Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Africa: Niger

Niger (Nye-jer) officially named the Republic of Niger, is a landlocked country in Western Africa, named after the Niger River. It borders Nigeria and Benin to the south, Burkina Faso and Mali to the west, Algeria and Libya to the north and Chad to the east. Niger covers a land area of almost 1,270,000 km2, making it the largest nation in West Africa, with over 80 percent of its land area covered by the Sahara desert. The country's predominantly Islamic population of just above 15,000,000 is mostly clustered in the far south and west of the nation. The capital city is Niamey.

Niger is a developing country. It consistently has one of the lowest ranks of the United Nation's Human Development Index (HDI), currently 167th of 169 countries. Much of the non-desert portions of the country are threatened by periodic drought and desertification. The economy is concentrated around subsistence and some export agriculture clustered in the more fertile south, and the export of raw materials—especially uranium ore. Niger remains handicapped by its landlocked position, desert terrain, poor education and poverty of its people, lack of infrastructure, poor health care, and environmental degradation.

Nigerien society reflects a great diversity drawn from the long independent histories of its several ethnic groups and regions and their relatively short period living in a single state. Historically, what is now Niger has been on the fringes of several large states. Since independence, Nigeriens have lived under five constitutions and three periods of military rule. A majority live in rural areas, and have little access to advanced education.

Niger is a landlocked nation in West Africa located along the border between the Sahara and Sub-Saharan regions. It lies between latitudes 11° and 24°N, and longitudes 0° and 16°E. Niger's area is 1,267,000 square kilometres (489,191 sq mi) of which 300 square kilometres (116 sq mi) is water. This makes it slightly less than twice the size of the US state of Texas, and the world's twenty-second largest country (after Chad). Niger is comparable in size to Angola.

Niger borders seven countries on all sides and has a total of 5,697 kilometres (3,540 mi) of borders. The longest border is with Nigeria to the south (1,497 km/930 mi). This is followed by Chad to the east, at 1,175 km (730 mi), Algeria to the north-northwest (956 km/594 mi), and Mali at 821 km (510 mi). Niger also has small borders in its far southwest frontier with Burkina Faso at 628 km (390 mi) and Benin at 266 km (165 mi) and to the north-northeast Libya at 354 km (220 mi).

The lowest point is the Niger River, with an elevation of 200 metres (656 ft). The highest point is Mont Idoukal-n-Taghès in the Aïr Massif at 2,022 m (6,634 ft).

While most of what is now Niger has been subsumed into the inhospitable Sahara desert in the last two thousand years, five thousand years ago the north of the country was fertile grasslands. Populations of pastoralists have left paintings of abundant wildlife, domesticated animals, chariots, and a complex culture that dates back to at least 10,000 BCE. Several former northern villages and archaeological sites date from the Green Sahara period of 7,500–7,000 to 3,500–3,000 BCE.

Niamey, Niger's capital and economic hubThe economy of Niger centers on subsistence crops, livestock, and some of the world's largest uranium deposits. Drought cycles, desertification, a 2.9% population growth rate, and the drop in world demand for uranium have undercut the economy.

Niger shares a common currency, the CFA franc, and a common central bank, the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), with seven other members of the West African Monetary Union. Niger is also a member of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA).[10]

In December 2000, Niger qualified for enhanced debt relief under the International Monetary Fund program for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) and concluded an agreement with the Fund for Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF). Debt relief provided under the enhanced HIPC initiative significantly reduces Niger's annual debt service obligations, freeing funds for expenditures on basic health care, primary education, HIV/AIDS prevention, rural infrastructure, and other programs geared at poverty reduction.

In December 2005, it was announced that Niger had received 100% multilateral debt relief from the IMF, which translates into the forgiveness of approximately $86 million USD in debts to the IMF, excluding the remaining assistance under HIPC. Nearly half of the government's budget is derived from foreign donor resources. Future growth may be sustained by exploitation of oil, gold, coal, and other mineral resources. Uranium prices have recovered somewhat in the last few years. A drought and locust infestation in 2005 led to food shortages for as many as 2.5 million Nigeriens.

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