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. In recent years, Mauritania has been hit by successive outside shocks that have seriously affected the food security of the country, critically undermining the resilience capacity of vulnerable populations who rely on traditional agriculture and livestock activities for their livelihoods. 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 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 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.