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Niger's water crisis
Many of Niger's inhabitants struggle to access water supplies. Photo: Matilde Gattoni
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PHOTO STORY: Drought, food insecurity and desertification blight Niger

Matilde Gattoni

3rd May, 2011

In the first of a new series of photo-stories documenting the growing global crisis over water resources, Matilde Gattoni reports from Niger and finds a country struggling to quench its increasing thirst

While the frequency of drought in the region is thought to have increased from the end of the 19th century, three long droughts have had dramatic environmental and societal effects upon the Sahel nations. The Sahel forms the southern edge of the Saharan desert, passing at least 4,500km from Senegal through Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad,

Famine followed severe droughts in the 1910s, the 1940s, and the 1960s, 70s and 80s, although a partial recovery occurred from 1975-80. While at least one particularly severe drought has been confirmed each century since the 1600s, the frequency and severity of recent Sahelian droughts stands out.

Famine and dislocation on a massive scale-from 1968 to 1974 and again in the early and mid 1980s-was blamed on two spikes in the severity of the 1960-1980s drought period. From the late 1960s to early 1980s famine killed a 100,000 people, left 750,000 dependent on food aid, and affected most of the Sahel's 50 million people. The economies, agriculture, livestock and human populations of much of Mauritania, Mali, Chad, Niger and Burkina Faso.

The vast landlocked West African country of Niger faces an increasing demand upon its scarce water resources, the lack of which - when added to poor sanitation and hygiene - results in high levels of death and disease among its 13 million inhabitants.

Many of them subsist on less than a dollar a day following traditional farming and livestock rearing in this harsh and uncompromising climate.

Niger is one of the countries that form the Sahel Region which has seen recurring drought, food insecurity, and increased desertification over the last 30 years, a result - at least partly - of global climate change and overuse of scant natural resources.

During the last two years, food insecurity and drought reached abnormally high levels, prompting a response from the international community and an intensive food security operation undertaken by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Matilde Gattoni is a French/Italian photojournalist based in the Middle East. She has travelled 9 countries (Eritrea, Niger, Indonesia, India, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, China, Jordan, Yemen) to testimony about the water issues around the world covering topics like desertification, war, natural and ecological disasters, drought… Matilde started to work on this with the United Nations first and later with MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres) and has decided to dedicate her career to this project.

In the coming weeks The Ecologist will be featuring more of Matilde's dramatic photo-essays. 

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