One sultry April afternoon — temperatures soared over 47 degrees Celsius — I walked across a dried marsh bed to visit a nearby camp. Hearing noises coming from within a gaping hole in the ground, I peeked. To my great consternation, there, at the bottom of the deep hole, this man was desperately digging to reach water.
During the short rainy season in the Azawak, dry marsh beds fill with water. After a few months, the marshes evaporate. At this point, men and boys spend hours a day digging holes in the dried marshes, essentially chasing the water deeper and deeper as each day goes by. A few liters of water are drawn from the holes throughout the day. During a single day, water seekers will move from one hole to the next waiting for the water to pool back in the bottom of the hand dug wells. The quality of water lifted out is poor, often turbid and polluted. The marsh wells typically provide water for one or two months. Once the marsh holes run dry, entire families travel from one very deep well (often over 200 meters deep) to the next, hoping to obtain just a few liters to keep their children alive.