Geography – the natural environment

Niger is in West Africa, located along the border between the Sahara and Sahel regions. It is a landlocked country, over 650 kilometres from the sea.

Map of Niger - Click here to view the map.

Landscapes

The Niger river runs through Niamey
The Niger river runs through Niamey

The Sahara covers the northern two-thirds of Niger. The desert landscape is made up of endless stretches of sand dunes that shift in the hot winds and broad plains covered with gravel and stones. In central Niger, the Aïr Mountains rise sharply above the desert floor. In places lush, green oases can be found where underground water breaks to the surface in springs and wells.

Southern Niger is in the Sahel region. Sahel means “shore” in Arabic. A transition zone between the desert to the north and tropical West Africa in the south, the Sahel is mostly grassland with tall, leafy shrubs and sparsely scattered trees. The northern Sahel is in constant danger of becoming desert. The vegetation does not hold the sandy soil during times of high winds and heavy rains. Overuse by people also helps the desert advance.

The Niger River cuts through southwestern Niger. Another river, the Yobe, forms a part of the Niger-Nigeria border in the southeast. Other small streams meander through southern Niger. Many of them are wadis, rocky river beds that are dry except in the rainy season.

Climate

A parched land during time of drought
A parched land during time of drought

Climate graphs - click here to view the graphs.

Niger is one of the hottest, driest places in the world. Average temperatures are around 30 oC, but are capable of reaching over 50 oC in the hot season, between March and June. The air is so hot during these months that rain evaporates before it hits the ground. December through to February are cooler months and the temperature can actually drop to freezing in the night-time desert. The harmattan winds usually arrive just before the rains. They create dust storms that can cut visibility down to almost nothing. The rainy season comes to the southern parts of the country in late May to September, although rainfall is often unreliable.

Natural disasters

Droughts are Niger’s worst natural disasters. Crops shrivel, cattle die and thousands of people starve to death. During the rainy season, heavy rain causes flooding. Every year, the rains leave thousands homeless.