Composed mostly of desert, Niger is the eleventh poorest country in the world. Access to drinking water is one of the major challenges for its stability and development. Located in a region where tensions are rife, Abalak is facing tremendous population growth. The water supply network urgently needs to be modernized, which risks adding pressure to an already difficult situation.
It is from the small French town of Grabels, just outside of Montpellier that the assistance will come. “The relationship between the elected officials of Grabels and Abalak is a long-standing one,” says Deputy Mayor of Grabels Kathy Kretz, who is involved in the project.
“Originally, Grabels worked on developing educational capacities in the Touareg villages around Abalak. Then when our mayor acquired expertise in water management in France, this was something the mayor of Abalak wanted to see transmitted to his own city. Close to half of the residents in his city still do not have access to running water. To cope with the scale of the project and to meet this challenge, we requested funds from AFD.”
One small town reaching out to another
In France, local authorities are getting involved in development projects thousands of miles away in a gesture of solidarity with towns and villages in need of the kinds of amenities taken for granted at home. To facilitate such partnerships, AFD Group set up FICOL (Facilité de financement des collectivités territoriales françaises) in 2014. This tool enables AFD to finance projects that are initiated and implemented by French local authorities, such as the one in Abalak. It’s a strategy based on the observation that financing decisions are more effective when taken at the local level.
“This initiative was born of the long-term relationship between Grabels and Abalak, and the proactive approach of the municipal teams”, says Gaëlle Narayanassamy, AFD’s Project Manager for Localities and International Partnerships.
“This form of decentralized cooperation between two local authorities makes it possible to build a relationship, with exchanges between peers. There is a high demand for this type of direct partnership, and to meet this demand, AFD Group has decided to increase its annual capacity from €9 million to €11 million.”
On the ground, project management is handled jointly by Grabels and Abalak, the two local authorities, who direct and coordinate the project activities. When completed, the works will be transferred to the SPEN (Société de patrimoine des eaux du Niger).
In addition to improved access to water, the city of Abalak shall assume network governance, incorporating civil society and taking into account gender issues. Civil society, particularly women and young people, will spearhead the preservation of the aquifer resource and conduct an information, education and communication campaign covering hygiene, sanitation and water preservation.