A map of Niger The barren Sahara Desert covers most of northern and central Niger (pronounced NeeZHAIR). In the centre of the country, the Aïr Mountains rise steeply from the flat desert. In the north are the rounded highlands of the Djado Plateau. Between these two highland regions stretch thousands of kilometres of hot, empty sand dunes. Known as the Ténéré, this region is one of the harshest places on Earth. In southern Niger is a narrow belt of dry grassland—part of the Sahel—where nearly all the country’s people live. The country’s best farmland is found on the banks of the River Niger, in the southwest. Most of Niger has an extremely hot, desert or semi-desert climate. Temperatures regularly soar above 38°C (100°F).
Niger is one of the poorest and least-developed countries in the world. Over half of its people have no access to clean, safe water, and many children work in uranium mines or on farms instead of going to school. Just one in three people can read and write. The official language spoken in government and schools is French, but most people speak the language of their ethnic group—such as Hausa, Djerma and Tamasheq—to one another. The largest group are the Hausa; others include the Songhai, Fulani and Kanuri. The Tuareg, a nomadic northern people, are a Berber people. Most people are Muslim.
Some northern parts of Niger receive just 20 mm (less than an inch) of rain over three or four years.
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