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HOME | PROGRAM IN AZAWAk | WATER SCARCITY AND GLOBAL ISSUES


WATER SCARCITY AND GLOBAL ISSUES
Permanent Water Insufficiency, Desertification, and Global Climate Change

Photo: Azawak plains -
These children have traveled 12 miles to fetch water by digging in this drying marsh. -

Potable drinking water is for all intents and purposes unavailable in rural Azawak.  The area gravely suffers from persistent desertification and poor annual rainfall rarely exceeding 200 to 400 millimeters a year. Water insufficiency is a constant problem for the populations given that access to water is greatly determined by this inconsistent, unreliable, and poor annual rainfall.  Global climate change is having a drastic effect on the rainy season, as it is becoming shorter and shorter from year to year.

- Photo: pouring water from marsh
- Takat and Aminata fetching water from a marsh contaminated with animal and human waste.

During the rainy season – which can last between one and three months a year --  households depend on marsh water to meet their primary needs (drinking, cooking, washing) and the needs of their animals.   This water is turbid and contaminated with weeds, human filth, and animal excrement.  Icon: Photo Gallery View photo gallery of "Marshes"

After the rainy season, the people of the Azawak rely on water holes, dug into a perched water table (fed by the rain) in surface sediment up to 20 meters deep. [water holes in marsh] The duration that water is found in the water holes is determined by the productivity of the rainy season, and can last from one to many months after the last rains.1  To access these underground rainwater reserves, men and boys spend hours a day digging into the sediments, essentially chasing the water deeper and deeper as each day goes by.

Photo: water holes in marsh
Marsh water holes being dug in dried marshland.

A few liters of water are drawn from these holes throughout the day, and during one day water seekers will move from one hole to the next waiting for the water to pool back in the bottom of each hole.  The quality of water lifted out is poor, often turbid and polluted. Icon: Photo Gallery View photo gallery of "Marsh water holes"

- Photo: Hadiza drinking contaminated water from a marsh water hole.
- Hadiza drinking contaminated water from a marsh water hole.

Once the marshes and the water holes dry up, both nomads and sedentary populations travel up to 50 kilometers round-trip in search of water for themselves and their animals at deep wells interspersed throughout the territory. Large livestock herds must often be taken up to 500 km south to meet their water needs.  The number of functional wells in the Azawak is very low and limited to approximately one water source every 10 to 50 kilometers.  The low number of water sources forces everyone – and their animals -- within a 25 kilometer radius to share these rare and precious resources.  According to the Niger Ministry of Hydraulics (2007) the equivalent of 10 to 15 villages and their livestock (between 5,000 to 25,000 people, and 10,000 to 25,000 or more heads of livestock) rely on one water source.  Severe overexploitation causes the few existing wells to dry out prematurely.  People may therefore spend as many as two or three days without water, waiting for a well to replenish itself. 

Photo: man and woman fetching water -
Man and women exhausted after a 20 mile journey to fetch water from a deep open well. -

During the nine to twelve month long dry season, persons responsible for fetching water bring home approximately 40 to 60 liters of water for the needs of their family and small ruminants. Under these conditions, most individuals survive on less than 6 liters of water/person/day — a quantity well under the World Health Organization prescribed minimum of 15 to 25 liters of water/person/day — and have difficulty finding time for other activities such as basic household chores, revenue-generating activities, and school. 

- Photo: men having difficulty pulling water
- These men have traveled great distances to heave water up from a 300 foot deep open well for their animals and livestock.

The rarity of permanent and reliable water sources in this area is partly due to the fact that the permanent underground aquifer known as the “Continentale Intercalaire” (CI) is located between 200 and 800 meters deep.  Due to the depth of the CI, underground water reserves can rarely be exploited at shallow depths.  Open concrete wells in the region generally range from 100 to 140 meters deep. These often dry up because they rely on rainwater rather than the permanent CI.  Open wells of this depth are not ideal: manually pulling water at a depth over 50 meters is extremely difficult, time consuming (it takes approximately 10 minutes to retrieve 20 liters of water from a well 100 meters deep), and requires animal traction (up to four to seven donkeys) rarely available to the most vulnerable households. Furthermore, using animals for this purpose weakens them and causes premature death. Finally, even these open wells of this depth dry out and are thus not a year-round source of consistent or potable water.  The water extracted from these wells is often no more than mud. Icon: Photo Gallery View photo gallery of "deep open wells"

Amman Imman therefore builds boreholes – closed narrow shafts -- thereby accessing permanent and clean underground water reserves that exist between 200 to 800 meters under the earth’s surface. Icon: Photo Gallery View photo gallery of "tangarwashane borehole"

Icon: Video Gallery View water crisis in azawak video

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Water Scarcity and Health

Photo: girl with infected pimple -
This child’s pimple became life threatening because there was no water to wash and disinfect it. -

Health care coverage in the target area is as low as 21% and functional health care facilities, often a two-day donkey ride away, are as rare and far to reach as reliable sources of water — it is not uncommon that people who could easily be saved will die simply because they cannot receive basic medical care.  Inaccessibility to health care has greatly impeded the quantity and quality of health services provided as well as the distribution of health related information available to the populations (including information related to hygiene and sanitation), thereby contributing to poor health in the region.

- Photo: girls bathing in Marigot
- Man sharing water with his cattle.

Compounding poor health and nutrition of individuals -- most particularly the population’s most vulnerable members (children, women, the elderly, and the disabled) is the aforementioned water scarcity. Children suffer from hives and lice because they cannot bathe for lack of water during the nine-month dry season. Dysentery and diarrhea are an every day occurrence, mostly due to the critical water unavailability and poor water quality. Even during the rainy season when marsh water is abundant, the water is not potable or suitable for bathing because it is contaminated with animal excrement and other filth. Mortality rates due to dehydration and water-borne illness are consequently as high as 25% among infants under five years of age living in the target area.  Infant mortality rates among the highest in the world, as one out of every two children die before the age of five. Icon: Photo Gallery View photo gallery of "HEALTH"

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Water Scarcity and Food Insecurity

Photo: Fulani woman milking cow -
Fulani woman milking her cow. -

The project target area suffers from persistent desertification and poor annual rainfall rarely exceeding 200 to 400 mm a year. Year-to-year decreases in rainfall have caused a 60% grain deficit, a 50-80% loss of livestock due to diminished pasturelands, and an underground water deficit of over 142,812 tons. Hence, satisfying nutritional needs has become increasingly difficult due to unreliable and unaffordable access to grain supplies and other supplemental foodstuff as well as insufficient animal production, most particularly milk that in “normal” times constitutes the food base and principal source of revenue for households.

- Photo: skinny cow
- Tuareg women pounding millet.

Due to food insufficiency, 85% of the households in the Azawak consume nothing except for a small quantity of milk at least seven days per month. Food insecurity is exacerbated during the nine month dry season when milk yields are particularly low because livestock herds themselves suffer from dehydration and starvation, thereby making them less productive.

Photo: girl with infected pimple -
Recurrent drought has caused dramatic livestock losses. -

The dramatic losses of livestock have forced many nomadic pastoralists to become sedentary farmers for the first time in their population’s history — an alarming fact given that herding tends to be a more reliable source of food security than farming.   This “settling down” process will also aggravate the already existing water shortage dilemma facing the area.

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1 In 2005, the water holes had dried up by the end of December because the rainy season did not provide enough water.  Thanks to a longer rainy season during 2006, the populations relied on shallow water holes throughout the Spring of 2007 to supply themselves with small amounts of water for their families and their livestock.

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