More on Mauritania

What are the current issues in Mauritania

Located in the arid Sahel region of West Africa, Mauritania is one of the world’s least developed countries. The population numbers just over 3.4 million and the country is ranked 161st out of 187 countries in the 2014 UNDP Human Development Index, and 138th out of 147 in gender inequality. The southern strip of the land is part of the Sahel, where farmers and agropastoralists are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate variation, drought, and small-scale crises.

In an area where the annual five to six month “lean season” always brings hunger and where rainfall is unpredictable, this has strained the resources of the rural poor. The situation worsened in Mauritania following droughts across the Sahel in 2011 and recent waves of violence in Mali, which have forced tens of thousands of Malians to flee their homes and seek refuge in neighboring countries. Currently, it is estimated that 1.2 million people—a third of the population—suffer from food insecurity countrywide.

The high level of poverty in the country, which affects 68 percent of rural inhabitants, also creates a high vulnerability to food insecurity. Over half of the population is either near or living in poverty, with the lack of access to health and education services - about 25 percent of the people in Mauritania live on less than USD$1.25 per day. Mauritania also has a food deficit and depends on imports for over 70 percent of its cereal needs.

The deficit is structural: the means of production are limited; agricultural capacity is under-exploited, farmland is prone to desertification, and low agricultural output (30 percent of national cereal needs) has led to a high dependence on imports to address these needs. The rising prices of basic food products, combined with a decrease in household revenue in rural areas, has increasingly led to accessibility difficulties and an elevated risk of food insecurity.

Malnutrition prevalence in the country is also high. The World Food Programme’s (WFP) monitoring surveys over the last five years show that nationally, Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) consistently reaches levels above the World Health Organisation’s 10 percent "critical" threshold during the lean season. Latest nutrition surveys show that compared to 2013, the rates of acute malnutrition amongst children under five has dropped to 9.8 percent. However, over 120,000 children under five remain malnourished countrywide.

Though security in Mauritania has remained relatively stable, the overall situation in the Sahel-Sahara region has been volatile. In 2012, armed conflict in northern Mali forced thousands of Malians to cross the border into Mauritania. As of 30 September 2014, over 55,000 Malian refugees live in Mbera camp alone, according to UNHCR data.

WFP country strategy aims to improve coordination; reduce risk and create national capacity to prepare for crises; and invest in capacity development through social protection. WFP works in close collaboration with the government, United Nations agencies and other partners to find long-term solutions to hunger and malnutrition in the country by building resilience and addressing the needs of the Malian refugees.

What the World Food Programme is doing in Mauritania

WFP supports Mauritania’s most vulnerable and food-insecure populations through a country programme, an emergency operation and two special operations. These interventions aim to save lives and protect livelihoods in response to the ongoing Sahel food security and Malian refugee crises, in addition to reduce risks and build resilience among vulnerable groups. WFP activities have been developed in line with Government plans and integrate national capacity building to address food security, focusing on policies, hand-over strategies and trainings.

WFP’s country programme (CP) supports the Government of Mauritania’s efforts to address food insecurity and malnutrition through the promotion of sustainable hunger solutions. Programmed for 2012-2016, the operation focuses on food-based social safety nets in the areas of nutrition, education and livelihood support while creating partnerships to advance the Government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. Activities target the nine most vulnerable regions in southern and eastern Mauritania, marked by low school attendance, high food insecurity, malnutrition and poverty. The three components of the CP are:

  • reduce the prevalence of underweight children and cases of acute malnutrition among children under 5 as well as pregnant and lactating women in vulnerable areas through targeted supplementary feeding and awareness activities;
  • improve access to primary education in vulnerable areas through school feeding;
  • and reduce risks and build resilience of vulnerable food-insecure groups affected by recurrent climate shocks through village food reserves and productive environmental rehabilitation activities.

In total, the country programme will assist 497,000 people over a five-year period. Of a total budget of US$76 million for the full operation, the country programme has received funding of only US$3.4 million as of 9 May 2012 and faces a shortfall of 96 percent.

WFP is responding to the effects of the drought and high food price crisis in Mauritania through an emergency operation. The operation was established based on the government’s request for assistance to respond to the crisis via its plan “EMEL” (“hope”), and now covers approximately 56 percent of the EMEL plan not including WFP assistance to Malian refugees.

The programme includes targeted cash transfers in both urban and rural areas, general food distributions in rural areas at the peak of the crisis, support to cereal banks (SAVS), food for assets activities, and the treatment and prevention of moderate acute malnutrition. Given the arrival of refugees from Mali since early February 2012, WFP has also added general food distributions for refugees and host communities to its emergency operation. In total, the operation targets over 620,000 beneficiaries, including more than 58,000 refugees and 30,000 members of host communities of the Hodh El Chargui region. The total funding gap for the emergency operation is US$22 million, or 45 percent of the planned budget through December 2012.

Finally, two special operations support and complement WFP’s emergency operation. A regional special operation provides essential logistics augmentation in support of the Sahel Drought Crisis, meeting the immediate transport and storage needs for WFP, as well as the potential needs of the wider humanitarian community.

The second special operation established the UN Humanitarian Air Services in Mauritania to provide a safe and reliable air transport service to the humanitarian community due to insecurity in the parts of Mauritania where beneficiaries are located, coupled with the long distances that humanitarian workers must travel to reach these localities. The regional special operation has a funding gap of US$4.7 million, or 84 percent of its total budget for operations through October 2012. Humanitarian air services have been funded at 54 percent and face a shortfall of US$850,000.

To support and enhance food security and nutrition activities along with information sharing, WFP is collaborating with the Food Security Commission and Action Against Hunger-Spain on the development of a national market information system. The EU funded project plans to elaborate upon previous market information analyses and use new technologies such as rapid SMS. Additionally, the project plans to regularly produce information on the availability, accessibility and utilization of food; produce reliable and high-quality information on food security in Mauritania; and provide a thorough analysis and dissemination of food security information through national frameworks.

Featured Mauritania publications

  • Mauritania: WFP Country Brief (PDF, 439 KB)

    A Country Brief provides the latest snapshot of the country strategy, operations, operational highlights (achievements and issues/challenges), partnerships and country background.

Looking for more publications on Mauritania? Visit the Mauritania publications archive.