Amman Imman activities in Niamey: Week of March 11-17

Sunday the 11th :

Today we had a very refreshing meeting with Ingrid Patetta and Youssouf Alhaji Ami, a French lady and a Tuareg, who have also dedicated their lives to helping the populations of the Azawak. They are the founders of the local NGO "Tagaste" that works to rehabilitate one village in the Abalak District of the Azawak. "Tagaste" has already built a school and rehabilitated one well that is 125 meters deep. Both Ingrid and Youssouf have experience creating management committees, and conducting sensitization programs on gender and health related issues through radio shows. Youssouf offered to present us to his sister in Tchintabaradène that focuses her attention on women rights issues, and could help us address gender equity dilemmas we are sure to confront. Ingrid spoke of "Waterforce", a large French program that finances humanitarian water programs. She has contacts within the program and has offered to help us submit a proposal to them. Ingrid also creates documentaries for a living, and we hope to hire her to produce a documentary on the water issue in the Azawak. In any case, I am greatly looking forward to spending more time with Ingrid and Youssouf, and maybe one day working hand in hand for the people of the Azawak.

Monday the 12th :

This morning we had a very informational meeting with the chief geophysicist at the Ministry of Hydraulics. We discussed a great deal of pertinent issues, including the following:
a) He confirmed that Amman Imman is working in one of the most difficult regions of Niger in terms of the geophysical conditions. The first thing he said when we told him we were building permanent water sources is, "I hope you are not planning on digging shallow wells". He warned us that in order to reach permanent underground water sources in our target region, we must drill more than 200 meters (and most often more than 400 meters).

b) He worked in our target region for 6 years before becoming the head geophysicist for the ministry. From his experience in the area, he confirmed that one water point in our target region will serve the equivalent of 10 villages in another region because of
  • 1) how few water sources exist in the area, and
  • 2) the fact that we are working with nomadic as well as sedentary communities.
c) He encouraged us to only consider two drilling companies in Niger, because the others do not have adequate drilling equipment and have a poor track record.

d) Once we choose a large number of possible locations strategically placed throughout the Azawak and determine the exact coordinates for these with a GPS, our geologist can work with the ministry to locate the shallowest points to drill, as well as locations with high artesian pressure.
We then spent a great deal of time this afternoon at the Ministry of the Interior. Amman Imman has obtained NGO status in Niger, and we have had the right to operate in country since the construction of our first borehole. However, we have not obtained tax exempt status because the government has not provided this status to any new NGOs since 2005. Since we may have to import materials, we are working with the ministry to obtain this status in order to avoid paying costly import taxes.

Tuesday the 13th:

Representatives from the international NGOs working in Niger meet once a month to discuss their various projects and ascertain that there is no overlap in their work. We were invited to present Amman Imman at this month's meeting, with the hope of discussing the potential for a partnership. For the moment, no international NGOs are working in our target area except for UNICEF in the southern region. "International Relief Development" (IRD) is planning to work in the area in 2008, and has asked us to submit a proposal so that we may work together once they begin operation in the Azawak. The Red Cross conflict resolution team congratulated us for our efforts to help the Azawak, a region that has been source of conflict in the past.

In the afternoon, our team met with the international organization "Aquadev" that works on water development projects. They have a large drilling project in the Zinder region, which also suffers from water insufficiency. In the Zinder region, one must also drill up to 100 meters or deeper to reach underground water sources. World Vision also works in the Zinder area and has already drilled 36 boreholes. I felt very encouraged after our meeting. If they can provide water to people dying of thirst in Zinder where drilling is also very costly and difficult, then we will be able to bring water to the people of the Azawak.

Wednesday the 14th:

Today we had the great honor to meet with the first lady, Laraba Tanja, the president's wife. She congratulated us for our dedication towards her country, and supports our efforts in the Azawak. She even offered to help us obtain tax exempt status. I told her of my love for Niger and Nigeriens. She appeared grateful and admitted disliking the negative image that Niger has received these past couple of years through the media. She declared "there is more to our country than famine and poverty", and so I promised her to share the beauty and kindness of Nigeriens as well as their suffering with our international partners. Photo of our visit with first lady Tanja, President Tanja's wife Laraba Tanja (the first lady, Ariane, Denis, Moustapha)

We then went to the Consulate of Monaco to discuss Amman Imman with their project funding program officer. He knows the Azawak and is aware of the water shortage problem in the region because he used to work for OFEDES, Niger's former public water drilling company. He was particularly excited to hear about our international partners, and not only encouraged us to submit a proposal, but also to seek a partnership with the consulate. If our proposal is accepted, the consulate may consider financing one or more boreholes.

