Niger ‘Well Diver’ Helps Keep Village Watered

Well diver

Kadir Djallo stands with his camel in the village of Sabonkafi, Niger. Kadir, a well diver, descends more than 200 feet into the village’s well to retrieve dropped items and check on silt built up. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS

It would be a stretch to say that Kadir Djallo is a cave diver, a highly trained, high-risk adventurer laden with specialized equipment. But in this part of Niger, where the largest bodies of water are rainy season watering holes and the village well, I think Kadir qualifies. He certainly fits the high-risk adventurer role.

Because of the skill with which he practices his craft, he’s known in the village as the plongeur artisanal (artisanal diver). His job: descend into the abyss of the village well and fetch dropped buckets and anything else people lost a grip on. Sometimes he’ll make the trip down the well three times a day. Nobody gives him a penny for doing it, but his work keeps thousands of animals and humans hydrated in one of the most unforgiving parts of Africa.

The well in his village of Adam Kolé quenches the thirst of thousands of cows, sheep, and goats of passing nomads. That makes Kadir and the well somewhat famous around here. In this parched region of Niger bordering the Sahara desert, where during the hot season it can reach 116 degrees, the well, Kadir says, never goes dry.

I was in the midst of a minor celebrity, and I’d never heard of a well diver before. So I asked Kadir to show me what he does.

Kadir changed out of his lounge clothes and into a pair of polyester pants and stained shirt. He kicked off his flip flops, put on a cheap plastic hard hat, stepped into two loops at the end of a rope, and cinched it up around his thighs. Then, as he climbed over the edge of the well, a few strong men lowered him down.

It took just under two minutes to lower him 215 feet into the crust of the earth. When he hit water an echo rose out of the depths: He was going under. He held his breath, braced his feet against the walls of the well, and inched his way under water. There, he checked sediment build up, the perforated cement cylinders that let ground water in, and picked up a puisette, an indispensable item in Niger: a canvas sack used to fetch water.

CRS and a local Nigerien partner rehabilitated the well, building a cement wall around it and putting in place a local committee to manage it (if shoes are worn on the cement near the well, for example, a fine is levied). Prior to refurbishing the well, villagers told me, animal waste, loads of sand, and the occasional person fell in. The water had a foul smell and was the color of weak tea. But people drank it anyway.

Thanks to some basic improvements to the well, Kadir and the rest of the villagers are no longer drinking polluted Adam’s Ale but a refreshing Nigerien Perrier.

– Lane Hartill is CRS’ regional information officer for West and Central Africa

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