Niger – ‘The silent crisis’

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Most folks might not know where Niger is even if it is the largest country in Western Africa, and when it makes the news it rarely makes waves internationally for the wrong reasons.  To make matters worse, Niger recently the unpleasant position of 188th out of 188 countries in the Human development index (it is now 187th). The country struggles in the face of frequent droughts, insurgency, and wide-spread poverty. Therefore, it has a brutal combination of the lowest reading rates, health rates, income equality, gender equality and GDP. You name the stat it is a nation that’s at the bottom of it (or at the top of it when considering birth rates: Niger women have the highest in the world, a staggering 7 children per female). And this not taking away its history and Colonial rule under France and between various kingdoms and tribes a century before. Despite all the veracity it a place that has intrigued many blogger and travellers alike as they refer to Niger as a location right in the centre of Africa and Sahara that is shrouded in mystery, untold beauty and cultural riches as witnessed by the first Westerner, Mungo Park that travelled through the course of the Niger in 1976.

With an area of 1,267,000 km², the country is more than twice the size of (Metropolitan) France or slightly less than twice the size of the U.S. state of Texas. The Sahara Desert covers about 65% of Niger. Most people of Niger are living in the southern part of the country. The Sahara, the Air mountains, the stunning desert city of Agadez and the culture of the local desert nomads, the Tureg makes for a compelling travel destination. The nation as the” Frying Pan of the World” is considered one of the hottest nations in the world as it sits in the Sahara and Sahelian climate zones. The country is also home to the largest protected area (Air and Tenere National Nature Reserve) in Africa. It covers an amazing 7.7 million hectares boasts an amazing mix of flora and fauna, amongst Cheetahs and Gazelles. But of the biggest wonder of Niger is the river called after the country “The Niger river” or known to the locals as ‘Zaire’. At 4,180 km long it stands as the third-longest river in Africa, the only rivers longer than it is the Nile and the Congo and unlike the Nile River it is clear over the whole course which is attributed to an absence of silt.

When it comes to the economy, it is not well diversified and depends primarily on agriculture, which accounts for 40% of its gross domestic product (GDP). Despite significant strides made by Niger over the past decade to reduce the country’s poverty rate, the extreme poverty rate remained very high at 41.4% in 2019, affecting more than 9.5 million people. Niger has, in recent years, also been grappling with a significant influx of refugees fleeing conflicts in the region, particularly in Nigeria and Mali. In April 2019, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) registered 221,671 refugees and 196,717 displaced persons, mainly in Diffa and Maradi. Niger has made significant progress in some areas of its infrastructure, including water and telecommunications. But the country still faces several important infrastructure challenges. Niger also faces significant challenges in the power sector, as only 8 per cent of the population is electrified. Niger currently spends about $225 million per year on infrastructure, leaving an annual funding gap of $460 million even after savings from curing inefficiencies are considered. Niger can close that gap by tapping alternative sources of financing or by adopting lower-cost technologies. There is plenty of room for private-sector participation in Niger’s infrastructure sectors, and the adoption of lower-cost technologies could reduce the funding gap by almost half.

Niger is eager to attract foreign investment and has taken steps to improve its business climate, including making reforms to liberalize the economy, encourage privatization, and increase imports and exports.

 

Niger has been unchanged for thousands of years. However, one feels that Niger is simply doing what they have been doing for generations which are to be happy. There might be fighting, might be migrations, famine, disease but this is their life and their chosen fate. The Sahara did not just turn into a desert yesterday nor will it become a temperate climate tomorrow. The people of Niger seem to be accepting their journey and are content with just getting on with life. Now that is a destination for one to strive for which you will never find on a map.