World Water Day: Of Water, Wells and Walls in Niger

The last time I saw Hassan he was lying in the sand in eastern Niger, picking at the dead grass, and wondering how he was going to make it through the spring. The rains had been sporadic and light last rainy season and the grass his cattle were grazing on was feathery and yellow. It would be gone in months, he told me. Then he would be forced to sell his cows before they lost all their weight (and value) and died.

The irony is that Niger has water, lakes of it in the form of underground aquifers. There’s 2.5 billion cubic meters of underground renewable water (that’s 660 billion gallons, enough to fill 7,827 stadiums the size of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.). But only some 20 percent of it is now being tapped into. Nigerian officials even know where the water is. Thanks to the European Space Agency, Niger is now using Synthetic Aperture Radar to find surface and underground water.

Niger well

In the village of Adam Kolé, Niger, Hassan uses a team of donkeys to pull water from a well refurbished by CRS and its partner. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS

That’s good news for Hassan and his cattle. Because they are going to need all the water they can get, especially given the last livestock census in Niger. In 2007, Niger found that there are 30 million heads of livestock in the country, 30 percent more than previously thought. That many additional cattle and goats are going to need more water. Studies suggest that a zebu cow, the common breed in Niger, drink around to 2 gallons a day (though many cattle are watered every other day). That means more wells need to be drilled. Many of these wells need to be dug in the most remote parts of the country where roads are bad and it’s expensive to transport drilling rigs. That’s going to take time.
What to do in the meantime?

Build walls. That’s right. CRS’ partners built a small protective cement wall around the well where Hassan waters his cattle. Before the wall, the water was filthy—the color of weak tea, he said—because it was full of manure and sand. The wall protects the well and now the water is so clean, so deliciously clear, that Hassan and the other villagers, drink straight from the well.

Lane Hartill is CRS communications officer for western and central Africa

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