Skip to main content

‘Pure water’ in Niamey, Niger: the backstory of sachet water in a landscape of waste

  • Sara Beth Keough and Scott M. Youngstedt

This article examines the commodity chain and value chain of half-litre water bags (referred to as ‘pure water’ or ‘sachet water’) in Niamey, Niger. We begin with a focus on the discarded bag and work backwards through the commodity chain to consumers, vendors and finally producers of ‘pure water’ to reveal the underlying power structures, cultural perceptions and assumptions that ultimately resulted in the discarded bag and landscapes of waste. We assert that the economic value of the plastic bag, largely assigned during the stages of its production, is based on four characteristics: the label, the temperature of the water, the time of year it is sold, and the apparent ‘purity’ of the water. We further demonstrate how characteristics of economic value are steeped in cultural perceptions and social relationships in Niamey. Using interviews with agents and actors at all levels of the commodity chain, we reveal how this local, hybrid system is connected to and affected by larger, global economic and political forces.

Cet article examine la chaîne de produits de base et la chaîne de valeur des sacs d'eau (appelée « eau pure » ou « eau en sachet ») de 50cl à Niamey (Niger). Les auteurs commencent par s'intéresser au sac usagé avant de remonter la chaîne des produits de base jusqu'aux consommateurs, puis aux fournisseurs et enfin aux fabricants d’« eau pure » pour révéler les structures de pouvoir, les perceptions culturelles et les prémisses sous-jacents qui aboutissent au sac usagé et aux paysages de déchets. Les auteurs arguent que la valeur économique du sac plastique, essentiellement attribuée au cours des étapes de sa fabrication, repose sur quatre caractéristiques : l’étiquette, la température de l'eau, la période de l'année où l'eau est vendue et la « pureté » apparente de l'eau. Ils démontrent par ailleurs comment ces caractéristiques de valeur économique sont enracinées dans les perceptions culturelles et les rapports sociaux à Niamey. À partir d'entretiens avec des agents et des acteurs à tous les niveaux de la chaîne des produits de base, les auteurs révèlent comment ce système hybride local est lié à, et affecté par, des forces politiques et économiques globales plus importantes.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      ‘Pure water’ in Niamey, Niger: the backstory of sachet water in a landscape of waste
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      ‘Pure water’ in Niamey, Niger: the backstory of sachet water in a landscape of waste
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      ‘Pure water’ in Niamey, Niger: the backstory of sachet water in a landscape of waste
      Available formats
Hide All
Appadurai, A. (ed.) (1986) The Social Life of Things: commodities in cultural perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bakker, K. (2010) Privatizing Water: governance failure and the world's urban water crisis. Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press.
Bardasi, E. and Wodon, Q. (2008) ‘Who pays the most for water? Alternative providers and service cost in Niger’, Economics Bulletin 9 (20): 110.
Bontianti, A., Hungerford, H., Younsa, H. and Noma, A. (2014) ‘Fluid experiences: comparing local adaptations to water inaccessibility in two disadvantaged neighborhoods in Niamey, Niger’, Habitat International 43: 283–92.
Bridge, G. and Smith, A. (2003) ‘Intimate encounters: economy – culture – commodity’, Environment and Planning D: Space and Society 21: 257–68.
Bulchi, V. (2002) ‘Introduction’ in Bulchi, V. (ed.), The Material Culture Reader. Oxford: Berg.
Callaway, B. J. (1984) ‘Ambiguous consequences of the socialisation and seclusion of Hausa women’, Journal of Modern African Studies 22 (3): 429–50.
Cook, I. et al. (2004) ‘Follow the thing: papaya’, Antipode 36 (4): 642–64.
Coombe, R. (1996) ‘Embodied trademarks: mimesis and alterity on American cultural frontiers’, Cultural Anthropology 11 (2): 202–25.
Dada, A. C. (2009) ‘Sachet water phenomenon in Nigeria: assessment of the potential health impacts’, African Journal of Microbiology Research 3 (1): 1521.
Fisher, M. B., Williams, A. R., Jalloh, M. F., Saquee, G., Bain, R. E. S. and Bartram, J. K. (2015) ‘Microbiological and chemical quality of packaged sachet water and household stored drinking water in Freetown, Sierra Leone’, PLoS ONE 10 (7): e0131772.
Gibbon, P. and Ponte, S. (2005) Trading Down: Africa, value chains, and the global economy. Philadelphia PA: Temple University Press.
Gleick, P. (2010) Bottled and Sold: the story behind our obsession with bottled water. Washington DC: Island Press.
Hawkins, G., Potter, E. and Race, K. (2015) Plastic Water: the social and material life of bottled water. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
