Current issues and what the World Food Programme is doing
Vast (1,030,700 km square) and largely consisting of Sahelian desert, Mauritania has just under four million people, a third of whom live in the capital, Nouakchott. Classified as lower middle income, the country is ranked 156th for human development. The Profil de la pauvreté en Mauritanie survey (2014) found more than two-thirds of the population living on or below the poverty line. Education and literacy levels are low. A history of political instability, with a succession of coups and attempted coups, has further constrained development.
Dry and becoming more so, Mauritania’s climate acts as a brake on food production. Less than half percent of the total land area is used for arable farming. Prolonged, catastrophic droughts afflicted the country into the mid-1980s, recurring around the mid-90s and becoming a regular feature in the new millennium. In the four decades to the year 2000, the proportion of nomadic pastoralists in the total population shrank from 85 percent to just 5 percent. Most livestock farming now occurs on the edge of towns – and while milk is a vital part of the diet, demand greatly outstrips domestic production. Food insecurity, stemming from poverty, environmental degradation and cyclical shocks, is widespread. Mauritania’s export earnings largely come from iron ore, gold and oil, all of which have lost value in recent years.
WFP needs urgent support to continue to provide food and nutritional assistance to vulnerable Mauritanian communities and Malian refugees in Mauritania. Lack of funding is severely hampering our work.
Current issues in Mauritania
• Poverty and discrimination
About a quarter of Mauritanians live on less than US$1.25 per day. In the southern regions known as the ‘Triangle of Poverty’ before being officially renamed the ‘Triangle of Hope’, some 60 percent live on less than US$1 a day.
• Chronic food insecurity
Mauritania suffers from chronic food insecurity and a high prevalence of malnutrition. About 15 percent of the population is consistently food insecure. In areas where the lean season lasts five to six months and rains are unpredictable, the resources of the rural poor are strained. The food deficit is structural; the country must import 70 percent of its needs.
Malnutrition rates exceed the alert threshold of 10 percent of the population during the lean season. Almost a fifth of children under five are chronically malnourished (stunted), 12.5 percent are acutely malnourished (wasted) and over a quarter are underweight. Diets poor in Vitamin A, iron, zinc and other essential micronutrients are common. The prevalence of anaemia in children under five is 85 percent, and in pregnant women 67 percent.
• Low educational attainment
Although most children enrol in primary school, only 42 percent of boys and 34 percent of girls complete basic education. Children who are hungry do poorly. The costs associated with schooling and the loss of children’s labour are also significant disincentives to enrolment for poor families.
Although Mauritania is now generally stable, the overall security situation in the wider Sahel sub-region is unpredictable. In 2012, armed conflict in northern Mali forced 66,000 Malians across the border into Mauritania. As of March 2016, there were still more than 50,000 refugees still living in Mberra refugee camp.
What the World Food Programme is doing in Mauritania
WFP aims to stabilize vulnerable households by enhancing production; improving integration into the economy; addressing the immediate food needs of the most vulnerable people; and, through partnerships, supporting the Government’s priorities by promoting sustainable activities to reduce hunger.
WFP is assisting people affected by successive climate shocks that have threatened Mauritania’s food and nutrition security and undermined the resilience of its most vulnerable citizens. We provide food, cash or food vouchers; this assistance is stepped up during the lean season when communities, particularly in the south, are most at risk of becoming severely food insecure.
WFP is working with Mauritania’s Food Security Commission (Commissariat à la Sécurité Alimentaire – CSA) to build resilience to the adverse effects of climate change. This involves encouraging sustainable livelihood projects and improving technical services at the community level. Almost 189,000 people are benefitting from food-for-asset activities, such as preparing or rehabilitating land for agriculture; women’s groups and communities of returning refugees are given priority.
We are also helping train Mauritania’s Food Security Monitoring Service in early warning systems and national emergency plans. With the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, we are supporting the Government in developing a national food security policy.
WFP is using targeted supplementary feeding, blanket supplementary feeding and awareness activities to reduce and prevent underweight and acute malnutrition in children, pregnant women and young mothers.
Working with partners, WFP also supports training of health assistants to counsel pregnant women and young mothers on best feeding practices and basic health services, especially for pre- and post-natal care. The health assistants encourage the consumption of diversified and micronutrient-rich foods to help reduce anaemia.
WFP is providing school meals to over 150,000 children in eight rural regions with high rates of food insecurity and low rates of school attendance or retention. In public primary schools - and in mahadras (Koranic schools) that serve areas in which there are no public schools - we are providing daily school meals for 160 days a year.
School feeding is provided in partnership with the Government, which will begin to assume responsibility for planning, implementation and funding in 2016.
WFP provides monthly food assistance, through food and cash distributions, to all Malian refugees at Mberra camp; fortified nutritional supplements for children under five and for pregnant and nursing women, and a daily hot meal for children in school.
Since 2014, WFP has managed the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) to ensure safe and reliable air transport for humanitarian actors to six destination within Mauritania; medical and security evacuations of humanitarian actors; and the response to other humanitarian needs in the region.
Adaptation to climate change
WFP provides technical support to the government of Mauritania to enhance resilience to the adverse effects of climate change by improving technical services, protecting natural resources and encouraging sustainable livelihood at community level.
World Food Programme partners in Mauritania
WFP cannot fight global hunger and poverty alone. These are our partners in Mauritania:
• Appui au Développement intégré des Communautés Rurales (ADICOR)
• Assistance Education
• Association pour l’épanouissement de la population
• Association pour la Recherche et le Développement
• Association pour la Santé, l’éducation et le développement global
• Association pour la santé, l’environnement et la lutte contre l’analphabétisation
• Association pour la Solidarité et le Développement
• Au Secours
• Organisation pour le développement des zones arides et semi-arides
• Solidarités aux activités productives et à l’action sociale
• Stop Désert
• Union des associations pour la gestion participative des oasis de l’Assaba
• Vision Sud Mauritanie
Featured Mauritania publications
A Country Brief provides the latest snapshot of the country strategy, operations, operational highlights (achievements and issues/challenges), partnerships and country background.
A Situation Report is a concise operational document with latest updates on the World Food Programme's (WFP) response to an emergency. It gives an overview of WFP’s activities and informs the wider humanitarian community and other interested stakeholders about WFP’s response.
Looking for more publications on Mauritania? Visit the Mauritania publications archive.