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Jan Egeland's Sahel climate change diary - Day 4

A man using a basic, traditional well in the Tahoua region of central Niger. Some 60 percent of Nigeriens do not have regular access to clean, modern water sources.
(Nicholas Reader/IRIN)

The UN Secretary-General's Special Adviser on conflict, Jan Egeland, is travelling in the Sahel this week to draw attention to a region on the edge of the advancing Sahara Desert that the UN says is experiencing the worst effects of climate change in the world. He is sharing his thoughts and experiences every day with IRIN. This fourth instalment is from Niamey, in the far west of Niger.

"Niger, one of the poorest and food-insecure countries on earth, is also facing some of the greatest environmental challenges imaginable. Its water resources are dwindling, population growth is staggering, and pastoralists and agriculturalists are competing for access to scarce fertile lands.

"Today was another very long, hot and interesting day. It was 32 degrees [Celsius] when we left Bamako [in southern Mali] at 6.30 a.m. from the hotel, and when we arrived at Niamey at around noon it was already 42 degrees.

"We went straight to a long meeting with the President, Mamadou Tandja, where we discussed the very severe challenges Niger faces.

"I insisted on the importance of focusing on dialogue with vulnerable pastoralists like the Touaregs, and emphasised that the UN is always ready to help Niger and its people, including trying to meet the challenges of environmental degradation, climate change and conflict prevention and resolution.

"The President stressed the very severe security challenges caused by drugs and arms trafficking, which he said were getting more entrenched, and he felt that there was too much talk and too little action about development and environmental change from the international community.

"After meeting with the President, we went straight to a meeting with the UN country team, where we heard about the extreme food insecurity of Niger from the Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO] and the World Food Programme [WFP]. Tens of thousands of people are yet again in a critical nutritional situation this year, and millions are food insecure.

"A new film made by the UN in Niger showed the desperate situation of some of the pastoralists here. In it herders described themselves as 'living in a cage' because they have less and less access to grazing land, as land is taken for agriculture and the desertification of what is left is relentless.

"Finally, we went together with the environment minister to visit some projects near Niamey, where the government has redistributed some of the money it was earlier spending on debt payment to environmental projects.

"Being under the baking 44 degree sun like that was quite something for a Norwegian, but we could graphically see how the Niger River, which brings life to a great deal of this country and indeed the region, is disappearing.

"Vast areas that were once permanently underwater are now totally dry, even where communities living along the river are working to save it.

"They have dug trenches in barren land that has been totally degraded because of flash floods and severe droughts. When the rainy season comes, these trenches will hold water for a longer period to give vegetation a chance to grow, while also preventing the floods from bringing yet more sand to the river.

"The river has three problems: diminished rainfalls due to climate change mean less water entering the system in the first place; exploding population growth means more water is being used for irrigation and human consumption; and desertification and environmental degradation mean the water channels are silting up.

"All in all, another stark reminder of how environmental degradation and climate change is killing life here; how humanity is struggling under climate change.

"The day ended in an open-air film theatre, where we saw the two winners of the Niamey environmental film festival. Again, we saw images of how the women of the dry villages of Sahel have to walk longer and longer to fetch water of poorer and poorer quality. We then collapsed at 11 p.m.

"Tomorrow means yet another very early start at 5 a.m., as we will fly more than 1,000km east - almost to the border with Chad - to see Lake Chad, a vast lake which went deep into Niger for hundreds of years but has now totally disappeared."

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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