Hill, P. (1969) ‘Hidden trade in Hausaland’, Man 4 (3): 392409.
Humphrey, J. and Schmitz, H. (2002) ‘Developing country firms in the world economy: governance and upgrading in global value chains’. INEF Report 61. Duisburg: Institut für Entwicklung und Frieden der Gerhard-Mercator-Universität Duisburg (INEF) <>, accessed 16 October 2017.
Hungerford, H. (2012) ‘ Water, cities, bodies: a relational understanding of Niamey, Niger ’. PhD thesis, University of Kansas.
Ibrahim, M., Umaru, M. and Akinsoji, A. (2015) ‘Qualitative assessment of sachet and bottled water marketed in Bauchi Metropolis, Nigeria’, Journal of Food Process Engineering 37: 1123.
Kaplinsky, R. (2000) ‘Globalisation and unequalisation: what can be learned from value chain analysis?’, Journal of Development Studies 37 (2): 117–46.
Kaplinsky, R. and Morris, M. (2001) ‘A handbook for value chain research’. Ottawa: International Development Research Centre (IDRC) <>, accessed 26 July 2016.
Keough, S. and Youngstedt, S. (2014) ‘The material culture of water: transportation, storage, and consumption in Niamey, Niger’, Focus on Geography 57 (4): 152–63.
Kooy, M. and Bakker, K. (2014) ‘(Post) colonial pipes: urban water supply in colonial and contemporary Jakarta’ in Colombijin, F. and Coté, J. (eds), Cards, Conduits, and Kampongs: the modernization of the Indonesian city, 1920–1960. Leiden: Brill.
Lee, M. (2014) Africa's World Trade: informal economies and globalization from below. London: Zed Books.
Macdonald, K. (2007) ‘Globalising justice within coffee supply chains? Fair trade, Starbucks and the transformation of supply chain governance’, Third World Quarterly 28 (4): 793812.
Meagher, K. (2010) Identity Economics: social networks and the informal economy in Nigeria. Rochester NY: James Currey.
Ngmekpele, B. S. and Hawkins, J. (2014) ‘Consumers’ perception of quality and health benefits of sachet drinking water: evidence from Obuasi in the Ashanti region of Ghana’, Developing Country Studies 4 (17): 6677.
Olivier de Sardan, J.-P. (1982) Concepts et conceptions songhay-zarma. Paris: Nubia.
Orlove, B. and Caton, S. C. (2010) ‘Water sustainability: anthropological approaches and prospects’, Annual Review of Anthropology 39: 401–15.
Page, B. (2005) ‘Paying for water and the geography of commodities’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 30 (3): 293306.
Peter, N. (2012) ‘How pure is our “pure water”?’, Ezine Articles, 16 November <>, accessed 16 October 2017.
Ricketts, K., Turvey, C. and Gómez, M. (2014) ‘Value chain approaches to development: smallholder farmer perceptions of risk and benefits across three cocoa chains in Ghana’, Journal of Agribusiness in Developing and Emerging Economies 4 (1): 222.
Schildkrout, E. (1982) ‘Dependency and autonomy: the economic activities of secluded Hausa women in Kano’ in Bay, E. G. (ed.), Women and Work in Africa. Boulder CO: Westview Press.
Stoler, J., Weeks, J. and Fink, G. (2012) ‘Sachet drinking water in Ghana's Accra-Tema metropolitan area: past, present, and future’, Journal of Water Sanitation Hygiene Development 2 (4): 124.
Stoler, J., Tutu, R. A., Ahmed, H., Frimpong, L. A. and Bello, M. (2014) ‘Sachet water quality and brand reputation in two low-income urban communities in Greater Accra, Ghana’, American Journal of Tropical Medicine 90 (2): 272–8.
Stoller, P. (2002) Money Has No Smell: the Africanization of New York City. Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press.
Stoller, P. and Olkes, C. (1987) In Sorcery's Shadow: a memoir of apprenticeship among the Songhay of Niger. Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press.
Swyngedouw, E. (2004) Social Power and the Urbanization of Water: flows of power. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Tsing, A. (2013) ‘Sorting out commodities: how capitalist value is made through gifts’, HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3 (1): 2143.
Wagner, J. (2013) ‘Introduction’ in Wagner, J. (ed.), The Social Life of Water. New York NY: Berghahn Books.
Wall, L. L. (1988) Hausa Medicine: illness and well-being in a West African culture. Durham NC: Duke University Press.
Youngstedt, S. M. (2013) Surviving with Dignity: Hausa communities of Niamey, Niger. Lanham MD: Lexington Books.
Youngstedt, S., Keough, S. and Idrissa, C. (2016) ‘Water vendors in Niamey: considering the economic and symbolic nature of water’, African Studies Quarterly 16 (2): 2746.
Zylberberg, E. (2013) ‘Bloom or bust? A global value chain approach to smallholder flower production in Kenya’, Journal of Agribusiness in Developing and Emerging Economies 3 (1): 426.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0001-9720
  • EISSN: 1750-0184
  • URL: /core/journals/africa
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed