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Niger - People

Most people wrap scarves around their faces to protect against the winds clogged with dust and sand, leaving only their eyes visible.

In 2011 Malcolm Potts wrote "Niger with the world's fastest growing population, its highest total fertility rate (TFR), a small and diminishing amount of arable land, low annual rainfall, a high level of malnutrition, extremely low levels of education, gross gender inequities and an uncertain future in the face of climate change is the most extreme example of a catastrophe that is likely to overtake the Sahel. The policies chosen by Niger's government and the international community to reduce rapid population growth and the speed with which they are implemented are of the utmost importance.... The Population Reference Bureau estimates that if the country's ... population will reach 58.2 million, likely making it the second most populous country in West Africa."

Niger ranks 172 out of 173 countries on the scale of the human development index, and the main characteristic of the country is the poverty of the population, with an annual GDP per capita of US$746. Niger is highly prone to shocks, which exacerbate a high level of chronic poverty and food insecurity. Furthermore, these shocks serve as poverty traps and aggravate the conditions for transient poor populations and create transitory food insecurity.

The largest ethnic groups in Niger are the Hausa, who also constitute the major ethnic group in northern Nigeria, and the Djerma-Songhai, who also are found in parts of Mali. Both groups, along with the Gourmantche, are sedentary farmers who live in the arable, southern tier of the country. Other Nigeriens are nomadic or semi-nomadic livestock-raising peoples--Fulani, Tuareg, Kanuri, Arabs, and Toubou. With rapidly growing populations and the consequent competition for meager natural resources, lifestyles of agriculturalists and livestock herders are increasingly threatened.

Forced labor remained a problem. A study conducted by the government and the ILO concluded that in 2011 the prevalence of forced labor was 1.1 percent among the adult population (more than 59,000 persons), 48.8 percent of whom were engaged in domestic work, and 23.6 percent in agriculture or stockbreeding. These percentages were higher in the regions of Tillabery, Tahoua, and Maradi.

The Tuareg, Djerma, Peulh, Toubou, and Arab ethnic minorities throughout the country, particularly in remote northern and western regions and along the border with Nigeria, practiced a traditional form of caste-based servitude or bonded labor. Persons born into a traditionally subordinate caste or descent-based slavery sometimes worked without pay for those above them in the social order. Such persons were forced to work without pay for their masters throughout their lives, primarily herding cattle, working on farmland, or working as domestic servants. Forced child labor occurred.

More than 80 percent of working-age adults are employed in agriculture, yet this sector has the lowest level of productivity in the economy. Most of the chronic poor are crop farmers and almost 8 in 10 of the chronic poor live in households where the principal activity is crop farming. Livestock, on the other hand, fares slightly better with only 2 percent of the chronic poor engaged primarily in livestock rearing. Though the majority of households engage in some farming, almost all households are net purchasers of food. Over 60 percent of households rely in part on their own production to meet their consumption needs. Yet, food accounts for over 60 percent of household expenditures, since most households do not produce enough to meet their consumption needs.

Food insecurity is a big concern for Niger and in 2006, more than 50 percent of Nigers population was estimated to be chronically food insecure, with 22 percent suffering from extreme chronic food insecurity (per capita caloric consumption of less than 1800 calories per person per day). In addition, much of population suffers from seasonal and transitory food insecurity quite frequently.

Poverty is pervasive in Niger and almost 65 percent of rural households are poor compared to 41 percent of urban households. Considering that 84 percent of Nigers population is concentrated in rural areas, poverty dominates the lives of rural households. Niger, with a per capita income of $358 (2010), fares low on almost all the development indicators and ranks among the lowest (186) in the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) human development rank. There have been marginal drops in poverty rates since 2005; however, the burgeoning population of 16 million, with the highest population growth rate in Africa (3.5 percent), have eroded any gains made in poverty alleviation.

The growing inability of male heads of households to keep their children in school, provide them with resources to get married, and offer them land and livestock as part of their inheritance has contributed to the breakdown of family solidarity and parental authority. Drug use among youth is increasing and crime has become a major source of income and employment for youth.

The fierce opposition of many of Nigers religious authorities to birth control is a major factor contributing to the maintenance of high fertility rates. However in Niamey some Muslim authorities and groups have been more receptive to family planning activities. Some of these well respected religious leaders have been supportive of population control efforts and UNFPA family planning activities in Niger for many years.

USAID programs that promote family planning and gender equality are behaviors that some Nigerien religious leaders, particularly in rural areas, consider to be in conflict with their interpretation of Islamic values. For example, they saw USAIDs 2013 family planning project designed to increase access to and use of quality family-planning services in Niger as trying to impose Western values. The emphasis on these programs in a conservative Muslim society like Niger can create in the minds of some of Nigers Islamic leaders a lack of trust and reinforces their negative stereotypes about Western culture and intentions. In its extreme form, they can even elicit fears that the Western powers are trying to assert the dominance of their culture by reducing the Muslim population.

Niger's high infant mortality rate is comparable to levels recorded in neighboring countries. However, the child mortality rate (deaths among children under age of 5) is particularly high (198 per 1,000 in 2010) due to generally poor health conditions and inadequate nutrition for most of the country's children. Niger's fertility rate (7.8 births per woman), is among the highest in the world, and is far higher than the sub-Saharan African average of 5.4. Two-thirds (66.7%) of the Nigerien population is under age 25. The primary school net enrollment rate is 49% for boys and 31% for girls. Additional education occurs through thousands of Koranic schools.

Niger has a high rate of population growth (3.3%).

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Page last modified: 07-05-2017 19:07:13 ZULU