15/04/2012 19:03 BST | Updated 15/06/2012 06:12 BST

You May Bemoan the Hosepipe Ban, But Niger is Literally Dying From Full-On Drought

Here in the UK, one of the wealthiest nations in the world, folk in some parts are stressing over a hosepipe ban. Beautiful gardens are in jeopardy. It remains legal to fill a watering-can and go to the effort of replenishing thirty plants; but get that hose out and you face a £1000 fine. Nightmare.

In July 2010 I left a green and pleasant UK and went to Niger with Care International UK. Niger is a little known and desperate land, literally dying from the impact of a full-on drought. The people I met would have risked a £1000 fine, if that sort of money they had, to apply a hose, if hose they had, to restore life to dying seedlings and restore hope to threatened lives.

They had little money; I didn't see any hosepipes. I saw acre after acre of dry, dusty, dead soil. The fields, once fecund, were barren. Rivulets, as dry as the bones of the dead cattle that littered the roadsides we drove past.

I live on a farm where we grow grass to feed our horses. My children ride: two, purely for sport; one, professionally. Our barn remains half-full after a kind and gentle winter. If we run short we can always buy bails, albeit at a steep price.

In Niger I saw beautiful mud grain stores as empty as Mother Hubbard's cupboard. No grain, just dust and debris swirling around their empty bases, whipped-up by a light breeze. I met people whose herds of cattle were diminished by death and by 'distress' sales of livestock to buy grain to survive. I met people who couldn't find food even when they had sold their stock. I saw prices inflated by a 'black-market'. And I saw fields, not for producing the means to maintain a hobby and a professional sport, but for producing the difference between life and death. And death was beginning to win. Those fields were sand-pits and dust-bowls.

It hasn't improved. It has got worse. Little or no rain has fallen in the near two years since I was there.

These once desperate people are now on the brink of a deadly catastrophe.

My children will ride and play this spring: many more of the children of Niger will die.

Nothing you or I can do will bring the rains: that is nature's brutal power. In the long-term we might alter our behaviour to give the world's eco-system a better chance; but that is for next year, or for the next decade.

Today and tomorrow, the people of Niger need water and food. Hope is not a commodity we can package up, stamp with CARE, and despatch to them. But money, food, water and medicines we can and must send them, and urgently.

You may or may not bemoan the hosepipe ban, but, as you inevitably sip a glass of water with lunch or luxuriate in a bath or take a shower tomorrow, spare a thought for those for whom a fraction of that water could be the difference between life and death; and then do what you can to help.