,000 BCE. Their rock paintings show the complex lifestyle of so many years previous, with depictions of giraffes and domesticated horses meeting images of chariots and war.
Since then, however, Niger has slowly been subsumed by the Sahara desert, with just some eleven percent of the land still arable. This land supports the 80 percent of the nation’s population who rely on subsistence agriculture for their living. Rainfall is irregular, causing frequent droughts and inadequate water infrastructure means sources of safe, potable water are in short supply.
In the village of Tsamia Jigo, 2000 inhabitants and their livestock have for years negotiated survival without an adequate water point. Located in the department of Filingué in the Tillabéri Region of Niger, there have been attempts over the years at providing villagers with a source of clean water. In 1985 a well was proposed and then abandoned when drilling did not reach the water table. In 1999, the government was able to drill a borehole which ceased working within a few years. Though the community raised 800,000 FCFA (approximately $1662.20 – an enormous sum for a country where per capita income is less than $400 a year), this amount was not sufficient to repair their water sources. They were left to rely on temporary swaps during the rainy season, though these swamps provided only dirty water, unfit for human consumption. When the swamps dried up women would walk up to 15 kilometers a day for water.
Partner Africare undertook the construction of the well. They also provided training for members of the community’s Well Management Committee, giving instruction in well maintenance and repair, proper hygiene, and how to best reduce the spread of waterborne illnesses. The community itself pledged 200,000 FSFA (or roughly $458) to be used by the management committee to operate and maintain the new well infrastructure.
On Tuesday May 6, 2008, labourers were relaxing under the biggest tree of the village after a hot day of work when they heard a big noise like that of a fired weapon. The villagers ran to the well and upon seeing the water exclaimed, “We have water!” as they jumped and shouted with happiness. Food was cooked by the village women for the labourers and neighbouring villagers who came to share in their happiness, followed by the largest feast that the village has ever prepared. Words of thanks were expressed to Africare and the African Well Fund by all the villagers. “Our water problem is ended forever. All our thanks to the African Well Fund and Africare,” said 117-year-old village head who had a drink of water and showered himself with a sample of water coming directly from the well.