Children in Mauritania to suffer as WFP faces break in food supplies

Published on 03 June 2007

WFP has warned that unless it received substantial new contributions for its operation in Mauritania, as many as 68,000 young children menaced by malnutrition will see their rations reduced or cut completely at the most critical time of the year.

WFP has warned that unless it received substantial new contributions for its operation in Mauritania, as many as 68,000 young children menaced by malnutrition will see their rations reduced or cut completely at the most critical time of the year.

These considerable and hard won gains in the battle against hunger are at risk.

WFP Country Director, Gian Carlo Cirri

Any break in WFP operations will also threaten a reversal of the significant gains made in the battle against malnutrition in Mauritania in recent years.

WFP requires an additional US$14.4 million for its Mauritania operation this year and is concerned that funding has largely dried up in recent months, despite the imminent onset of the annual ‘lean season’, when poor families routinely struggle to find enough to eat.

"Raising the flag early"

“We are raising the flag early,” said WFP Country Director, Gian Carlo Cirri. “We need these funds urgently to ensure there is no break in deliveries to hundreds of feeding centres across the worst affected parts of the country. The system is in place; we absolutely have to keep it supplied.”

Working with the government, UNICEF and NGOs, WFP provides food to over 600 community feeding centres across the country, where close to 50,000 young children and their mothers received supplementary rations of mineral and vitamin-rich food to strengthen them in the battle against malnutrition last year.

However, if urgent funding is not received, WFP is confronted with a break in supplies as early as April, exactly when the ‘lean season’ begins to bite.

Weak buying power

The results of a recent joint food security survey by CILLS, FAO, Fewsnet and WFP describe the current situation as precarious. Indeed, total cereal production per capita is 7.7 percent lower than the average over the past five years.

Furthermore, cereal prices have increased, further eroding the already weak purchasing power of subsistence farmers. Earlier aid to Mauritania has had a positive impact.

Preliminary results from a recent nutrition survey by UNICEF showed that the national global acute malnutrition rate is 8.2 percent, down from 13.3 percent in 2001.

Less malnutrition

Over the same period, global chronic malnutrition rates have dipped from 38.2 percent to 24.5 percent.

“These considerable and hard won gains in the battle against hunger are at risk. At a time when experts are calling for the treatment of malnutrition in Mauritania to be stepped up and strengthened, WFP has its hands tied by a lack of resources,” Cirri said.

The regions that are of most concern are in the south – Trarza, Brakna, Guidimakha and Gorgol – where acute malnutrition rates are more than 10 percent, above the World Health Organisation’s emergency threshold.

Highly vulnerable

These areas are heavily populated, suffer from chronic food shortages and are poorly served by primary health care facilities and other important infrastructure.

In addition to its nutrition programmes, WFP is also working with the government and NGOs to plug the gaps in household food needs in the poorest regions of the country, all in the south.

According to a WFP study, 165,000 people – nine percent of the population – are highly vulnerable and depend on humanitarian assistance to survive through the toughest months of the year. A further 180,000 struggle to feed themselves adequately.

Distributions to re-stock village cereal banks, as well as to projects where villagers receive food in return for work on vital local infrastructure, are also under threat from the current poor level of funding.

Committed to malnutrition fight

The Government of Mauritania is committed to the fight against malnutrition and hunger and has itself contributed over US$1.2 million to WFP operations in the country.

It has also provided valuable additional materials such as agricultural tools to assist WFP and its NGO partners.

“We might not yet be confronted by a major humanitarian crisis, but thousands of Mauritanians depend on WFP to get them through the toughest time of the year. We cannot even consider the possibility that we will let them down, and to get the job done we need the support of the international community,” said Cirri.