Effectively managing scarce water in Niger

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Effectively managing scarce water in Niger

“The vast landlocked West African country of Niger faces an increasing demand upon its scarce water resources. The lack of water, poor sanitation and hygiene result in high levels of death and disease among its 13 million inhabitants. Many subsist on traditional farming and livestock rearing in this harsh and uncompromising climate.

Niger and other countries in the Sahel Region have experienced recurring drought, food insecurity, and increased desertification over the last 30 years, partly as a result of global climate change and overuse of scant natural resources. During the last two years, food insecurity and drought reached abnormally high levels, prompting a response from the international community and an intensive food security operation undertaken by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. They provided food, livelihood inputs, health and logistics support to avert a greater disaster, reducing death and disease and restoring dignity to the most affected communities.

As the situation stabilised, the medium to longer term needs of those affected were considered and a water, sanitation and hygiene promotion programme was established. More than 250,000 people in some of Niger’s poorest communities will benefit from this project, supported by the Qatar Red Crescent Society and implemented by the Niger Red Cross and an International Federation technical support team based in Niger and Senegal.

The particular challenge in Niger is to ensure that the project will not increase desertification, use existing resources wisely while increasing sustainability at community level. Existing water points will be rehabilitated, preserving unused sources for the future. Only where there are no other options will new water sources be developed. Appropriate and simple technologies will be used, so that communities can operate and maintain water supplies at village level, and at low, affordable costs.

Community buy-in and participation will be maximised – a ‘felt need’ among the population is a prerequisite to intervention. A special focus on behavioural change and hygiene promotion has as much importance as the engineering and construction aspects. There is a need for school latrines to convince children to change their hygiene habits, and to integrate parents and pupils in the construction and maintenance of the latrines.

As the project develops and its benefits become apparent, the ever-present threat of cholera, which is endemic in Niger, will also be reduced significantly. The first results show that after sensitization within communities, no cholera cases have been reported in the Maggia Valley, where the disease usually occurs every year.”


Back in 1997-1998, I was invited by the then Belgian Secretary of State for Development Cooperation Reginald MOREELS to set up in Niger a demonstration project with the soil conditioner TerraCottem, developed at my laboratory at the University of Ghent (Belgium).

In november 1997, I worked with the Niger authorities on 3 different demonstration sites in Niamey (Niger):

  • Production of vegetables at the Seed Production Station along the Niger River.
  • Revitalisation of young trees at the Ceinture Verte (Green Belt) around Niamey (trees planted by the Niger President and several Ministers).
  • Construction of a school garden

In february 1998, Secretary of State MOREELS and a “mixed commission” visited the demonstration project and the experts of Niger involved were congratulated with the excellent results (see some pictures below). In particular the water saving effect of TerraCottem and its positive effect on wiltening trees were underscored.

It was promised by the authorities that “initiatives would be taken to apply this promising technology at a larger scale and in other parts of Niger“.

Speaking about

Effectively managing scarce water in Niger

I wonder why our “promising technology” did not get any chance to show its merits in Niger anymore.

A lack of lobbying perhaps ? What a shame for a scientist to be such a bad lobbyist !

1998-02 Niger
1998-02 : Part of the Green Belt of Niamey planted in august 1997.

1998-02 : Partie de la Ceinture Verte de Niamey plantée en Août 1997.

1998-02 Niger
1998-02 : A quantity of TerraCottem was offered to the Niger authorities for continuation of the testing on reforestation sites.

1998-02 : Remise d’une quantité de TerraCottem aux authorités du Niger pour la continuation des expériences aux ssites de reboisement. 

1998-02 Niger
1998-02 : Young tree planted by the President of Niger (PRN) in August 1997, fully wiltened by hydric stress in November 1997, then treated with TerraCottem and again forming new leaves in February 1998, thanks to the effect of TerraCottem (revitalisation).

1998-02 : Jeune arbre planté par le Président du Niger (PRN) en Août 1997, complètement fané en Novembre 1997, alors traité au TerraCottem et de nouveau avec de jeunes feuilles en Février 1998, grâce à l’effet du TerraCottem (revitalisation).

1998-02 Niger
1998-02 : Young mango tree in a school yard close to the Green Belt of Niamey, treated with TerraCottem and reacting splendidly with formation of nulmerous yound leaves.

1998-02 : Jeune manguier dans la cour d’une école près de la Ceinture Verte de Niamey, traité au TerraCottem, réagissant d’une façon splendide avec la formation d’une série de jeunes feuilles.

1998-02 Niger
1998-02 : Seed Production Station of Niamey – Left: untreated tomato plants; Right: TerraCottem-treated tomato plants.

1998-02 : Station de Production de Semences – Gauche: plantes de tomate non-traitées; Droite: plantes d tomate traitées au TerraCottem. 

1998-02 Niger
1998-02 : Seed Production Station of Niamey – Remarkable differences in seed production between treated and non-treated lettuce plants.

1998-02 : Station de Production de Semences – Différences remarquables dans la production de semences entre des plantes traitées et non-traitées de laitue. 

1998-02 Niger
1998-02 : School garden in Niamey, treated with TerraCottem, limiting water consumption.

1998-02 : Jardin scolaire à Niamey, traité au TerraCottem, limitant la consommation d’eau d’arrosage.

1998-02 Niger
1998-02 : School children take care of “their” garden and eat from it at lunch time.

1998-02 : Les écoliers soignent “leur” jardin et en mangent les produits au repas de midi. 

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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