Return to Zinder!
In December 1969 I found myself in Kano in northern Nigeria. I had been on an expedition to Lake Chad, a remote and mysterious lake on the edge of the Sahara, and was now heading home. Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, had just ended and I witnessed the most spectacular and colourful celebrations, but now I was interested to see a little of the true desert so I planned to take a bus or truck as far north as I could before returning to Kano and flying home.
My first vehicle was a small local bus. As we left Kano we sat four abreast and were quite comfortable. A few hours later as we approached Zinder, the former French capital of Niger, we were crammed in seven abreast and I had to hang out of the window to breathe. It is strange what you recall after 38 years! After a few days in Zinder to allow my stomach settle I continued north to Agadez, and from there continued right across the desert, arriving in Algiers on 31st December 1969. It was the most amazing journey and is still etched in my mind.
Since then I have been back to Africa forty times, but never to Zinder, so an invitation to demonstrate my hand pumps in Niger from Winrock International was most welcome. When I bought my flight to the capital Niamey I was unaware that the centre of their operations was in the Zinder region, thirteen hours away by road! At 4.30 a.m. we started our 13 hour car journey and a the end of the week I had the same, but this time in a local bus which slowed down for most of the speed bumps and potholes, but by no means all! Still, it was a great way to see the country.
My recollection of Zinder in 1969 was of a small town dominated by a picturesque fort dating back to the French Foreign Legion days, and many substantial mud houses so typical of the Hausa areas of northern Nigeria. These still remain, but Niger’s population is now so much larger that whenever the rains fail – which they do frequently, many go hungry. The area lives on a knife edge so Zinder is now a boom town for the aid organisations and NGOs. They are all there doing their best to help improve livelihoods, farming, health, education and the battle against AIDS/HIV, but it is also a worrying trend when you realise that the Niger Government directly benefits from these regular crises since without them they would not be receiving the massive amount of aid these international organisations bring in.
That said, here I was again, this time trying to offer my two penny worth of help. The big question for me was would my pumps have a role to play here. Would they perform as well as they have elsewhere and would the users and Winrock’s staff like them? I am pleased to say that that on all counts the answers appear to be YES. I was only in Zinder for eight days, so time was short, but two nine metre deep bore holes had already been dug in remote villages with no clean water. On our first visit we took a mason who cast a concrete slab containing a threaded galvanised collar over the borehole. This allowed the Canzee Pumps to be screwed directly into the collar in a quick and secure way. Three days later we returned with the pumps and installed them on the boreholes. The water level was about 5 metres below ground level and we were told it varied little over the year, but the bottom of the pumps drew from more than eight metres, so the water supply should not be a problem. At first the water was cloudy, which is normal for a new borehole, but by the time we left it was virtually clean.
Our final visit was two days later just to see how things were going. In both wells the water was crystal clear and sparkling. The contrast to that in the open water holes was astonishing and the villagers were clearly delighted with their new water supply. I had taken six pumps with me on the plane – just buying the PVC pipes locally, but Winrock have now asked for a further twelve and we will now discuss how we can best introduce them to this area too.