Earth Day: Women are at the forefront of Climate Adaptation in Niger
Woman watering a communal garden in Zinder, Niger. Save the Children.
I recently visited Niger, a country in the West and Central Africa region. It had only been a couple of months since my last visit, but since then, the country has already suffered from a variety of extreme weather disasters, from flooding and dust storms to extreme heat, all having a direct impact on the wellbeing and survival of children and communities. In fact, when looking at data across the world, Niger has a high climate risk ranking and as recently as 2019, it was one of the top 10 countries globally most affected by climate change.
This time around I travelled to Zinder, in the East Central part of Niger which borders with Nigeria to the south. With a population of just under 3 million inhabitants, most families rely on traditional farming to survive. Because of this dependency, any disruption to the environment can have a huge impact on the survival of pastoralist communities. Hence, the recent unpredictable and changing weather patterns have been worrying local communities.
Alongside this, climate damage drastically impacts the existing social crisis in the Nigerien community. Gender inequality remains a huge concern across Niger, with many girls being victims of gender-based violence or child marriage. Early marriage prevents most girls from reaching their full potential and are instead locked in a cycle of poverty. Marriage is often not a choice for girls living in rural communities, but a cruel, demeaning expectation. It causes girls to drop out of school, lose their right to education and the chance at being financially independent. It also leads them to suffer from a multitude of health problems due to getting pregnant and giving birth when they are still children themselves.
Climate Adaptation in Niger
But despite the many challenges women and girls face in this country, their familial role is essential for the survival of their families. They ensure their families are being fed and looked after and are able to adapt to this changing environment. Their role has become even more crucial in the current unpredictable climate as men have been forced to leave over and over again, for months at a time, to secure better income and financial stability to sustain their families back home.
I remember visiting a group of entrepreneurial women, the Mamans Lumière (‘mothers who bring light’) group. They talked to us about a gardening project they run in their community to ensure everyone has access to vegetables throughout the whole year. This project has been crucial to combat the food crisis and ensure children in their communities get a more varied diet, ensuring they stay strong and healthy. At the same time it has provided women the financial means to become an empowered and active participant in the management of their family and local community.
Women looking after the garden project in Zinder, Nigeria.
They also use the funds they raise from selling the surplus food to pay for essential costs around their children’s education or to simply improve their families’ living conditions. Sourayya, a 20 year old mother involved in the project told us her experience:
“We are seen as role models in the village. We have been trusted to be part of these groups and to do the work.” “When the group did not exist, there was a problem of unhealthiness and malnutrition in the community. Now we monitor the health of pregnant women and children.”
“As women, we did not know that we could be very involved in market gardening. We were taught how to do it and we do it well now. On food I don't have any problems anymore, I can manage it for my family, the stress has really reduced.”
By working together and with the support of Save the Children, these women were able to adapt to climate shocks and ensure through careful planning and adaptation, that they could provide their families with food all year round.
For many communities like Sourraya’s, which are remote and rely on reliable seasons to eat and for their income, climate shocks can clearly have a huge impact on their survival. That’s why projects like these are essential to make sure no child is left behind and that all communities can survive and adapt to climate change. Sourraya’s story is one of many, with Save the Children’s recent report highlighting that it is estimated that 231.6 million children in West and Central Africa are at high climate risk.
What is needed to protect our planet and communities in Niger
On World Earth Day, we are calling for community, national and international leaders to build a greener and just planet which upholds the rights of all children and ensures they have dignified lives by:
- Establishing a Loss and Damage Fund by 2025 and providing new and additional funding to address rapidly escalating loss and damage.
- Increasing support for communities affected by climate disaster, with an explicit focus on children and women’s rights, needs, voices and equity.
- Recognising all children as key agents of change in addressing the climate crisis. This must include the protection of children’s right to expression which must be supported with the establishment of child-friendly mechanisms and platforms for children’s formal engagement in climate policymaking at all levels.