Niger: Not just more wells but clean wells

AKASSOU, 7 May 2007 (IRIN) - Many Nigeriens live next to wells yet still they don't have access to water.

Thousands of wells built two decades ago by the Nigerien government have become polluted. Other traditional wells are simple holes dug into the ground with a rope dangling down. The rope drags in the mud and animal muck around and then falls inside.

All wells can become blocked with sand so that buckets can no longer pick up fresh groundwater beneath. During rainy seasons, sewage floods into the wells, spreading diseases such as cholera.

In the Tahoua, Zinder and Tillaberi regions of southern Niger, the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) found at least 250,000 people living in 235 villages without reliable access to clean water, many because their wells were blocked, polluted or had dried up.

IFRC says no one knows exactly how many wells are not functioning but when the IFRC surveyed villagers last year in the poorest, most remote parts of Niger, the majority said that the one thing they needed most to improve their lives was to get their wells working again.

Refurbishing a well costs around US$ 5,000, a quarter of the cost of building a new one, said Israël Munyakarama, water and sanitation delegate for IFRC in the Tahoua area. "Refurbishment is more effective because it is sustainable," he said.

For $5,000, each well gets a concrete platform to keep animals, sewage and sand out. Buckets are hung on ropes, which are attached to pulleys to keep the rope off the ground.

But it is the people in the communities that provide the labour.

Alio Haidago, 29, is one of many volunteers overseeing the IFRC well projects. He said the aim of the project is not just to build wells but to inspire people to change unsanitary behaviour.

He travels by motorbike teaching people not to allow animals into the enclosure, wear shoes, or drag ropes in the mud. "We are trying to convince them to take more responsibility for the problems they face," he said.

"In eight months in the field I have seen improvements. You used find dirty and spoilt water points full of sand in every town. Now young people are starting to maintain them themselves, making community rules like not wearing shoes to go into the water point, that kind of thing."