Thursday the 15th :

This evening we presented Amman Imman to the Rotary club "Croix du Sud" in Niamey. We received a very warm welcome. Several of the Nigeriens were astonished to hear of the living conditions in the Azawak. They also asked some very interesting questions regarding the possibility of rainwater harvesting, and they expressed their concern about the possibility of environmental degradation caused by high population pressure around the boreholes.

I was particularly concerned about the environmental degradation question. Both of my degrees include specialisations in environmental sciences, and so avoiding environmental damage has been one of my primary concerns with the project. I had looked into this question with specialists at Yale, who had told me that damage would be insignificant. Nonetheless, after our discussion, I will look into this question with specialists at the Ministry tomorrow.

Before the Rotary meeting, our team met with various drilling companies to compare price quotes for boreholes of various depths. I was happily surprised to find out that price quotes did not vary greatly from one company to another (including the most highly recommended company). The price of our boreholes will mostly be determined by the depth we have to dig, and the type of tubing we use to line the boreholes. Under 200 meters, the borehole can be lined with PVC plastic, but over 200 meters, the borehole has to be lined with steel tubes. Steel costs at least three times more than PVC. Also, the more boreholes we build at one time, the cheaper the construction costs will be.

Friday the 16th :

Today we met with the chief of division for "village and pastoral community water management" at the Ministry of Hydraulics. Still concerned about the environmental degradation question, I asked him his opinion about the matter. He confirmed that up to 150 meters surrounding the borehole would suffer from environmental degradation, but that this damage would be extremely minimal as far as surface area was concerned, and not something the Ministry considers when building boreholes in pastoral areas given the benefit these have on the population. He nonetheless recommended building boreholes at least 10km apart to avoid additional environmental degradation due to population pressure. This will not be a problem given we were planning on constructing our boreholes at no less than 20 km apart.

We also discussed the idea of rainwater/surface water harvesting (which had been my initial plan when I brought the situation to CARE's attention in 2005). He said that for pastoral populations in an area with so little rainfall, this would be a Band-Aid solution for only a few months a year. He thinks we could use this as a secondary strategy to improve access to water in the Azawak, but that we cannot rely on rain/surface water harvesting to provide year round water to both populations and their animals. This confirmed the answer I had obtained from several research institutions in America specialized in rainwater harvesting, which claimed that for our target area (characterized by low annual rainfall and very large animal herds) rainwater harvesting would provide minimal results. Nonetheless, we will continue to look into this and dew harvesting as secondary and less costly solutions to the water problem in the Azawak.

We also asked about the possibility of using hand pumps in areas where artesian pressure brought the water high enough to the surface. He did not advise hand pumps in pastoral areas. He repeated the statement made by the Ministry's head geophysicist that the equivalent of 10 to 12 villages would be using one borehole, and that hand pumps would not withstand the heavy usage for more than a few days. From his experience in our target area, the most reliable systems are the well boreholes, and when these cannot be built because of low artesian pressure, the only other solution is the diesel group engine.

Finally, he also confirmed that it will be difficult to locate drilling places where we will be able to dig at less than 200 meters, and that more likely we will have to drill 400 meters or more.

Saturday the 17th:

Today we were thrilled to finally get together with our "superwoman" geophysicist, Mary Ohren of the Desert Research Institute. She arrived in Niamey yesterday, and will be joining us in the Azawak at the beginning of April. In the meantime, she will be gathering more geophysical data for our area to help us best determine future construction sites. Locations for our boreholes, she warned, must not only be chosen for depth and best location for the population, but also in terms of the sediment and rock. Certain rocks and sediments may contaminate our water with elements like fluoride and arsenic.

Mary brought us a GPS in order to locate the coordinates for our future sites. She also gave us a testing kit so that we can verify the quality of the water of our first borehole. The water has already been tested, but we want to be sure that the water has not been contaminated since the borehole's completion.

We will be travelling up to the Azawak next week in order to determine 15 to 20 potential sites for our future boreholes. We will also visit our current borehole to make sure that the "water management committee" is functioning properly and the borehole is being maintained correctly. We are also looking forward to seeing if they have begun constructing the school. Classes are already being held in a tent in the meantime. (see photo)
Children attending french class in Tangarwachane (the location for our first borehole)


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