on 20th December 2016

Village vs Desert: Climate Change Stories from Niger

Niger is one of the poorest and least-developed countries on earth.  96 out of 1,000 children die before their fifth birthday, 1 in 200 women does not survive pregnancy or childbirth. Currently, the lives of 2 million people are threatened by drought and other natural hazards. Niger is a vast, arid state in the Sahel, where climate change is taking a heavy toll, especially on women and their children. In the past years, communities have had to survive with less and less water and rainy seasons have become much shorter and hard to predict. This is a catastrophe for a desert country in which only 12% of soils are suitable for agricultural production, yet most people in Niger depend on agriculture. Severe droughts lead to the failure of harvests and, as a consequence, to the highest malnutrition and food insecurity rates in the world.  Over 40% of children face chronic malnutrition, with more than 14% acutely malnourished.  CARE has worked in Niger since 1974, with the empowerment of women and youth being a major focus of our work. CARE seeks to help communities to adapt to climate change, promote food security and nutrition as well as alternative economic opportunities. CARE addresses the needs of women and girls during the current drought and other disasters, as their level of vulnerability increases day by day as the drought and food insecurity continue. CARE asked women and girls, as well as CARE staff in Niger, how climate change affects their lives and looks at what solutions help communities secure their livelihoods and fight the impact of climate change and drought.

 

Zeinabu, 25, mother: “With the climate changing our children face hunger”                     

“I got married when I was very young. I have 3 children. In the past years the situation got worse and worse. There was hardly any rain and our crops don’t grow the way they used to anymore. I worry that I cannot provide enough for my children and they will fall sick. We used to depend entirely on farming and our animals, but with CARE’s support we’ve now started small businesses. I sell peanut oil. This year we could not harvest enough food. With my new source of income I can ensure that my children don’t have to go to bed hungry.”

 

 

Zahara, 10, “I help my mother harvest peanuts. But only after school.”

Zahara is ten years old. She lives in a small village in the south of Niger. She likes to go to school where her favorite subject is art. In the past she, along with many other girls in the village, had to miss school to support their parents in finding food and water for the family. With support from CARE, Zahara’s and other mothers are part of village saving and loan associations allowing them to open small businesses. Also, CARE has worked to recuperate the 50 hectares of land Zahara is standing on, as the plant sida cordifolia has destroyed many crops and caused livestock to die. Zahara’s mother can now use the land to her cattle. In their small garden Zahara helps her to harvest peanuts in the afternoon. “My mother told me how sad she was that she could not go to school. I help her harvest peanuts, but only after my classes.”

 

Inoussa, primary school teacher: “Education about climate change must start in school”

Inoussa is the school director and teacher of the only school in the village of Chatoufa, in the south of Niger. Every day, he teaches 60 girls and boys. “The children are the ones who suffer most when the rains don’t fall and our crops don’t grow. Some of them have trouble concentrating. They all know what it feels like to be hungry. Over the past years, CARE helped us to adapt to climate change and come up with strategies to fight hunger and malnutrition. I make sure that I teach children about climate change. They need to know what this is and how it affects their lives and will continue to do so. But it is also important that they know what they and their families can do to fight back against the desert.  I also want them to be aware of what they can do to reduce their own negative contributions to climate change.”

 

“The Rain Man” Ibrahim: “It’s raining less and less, but we will win this fight”

More than 60 percent of the people in Niger are dependent on agricultural work and pastoralism. Millions of farmers in the country are affected by lack of rain and re-occurring drought, leading their harvests to fail.  “Last year, CARE and the people in the village chose me to become their ‘Rain Man’. I measure the amount of rain that we have in our village. In previous years, it rained up to 90 days. Now we don’t have more than 2 weeks of rain. This year, we have had 145ml of rain so far. We want to make sure that we learn more about the rain patterns, but most importantly I inform the villagers as soon as we’ve had 20ml of rain. We’ve received improved seeds from CARE and with 20ml we can start planting. The harvesting cycles are a lot shorter. The results have been fantastic, we could harvest double as much as in the previous year, despite having less rain. Since we knew exactly what to plant and when we did not lose any of our seeds. My job as the ‘Rain Man’ makes me very happy. When I tell people they can start planting because it has rained enough they are full of joy and happiness. We all love being farmers and herders and we love our village. We don’t want to move away from here. I hope we can continue to adapt to make sure we don’t have to leave our home.”

 

Habsia, 56, President of the Women’s Association and successful business woman

“I’ve known CARE for many years as I was part of one of the first village saving and loan groups. When we started in 1991, we had many problems. Today, our main challenge is that the climate is changing and we cannot continue farming and working the way we used to. We need to adapt. CARE has taught us how to recuperate land, to use different sorts of seeds and agricultural techniques. Our saving groups have also helped women and men to develop alternative sources of income. Look at all those things that I sell! I would have never been able to start my own business without CARE’s saving groups. As the president of the women’s association I now show other women how they can start their own businesses. Yes, we are suffering because of the drought. But we have found ways to fight back. Our village has changed, our children are going to school and fewer women have to bury their children because they die of malnutrition. Women have become very strong in our village. We earn our own money and we even lend money to our husbands. Men respect us and many couples get along better. We have a strong social network and we can have good conversations with each other. My husband and I have become very good friends. I think that’s also because of CARE.”

