Water Access in NigerWest Africa’s landlocked country of Niger is home to 24.2 million Nigeriens — 12.8 million of which do not have access to clean water, according to WaterAid. Around 80% of Niger dwells within the confines of the Sahara Desert where temperatures average 40℃, continually proving that access to clean water is hard to come across and in rapid decline. 

Likewise, 20.6 million people lack proper and acceptable sanitary services, forcing 71% of Nigeriens to practice open defecation. This practice is yielding an increase in septic water across Niger’s urban and rural areas. Due to continuing unsanitary defecation and poor water conditions, bacterial infections such as cholera, trachoma and Guinea worm are spreading throughout Niger. Complications with diarrhea are escalating as the leading cause of death for children under the age of 5, averaging nearly 13,800 annually, according to Water Aid. Additionally, just 22.7% of schools throughout the country have access to drinking water and often lack access to reasonable sanitation facilities.

The Progressive Steps

In 2015, clean water access in Niger received a 7% increase in water sanitary services, as reported by UNICEF. As recently as March 2023, the U.N. and United Nations Economic Commission for Europe are taking steps to increase Niger’s access to clean water, hygiene and sanitation.

Niger is joining a U.N. transboundary water-sharing accord, gaining protected access to Lake Chad, which has seen a decline in volume by 90% in recent years. The country is currently sharing 90% of its water resources with surrounding neighbors Chad and Nigeria. Lake Chad is now under full legal protection after signing into the UNECE Water Convention after the U.N. Water Conference held in March 2023. 

Spiking population and declining food supplies are a growing concern as water access in Niger is actively sought out through the new U.N. transboundary water-sharing accord. “Water scarcity in particular threatens the livelihoods of millions of people who depend on rain-fed agriculture and livestock,” said UNECE. “In recent decades, competition for land, water and food has intensified in the region, leading to increased instability, particularly around Lake Chad and in the Niger River basin.”

Impact of the Water Convention

Niger’s recent acceptance of the Water Convention marks a significant step toward enhancing water resource monitoring across Niger, Chad and Nigeria. Concurrently, UNICEF is actively engaged in Niger, working to enhance clean water accessibility through Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) initiatives. These efforts are vital as WASH is currently aiding 2.2 billion people globally who lack access to safe drinking water.

In a coordinated approach, UNICEF collaborates closely with Niger’s government to implement solutions, including the installation of small water pipes in growing municipalities. This strategy works alongside behavior change campaigns aimed at eradicating open defecation.

Efforts to improve water access in Niger date back to 2003 when World Vision initiated drilling projects in Niger and Mali as part of the West Africa Water Initiative.

Positioned in rural areas and schools, World Vision’s water stations significantly benefit villages, providing clean water to an individual every 10 seconds.

A Global Look

According to World Vision, the lack of access to clean water globally has decreased by millions since 2000. In 2000, 1.1 billion people lacked clean water, which decreased to 771 million by 2020, benefiting 329 million worldwide.

UNICEF is actively committed to addressing global water scarcity. Its initiatives include locating new water sources through advanced sensors, raising public awareness about water usage and its value and providing technical guidance through WASH programs to enhance water access standards.

– Chandler Doerr
Photo: Flickr

Combatting Period Poverty in PakistanPakistan, a country in South Asia, has the world’s fifth-largest population and spans more than 800,000 square kilometers. Pakistan has a long history of period poverty, stemming from its patriarchal hierarchy. Periods are shameful in Pakistan and often result in the ostracization of women in Pakistan.

Period Poverty in Pakistan

Period poverty is a severe issue around the world and is especially prevalent in Pakistan. A large part of the problem exists as a result of the many taboos that surround menstruation. In Pakistan, menstruation is seen as making women impure and dirty.

As a result, Pakistan’s culture as related to periods has prevented the population from educating women on menstruation and proper hygiene. As such, period poverty in Pakistan extends beyond just the financial discrepancies that hinder women from having access to proper menstrual products and extends into a “social period poverty” wherein women are deprived of education about menstruation.

Misinformation of Menstruation and Hygiene Practices

U-Report found that 49% of young women in Pakistan have little to no knowledge of periods before their first period. Likely, more than 20% of young women will only learn about menstruation in schools.

The myths that exist around menstruation actively disempower women. Part of the issue is that menstruation can often be a sign of good health in women. Menstruation taboos prevent women from realizing underlying symptoms of health conditions.

Period poverty in Pakistan also results in misinformation about menstruation. Part of this is because information about menstruation is often kept away from women. After all, it is believed withholding information preserves women’s chastity. This incorrect premise often results in unhygienic and dangerous practices for women. Many women use rags and share these rags and menstrual clothes with family members. Sharing of these rags can increase the risk of urinary infections and other health conditions.

Innovative Programs Fighting Period Poverty

Recently, many people have taken the initiative to work toward mitigating period poverty in Pakistan. One such tool has been apps like Girlythings, an app that allows women with disabilities to get period products delivered straight to their door. Their products include an “urgent kit,” which contains essentials such as disposable underwear, pads and bloodstain remover.

Another such tool to fight period poverty in Pakistan has been initiatives like the Menstrual Hygiene Innovation Challenge. This project, launched by UNICEF WASH and U-Report, plans to encourage young men and women to pitch their projects to educate their local communities on menstruation. One such project taken on by this challenge was a three-hour live chat. During this live chat, around 2500 people asked questions about menstruation. This live chat not only began to break down the taboos that surround openly discussing menstruation but also increases everyone’s knowledge and understanding of menstrual health.

Period poverty is a prevalent problem in Pakistan. Affecting women from both a financial and a societal point of view, people must begin to change the conversation around periods to ensure that all women in Pakistan can access menstruation information and menstrual products. However, by harnessing technology and taking initiatives, citizens all around Pakistan can work toward mitigating period poverty.

Anushka Somani
Photo: Flickr