You are here

Bleak reality in Niger

I arrived in Niger a few days go. This is the first time I’ve visited the country and I need to convey some stark facts about it.

The 2010 population is estimated at some 16 million and is growing by 3.7% annually – the highest population growth rate in the world. Niger is also one of the poorest countries in the world with some really shocking poverty indicators.

Mortality and literacy 

A major explanatory factor is the high infant mortality rate: at 115 deaths per 1,000 live births it is the third highest in the world. Literacy rates are low. The situation of women is particularly bad with only 15% of women able to read and write.

Military rule

Niger became independent from France in 1960 and has had military rule for most of the past 50 years. In 1999, Mamadou Tandja was democratically elected as president and served two five-year terms. 

In 2009, he promoted a constitutional amendment to extend his term. In February 2010, he was deposed by a military coup; the incoming military government has promised to hold elections but has not set a date.

Vulnerable population

The underlying weakness of the economy here leaves the population very vulnerable to any kind of emergency, such as this year’s significant fall in food production. Almost 90% of the labour force work in agriculture and over 60% of the population live below the poverty line. 

Bleak reality

Nearly half of the government’s budget comes from foreign aid. In a country with a land area of almost 1.3 million square kilometres – slightly less than twice the size of Texas – there are only 3,800 kilometres of paved roads.

These bleak realities give some indication of the challenges Niger faces even in a normal year!