 

Hassia, Mother of Light: “We need to make sure that women know how their children can stay healthy”

“Everyone has been affected by successive droughts and the changing climate, but the situation is particularly difficult for women and girls. For three years I have been a ‘Mother of Light’, a volunteer teaching other mothers how to fight malnutrition. Every other month we go out to each family in our village and check on the health of mothers and children. When we detect cases of severe malnutrition we send the mothers to the next health post. If the children are moderately malnourished, mothers can attend our 2-weeks-cooking-classes. They come to my house for 2-3 hours every day. Each of them brings whatever they have available, peanut oil, millet, goat milk. I show them recipes with which they can provide a meal of 1.200 to 1.500 kcal for their children. While we cook we talk about hygiene and health. I have learnt a lot about how hygiene, nutrition and children’s wellbeing is linked in CARE’s workshops. Where we live in Niger more than half of the children are chronically malnourished. It becomes more and more difficult to provide for our children, as harvests are failing due to reduced levels of rainfall. But we cannot sit and wait until all of our children die. I am proud to be a ‘Mother of Light’ and I do whatever I can to help other mothers to adapt to climate change and lighten up their lives.”

 

Anu Issa, mother of 6: “I hope in the future women will not lose so many children”

“I received three goats from CARE. With their milk I can feed my children. I learnt how to mix the milk with peanut oil and millet to prepare nutritious food for them. 2 of my 9 children died when they were a few years old. I don’t want to lose any of my other children, and I hope that with CARE’s support none of my daughters will have to grieve any of their children. I hope they will be able to go to school and become teachers. Teachers are very important for our future, as they can make sure that all of our children know how to live a good and healthy life.”

 

 

President of NYAA FM: “We need to get messages on climate change and malnutrition out there. Loud and clear!”

Ibrahim is the president of NYYA FM and also has his own show. The radio station in Tchadoua, a city in the South of Niger, is one of the most popular stations in the country, with up to 1 million listeners. CARE and NYYA FM are working closely together. “We first started working with CARE because members of women’s groups had the idea to disseminate messages concerning health, nutrition and hygiene to an even wider audience. CARE is very well known in the villages here. We also tell people about changing weather patterns and inform farmers when they should start planning. Very few people have TV or access to newspapers. Their main source of information is the radio and they are keen to hear our advice for their everyday lives,” says Ibrahim. The Ministry of Communications has awarded the radio station for its efforts to support communities with vital information.

 

Amadou Dan Koure, CARE-expert: “We know what works and people are willing to adapt. But much more resources are needed”

 “Niger might rank very low when it comes to economic development and poverty. But people here have so much energy and will to change that, whatever the challenges! Together with local partner organizations CARE has worked hard over the last years to help communities adapt. First and foremost they need to understand the enemy we are trying to fight. They need to know what climate change is and what ways exist to adapt. With international funding, CARE works with families in affected areas to increase the productivity and profitability of crops, and works with farmers on using modern farming techniques. Village saving groups help people set up alternative sources of income, and become more resilient to climate change and reoccuring natural disasters.

Together with the communities we identify the biggest climate risks for their villages. We map different hazards and come up with coping strategies for different scenarios. What can they do if less rain falls? How do they ensure their animals survive even if there is no more food for them? How can they generate an additional income in case harvests fail? We have been very successful with those “Adaptation Action Plans” and communities really own the process. We know that adapation to climate change works and we are seeing that communities enabled to use better technological approaches and adaption plans not only survived droughts, but sometimes even prospered. We need to focus on those innovative approaches, on building climate resilience and the capacity to respond to future shocks. But for now most funding is made available only once disasters have already struck. My wish is that decision-makers will understand that prevention is key. It is much less expensive and certainly more humane.”

 

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Niger is one of the poorest countries on earth, half of the population lives off less than 1 $ per day. Niger also has some of highest levels of malnutrition in the world. Over 40% of the children suffer from chronic malnutrition, more than 14% of children under five suffer from acute malnutrition. In Maradi and Zinder in the south of the country those numbers are even higher. CARE’s project “Mothers of Light” supports women and children to fight malnutrition. 
Hassia has been a CARE volunteer, a “Mother of Light”, for the past 3 years. She and other volunteers learnt how to measure children’s mid-upper arm circumference with coloured plastic strips to determine whether or not they are malnourished. She then teaches mothers with children who are moderately malnourished how to prepare nutritious and healthy food.  Each recipe has around 1.200 kcal. 15 women attend a 2-weeks-class. They learn how to prepare different recipes, talk about healthy diets and how to keep their houses clean. “I am very proud of what we were able to do over the past years. We have fewer cases of malnutrition and hardly any of our children is acutely malnourished. I will continue my work until everyone in our village is healthy and happy.” Hassia, (approx. 40) herself has 7 children.

Author
Johanna Mitscherlich, mitscherlich@care.de

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