Overview

Located in the arid Sahel region of West Africa, Mauritania is among the world’s least developed food-deficit countries, ranked 155 out of 187 countries on the 2013 UNDP Human Development Index. The country is characterized by vast tracts of desert and scarce water sources, and the poorest people live in rural areas. Most of the country is inhabited by nomadic populations that do not have easy access to basic necessities and sanitation facilities.

Mauritania, along with other countries in the Sahel, was significantly affected by severe droughts during the 2011 rainy season that resulted in poor harvests, high food prices and loss of livestock. In January 2012, it was estimated that the food crisis was affecting approximately 700,000 people located mainly in the central and southern regions of Hodh El Chargui, Guidhimaka, Gorgol, Brakna and Assaba. 

The situation in Mauritania has worsened following recent waves of violence in Mali, which have forced tens of thousands of Malians to flee their homes and seek refuge in neighboring countries. According to official UNHCR figures (as of 29 April 2013), 74,108 Malians have settled in M’bera camp, located in the southeast of Mauritania about 50 km from the Malian border. This region is one of the most remote and poverty stricken parts of the country and had been severely affected by the 2011/2012 drought crisis. Furthermore, the zone in which the camp is located (Hodh El Chargui) has had limited humanitarian activity (due to security concerns and access challenges) and is the most food insecure region in the country (37 percent). 

The effects of climate change, repeated cycles of drought, and degradation of natural resources have exacerbated the vulnerable food security situation in Mauritania. Presently, Mauritania is able to produce just 30 percent of its food consumption needs, and water resources have been depleted by low rainfall and increased evaporation. According to the latest food security monitoring survey (December 2012 –January 2013) between 20 and 30 percent of the population in Mauritania is still suffering from high food insecurity.