By Yusuf Yassin
Improving the water supply in Niger’s western border region is a perilous task. Militants have been active in the area for years and violence is common along the frontier with Mali and Burkina Faso. Site visits by water experts are limited and must be made under the protection of the army.
But Niger needs help to improve its water supply. The availability of clean drinking water is low by global standards, with large disparities between urban and rural areas. Niger ranks near the bottom in the United Nations Human Development Index. Many areas are threatened by drought and desertification. Clean water is, of course, a necessity for healthy societies and economies. In the Tillabéri region near the western border, 92% of the population lives in rural areas and there is a chronic shortage of clean water, especially during the hot season when temperatures often rise above 40 degrees Celsius.
The European Investment Bank is working with the Niger water authority to find solutions for these problems, backed by a donor fund supported by the Dutch government. Niger is one of 18 countries in sub-Saharan Africa on the World Bank’s list of fragile regions. The EU bank has a long record of investing in such regions.
“Addressing fragility requires urgent investment in the most basic infrastructure services,” says Cristina Mejia García, a European Investment Bank loan officer overseeing projects in Niger. “Supplying clean water to societies and economies can make them more resilient and safe.”
A necessity for development in fragile regions
There’s no time to lose. Niger’s water needs are pressing now. And it’s only going to get worse.
In Téra, a city northwest of the country’s capital of Niamey and close to the border with Burkina Faso, only 40% of the 30,000 residents are connected to a functioning public water system. In 2018, Niger’s water authority, Société de Patrimoine des Eaux du Niger (SPEN), opened 10 boreholes and installed a water treatment plant to supply Téra and nearby areas with potable water. Almost a year later, the water source dried up and the water treatment plant was forced to close.
The water authority needs a ten-fold increase in clean water provisions over the next 20 years just to keep up with Téra’s rapidly growing population. “The goal is to find a definitive solution to the city’s water problems and provide water to nearby villages,” says Amadou Mamadou Sekou, managing director of SPEN.