Niger: sanitation and hunger are inextricably linked

Malnutrition is an ongoing problem in Niger, where half of all children under five are chronically malnourished.

But malnutrition isn’t just a problem of diet; it has many underlying causes, one of them being poor hygiene and sanitation.

In Niger, poor sanitation and hygiene practices mean increased illness (notably diarrhoea and respiratory infections) among vulnerable populations, leading to malnutrition and other complications.

For example, the absence of water and sanitation facilities discourages girls, who fear harassment from boys due to the lack of privacy, from attending school.

The consequent lack of education and illiteracy then prevents them from accessing better livelihoods or developing capacity to prevent malnutrition and other illnesses.

Bad practices, simple solutions

Along with the Save the Children team in Niger, I recently conducted an assessment of the water, sanitation and hygiene situation in the three regions where we currently operate: Diffa, Maradi and Zinder.

As a graduate in hydraulic engineering, I later made a professional move to focus on public health engineering in developing countries, after observing the catastrophic sanitation environment in which the majority of the world’s population lives.

I saw that simple hygiene behaviour changes can improve the lives of many.

Our assessment in Niger shows that access to water poses a significant challenge both in villages and at public institutions such as health centres and schools, which often lack functional latrines, meaning students, patients and staff are at a risk of contamination due to improper waste disposal.

In addition to a lack of properly functioning sanitary and water facilities, our study showed that improper hygiene practices of mothers, like hand-washing and waste management, are extremely worrying. Bad practices such as these expose entire communities to the risk of disease and health complications.

Making a difference

In response to this troubling situation, Save the Children is working to improve sanitation at health facilities.

In addition, we plan to target communities affected by malnutrition through hygiene promotion activities and the distribution of hygiene kits, along with improving water points (such as wells) when possible.

It’s through actions like these that Save the Children is making a long-term difference in communities.

By working with officials and the local population we can really contribute to the reduction of child malnutrition, morbidity and mortality rates, while offering children a chance to grow up in a cleaner and healthier environment.

Written by Jean-Christophe Barbiche, Senior Water Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH) Advisor

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  • Kavita Ayyagari

    The situation in India is much the same. I was working on a Diarrhea prevention and management project in Uttar Pradesh, India and found that simple solutions can indeed save lives. We ran a BCC campaign on 3 friends of childhood – Soap, water purification methods(tablets/ low cost filters) and ORS-Zinc to defeat diarrhea and met with success in improving awareness, changing beliefs and practice in the area of water purification.