Though food distributions are improving conditions for thousands of people across the West African nation of Mauritania, WFP today called for greater international assistance to address worrying levels of malnutrition, particularly in the south and south-east of the country.
While the rainy season has generated vital pasture and the promise of an imminent harvest for the subsistence farmers of the south, the situation remains precarious.
Although the harvest will bring relief to most, WFP is increasingly concerned at continued high levels of malnutrition among young children, predominantly in geographical areas outside the zone of its current interventions.
“Information from the affected areas indicates that where we are distributing, and where the rains have been good, food security is improving,” said Sory Ouane, WFP Mauritania Country Director.
“However, it is also clear that we are fighting an uphill battle against child malnutrition. We plan to expand our operation to include other badly affected areas and target the most vulnerable children there.”
Mauritania was particularly badly hit by last year’s massive locust invasions and its people have suffered the ravages of successive droughts.
Mauritania is in need of much more international assistance to tackle both its immediate and long-term malnutrition problem
Sory Ouane, WFP Country Director
Last year’s cereal production was down 36 percent on the five-year average. Prices on the markets have been high this year, in many cases beyond the reach of the poorest, making an already uncertain existence even more fragile for many.
Under its current relief operation, WFP Mauritania has already distributed close to 20,000 metric tonnes of food worth US$ 11.4 million to some 400,000 people through various interventions – including free distributions – all targeted at the most vulnerable.
Distributions to 16,000 children and their mothers are also underway in over 200 supplementary feeding centres.
Pockets of malnutrition
Although relief distributions have improved household food consumption, assessments conducted by WFP, UNICEF and MSF-Belgium show that pockets of malnutrition exist, mainly in the regions of Guidimaka in the south and Hodh el Charghi in the south-east.
WFP’s own assessments conducted in September have shown a 17.1 percent rate of global acute malnutrition among children under five in the south-east.
In several instances, WFP has already moved to deliver assistance in the form of free distributions, but more specialized, targeted interventions are also required.
The causes of Mauritania’s acute malnutrition problems are complex. The south is currently experiencing the end of the annual ‘lean season’, when food stocks are low, people await the next harvest and are at their most vulnerable.
Access to clean water and proper hygiene is also limited in what is one of the poorest parts of the world. Babies are often fed food that is inappropriate or prepared inadequately and with little variety.
With rains comes the increased threat of disease, with malaria, cholera and diarrhea a particular danger. Health care is also limited and children are often brought for treatment when already in the advance stages of malnutrition.
“The upturn that will come with the harvest will be welcome, but Mauritania is in need of much more international assistance to tackle both its immediate and long-term malnutrition problem. The more partners WFP can work with on the ground here, the greater impact we can have,” said Ouane.