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Rain in Niger

Rain. It can nourish crops, relieve the heat, provide water to bottle and save, and give the thirsty cattle and camels some well-placed watering holes.

When you live in the Sahel, the start of the rainy season is an exciting time. After a summer baking in the heat, surrounded by sand hardened and cracked into clay, the first sprinkling of rain is a tantalizing treat. The first major downpour is a cause for serious celebration. This year, rain is also a symbol of hope for a better harvest than last year’s, which contributed to this year’s hunger crisis.

However, too much water can be as destructive as not enough. Hardened earth cannot easily absorb large amounts of rain, quickly creating a flash flood. Then, after a rain, standing water can soon become breeding ground for malaria-carrying mosquitoes and disease-ridden bacteria. The return of the rain is no simple event.

Niamey, where I live, straddles two sides of the Niger River, with a number of neighborhoods and restaurants lining its banks. During the dry season the river shrinks to easily half its width. This creates numerous islands and a temporary bank with green grass for cows to munch and fishermen to perch on.

When the rains come and replenish the country, all the runoff eventually makes its way to the Niger River and passes through Niamey. This causes the river to balloon back up to its rainy season weight. Over the last week, the river had flooded its banks.

Many people say that they haven’t seen it this high in years. Some say they’ve never seen it this high. Neighborhoods like Goudel and Harobunda, which are located right on the river, are dealing with a serious amount of standing water in their tightly-built neighborhoods, where big families live in small spaces.

Last Sunday night, we had a really big rain in Niamey. Raindrops fell the size of golf balls and made about the same amount of noise on our tin roofed house. Thunder kept us awake along with gusts of wind rattling windows and doors.

Unfortunately, my house was not built to keep such a rain out, so my family and I spent most of the evening running around the house with pots and pans to catch the rain pouring in through the ceiling, moving beds and couches out of the water’s path. Despite the leaks, we were lucky we had a house that kept us (mostly) dry and definitely safe. Others were not so fortunate.

As of today, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that 5,400 people in Niamey were affected by the recent rains and the rising river. So far, about 2,000 of these people have been resettled in schools as temporary housing. The flooding is also affecting people living in the nearby regions of Tillaberi and Dosso, who also border the river. The weather forecast calls for heavy rains and a potential worsening of situation in the coming days.

These harsh extremes for Niger makes it all the more difficult to ensure that children are receiving the care they need. With families trying to recover from a rough rain, sick kids or pregnant moms might not come into health centres for treatment. After a tough summer, our team is working hard to reach out to families to help them receive the services they need, even in the rain.

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