Child hunger spikes in Mauritania as WFP food runs out

Published on 16 June 2006

WFP has urged the international community to reach into its pockets and fund its vital food aid operation so that the desert nation of Mauritania can pull through the most difficult months of the year.

WFP has urged the international community to reach into its pockets and fund its vital food aid operation so that the desert nation of Mauritania can pull through the most difficult months of the year.

This lean season is set to be as harsh as in recent years

WFP Country Director in Mauritania, Sory Ouane

WFP’s relief operation in Mauritania is facing a complete break in supplies at the end of July – exactly the time of year when food needs are at their annual peak at the height of the ‘lean season.’

A total of US$4 million is urgently required to plug the gap until the end of the year.

Natural distasters

In the past decade, Mauritania has suffered from a series of natural disasters including floods, droughts and locust infestations, which have left the poorest people living an increasingly fragile existence.

“This lean season is set to be as harsh as in recent years,” said WFP Country Director in Mauritania, Sory Ouane.

“The work of WFP, the government and other organisations has gone a long way towards helping the poor deal with these difficult times, but this year we face a situation where we simply don’t have the funds to continue our assistance beyond July.

“What we need to cover the next few months is not a huge amount,” he said.

At risk

Most at risk from the looming break in supplies are WFP’s community cereal reserves, which allow villagers access to food just when the cost of cereals spirals beyond the reach of many.

Should there be a break in supplies, about 350,000 people will have these cereal rations cut by 50 percent.

As the cost of food rises in Mauritania, livestock prices have dipped by as much as 22 percent in some areas.

Recent famine early warning (FEWS NET) reports have warned that market prices are limiting purchasing power to a worrying extent and damaging household food security.

Debt

Many rural communities are already deeply in debt – something the cereal reserves are intended to combat.

Most young men are unavailable to work the fields during the upcoming rainy season because they have left to seek work in Mauritania’s main urban centres.

WFP is looking for cash donations to allow for the rapid purchase and distribution of suitable food.

The nutritional well-being of young children is of particular concern.

Malnutrition high

Over 260 feeding centres are currently open around the country, with that number due to double over the next few weeks in a project rolled out with the government and UNICEF.

In some areas of Mauritania, malnutrition rates are already close to the internationally recognised emergency threshold and a particularly difficult lean season will only worsen the situation.

The feeding centres are an important safeguard against moderate malnutrition tipping over into the acute stages where young lives come under threat.

Distributions to the centres are to be prioritised as gaps in supply could have serious consequences for the survival of young children.

Rural poor

“The simple fact is many of Mauritania’s rural poor – some of the poorest in the world – are relying on WFP, the government and NGOs to sustain them during this lean season.

Lack of support at this critical time would be a massive failure by those who can very easily afford to make a difference,” said Ouane.

WFP’s relief operation in Mauritania aims to feed a total of 382,400 people in 2006 through support to village food reserves, food-for-work projects and nutritional feeding to children under five and pregnant and breast-feeding women.