Over 80% of Niger is covered by the Sahara desert. The majority of the population of 17 million are clustered in the South and West. Niger suffers from extreme poverty with high fertility rates, poor infrastructure, poor health care and environmental degradation. Several empires flourished in the area while it was part of the Trans-Saharan trade route – Songhai (600-1591), Hausa (mid-14th – 1808), Mali (1230 -1600), Kanem-Bornu (C9th – 1900). Eight countries with a combined population of just over 100 million people share the West African CFA Franc (Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Togo). Niger has 8 indigenous languages, with the official language of French inherited from the colonial period.