Water in the wrong places: Rebuilding a dam

A resident of the village of Adouna, Niger, sits in a meeting with other villagers. Residents say Lutheran World Relief’s project to rebuild a dam near the village will increase usable farmland near the village and provide villagers with a way to get to market, thus increasing incomes.

By Ruth Moon

The drive to Adouna, a farming community in central Niger, takes almost three hours after leaving the main road. The narrow dirt road is packed with potholes, as if someone took scoops out of the road with a giant, tire-sized melon baller.

It is also underwater in several spots, low enough that water overflow from a faulty nearby dam covers the road with one or two feet of standing water.

In a country suffering from a drought-induced near famine, Adouna’s problem is too much water in the wrong places.

The community is accessible only by expensive four-wheel drive off-road vehicles.

Getting out of the community is equally difficult. Since the dam started falling apart 10 years ago, it has been impossible for the villagers’ small wooden donkey carts, used to transport goods, to get past the washed-out road to the market in Tahoua.

Like many Nigerien villages, most people’s days in Adouna are occupied with survival. Men farm, and women spend their days drawing water from the village well, cooking meals and caring for children.

The whole village here is occupied with the problem of how to get to market; even in good crop years, anything that isn’t quickly eaten spoils. Before the road was destroyed, villagers sold excess food at the market, generating income for the community.

A young girl in the village of Adouna, Niger, draws water from a well. Drawing water is a traditional women’s task in Nigerien villages.

But here in Adouna, a dam in disrepair — built as an NGO project — flooded the main road from the village to the market, and for the past 10 years villagers have not been able to take carts of produce to sell at the market.

Lutheran World Relief (not the NGO that built the dam) is repairing the dam so Adouna residents can once more get to market with their once well-known produce.

If it’s successful, the repair should dry out the road, which is currently underwater and washed out in so many places that only four-wheel drive vehicles — not common among locals — can make it to the village.

The dam repair will also open up a large section of land, currently underwater, to be planted with millet, tomatoes and other crops.

The village of Adouna consists of tiny huts built out of Niger’s reddish clay soil, most walled in with a dirt courtyard. Goats roam the village, and women, men and children squat by the side of the road, chatting to each other or watching the rare car that makes it to the village.

Lutheran World Relief is an NGO that works with local partners to fund and organize development projects in communities. The organization is faith-based — “empowered by God’s unconditional love in Jesus Christ,” according to the vision statement on a business card. But evangelism does not seem to be a high priority, at least in Niger; country director Ramatou Adamou is a practicing Muslim.

Villagers seem grateful for Lutheran World Relief’s help. In a village meeting, more than 100 villagers packed into an open-walled square room, bright yellow, blue and orange scarves mingling with earth-toned Bedouin headwraps as men and women crowded onto mats to talk about the project.

Mahamadou Sabitou, chairman of the union charged with repairing the dam with Lutheran World Relief’s funds, said the villagers were at first reluctant to work on the dam, but are now convinced it will help them, partly because of the farmland the dam will uncover.

Salamatou Maidawa, a woman in the village, said the villagers were facing poverty and hunger with the dam in its current, destroyed state. She is hoping Lutheran World Relief’s projects in the village, including the dam and a cash for work program, will reverse that, and will especially help the women of the village.

“They’re very profitable for women,” she said. “Because of these activities, men stay in the villages and women have their husbands around.”

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