NOUAKCHOTT -The United Nations World Food Programme today appealed for immediate food aid for 400,000 people in Mauritania, where locusts and drought have obliterated agricultural production - the cornerstone of families' survival here.
WFP is appealing for US$30.8 million for a 2005-07 operation in Mauritania to cover urgent needs brought about by locust invasions coupled with drought last year.
In the Sahel region's worst invasion in 15 years, locusts infested 100 percent of Mauritania's agricultural production zone. The south - which has been hardest hit - is home to about a quarter of the population; families living in the area have virtually no access to non-agricultural income.
A WFP vulnerability study shows that 60 percent of households in the agro-pastoral zone will not have enough to eat in the coming year, and the lean season during 2005 is expected to be harsher than usual.
"The international community must respond if we are to avoid a humanitarian crisis in Mauritania," said WFP's Representative in the country, Sory Ouane. "This kind of food shortage, in an already burdened country like Mauritania, can only spell further deterioration of rural household's livelihoods unless we act now."
Locusts wiped out not only cereals in Mauritania but also pulses and other vegetables. Crop assessments indicate a food deficit of 187,000 metric tons for the country's 2.9 million people. Insufficient rainfall also hampered production. In addition, the locusts and drought have damaged the rangelands vital to cattle which are essential to people's livelihoods.
WFP will use food aid in part to support the construction and rehabilitation of much-needed dykes and reservoirs in this desert country, as well as to provide community food stocks for the lean season.
Earlier this year, WFP worked closely with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, governments and regional groups to assess agricultural production in the region and potential impact from locusts. WFP also conducted its own food security and vulnerability studies in Mali and Mauritania - the two countries expected to be the hardest hit.
WFP's vulnerability studies helped identify pockets of food insecurity and the extent to which households have been affected by crop damage.
Under its existing 2005-07 operation planned for Mauritania, WFP aims to assist families facing food insecurity due to successive years of drought. WFP's strategy is to use support asset-creation projects that will help families better cope with events disrupting their food supply.
WFP will conduct continuous assessments throughout the operation to monitor communities' food security and determine the most effective response as the situation evolves.
The 2005-07 operation originally targeted 254,000 people in 33 municipalities worst hit by food shortages between 2001 and 2003. WFP is expanding the operation to assist communities affected by the locusts in recent months.
"Entire harvests, where the people have invested their money, time and toil for so long, are simply gone. We must act now," Ouane said. "The right assistance now for the people of Mauritania will go a long way - not only to save lives today but also to help people avoid falling into a cycle of food crises that could last for years to come."
Despite the magnitude of the 2004 locust invasions throughout the Sahel, they did not provoke a region-wide food crisis. But in addition to Mauritania, Niger and Mali have suffered severe damage from locusts, with late drought compounding the problem. The impact is localised however, and WFP will implement tailored food aid responses to those communities facing acute shortages.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.
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WFP Representative Mauritania.
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Deputy Director Communications