© WFP/Agron Dragaj
Mauritania is an arid, lower-middle-income country in Northwest Africa, bordered on one side by the Atlantic Ocean. Although it has made significant improvements in reducing poverty and chronic malnutrition, its rapidly growing population still faces major challenges, including food insecurity, malnutrition, gender inequality and land degradation. In the Sahel, population displacement and frequent climate-related crises pose further challenges.
Just under one quarter of the population lives in poverty, and malnutrition remains widespread. The latest figures show global acute malnutrition and severe acute malnutrition affecting respectively 11.6 and 2.3 percent of children under 5 years old during critical peaks of the lean season, with figures dropping to and 9.8 and 1.6 percent respectively in non-emergency years. Moreover, during the lean season, 23 of the country’s 52 departments have rates of global acute malnutrition of 15 percent – the level set by the World Health Organization as emergency threshold – or higher. One in five children is chronically malnourished, estimated to cost the country US $759 million in annual economic loss.
74 percent of Mauritania’s poor live in rural areas, with much of the population relying on agriculture to survive. Of these, 60 percent are smallholder farmers and 20 percent seasonal workers with no land of their own; many are women, who are at a disadvantage due to persistent discrimination and an unequal burden of unpaid labour. An estimated 12.5 percent of children aged 5 to 14 work, primarily in agriculture, putting them at risk of the worst forms of child labour.
With 90 percent of agricultural production subsistence-based, large numbers of people are vulnerable to the effects of events such as droughts, floods and locust invasions, all of which are made worse by rapid soil erosion and desertification due to climate change. A series of major droughts in 2011, 2014 and 2017 weakened communities and damaged ecosystems, forcing many to cope by eating less and poorer quality food, and selling livestock at less than its market value.
Tensions within agricultural communities rise at times of crises, and natural resources – such as fishing stocks – are over-exploited. Poor storage facilities and transportation mean that as much as 30 percent of agricultural produce is lost after harvest.
Adding to Mauritania’s problems, regional instability continues to affect the country even at a time of relative security. Regular influxes of Malians fleeing violence have brought the population of the Mbera camp to around 56,000 refugees, placing a strain on host communities and limited environmental resources.
WFP has been working in Mauritania since 1964, providing relief assistance, livelihood support and humanitarian air services. Today, WFP is addressing the causes of vulnerability while working with the Government towards achieving its aims of reducing food insecurity to under 5 percent, eradicating severe food insecurity and reducing global acute malnutrition to under 2 percent by 2030.
What the World Food Programme is doing in Mauritania
WFP is adapting its operations and processes to the situation created by the COVID-19 outbreak. WFP is reviewing its programmes to identify priority activities, with a focus on ensuring the continuity of life-saving operations as well as on logistics and supply chain support to strengthen the response of the Government and humanitarian community. WFP is also partnering with FAO and GIZ to assess the impact of COVID-19 on food security and livelihoods.
Crisis response and seasonal food assistance
WFP ensures that crisis-affected people have enough food, assisting vulnerable, food insecure Mauritanian households during the lean season and 56,000 Malian refugees all year around, through unconditional food and cash transfers and nutrition support. In the refugee camp, WFP is gradually shifting towards more sustainable and livelihood-oriented assistance through the promotion of refugee self-reliance and host communities’ resilience.
WFP helps communities adapt to climate change and reduce exposure to natural shocks. It develops sustainable food production systems so that livelihoods are more resilient to the effects of climate-related crises and enables smallholder farmers and pastoralists to move up the value chain by sustainably increasing production, reducing post-harvest losses and participating in markets. In this context, Food Assistance for Assets activities are implemented to ensure the gains of continuous assistance and to boost longer-term resilience.
In partnership with the Mauritanian government, WFP aims to distribute daily morning snacks and lunches to 50,000 primary school pupils, especially in rural areas where school attendance and retention rates are low and food insecurity, malnutrition and poverty are high. Additional services are delivered in schools, including communication on nutrition, hygiene and family practices. WFP also works with the government institutions to set up a national homegrown school feeding programme.
WFP encourages a balanced representation of women and men in food management committees and the implementation of activities which is based on community consultations. Gender sensitization trainings and community consultations also encourage communities to reflect on gender roles in their families and society, and to emerge from stereotypes. In nutrition programmes, men were actively targeted during nutrition sensitization and communication so that they can contribute to maternal health, childcare and nutrition in the household.
WFP helps Mauritania’s national institutions to strengthen their own capacity for addressing food insecurity through nutrition and social protection programmes. This includes helping to design and implement food security and nutrition response schemes, early warning systems and a national safety net of social support that can withstand crises.
UNHAS continues to provide flight services to facilitate the humanitarian community’s access to areas of humanitarian interventions, in a context where distances are considerable and road infrastructures are poor. UNHAS is the main transport service to access beneficiaries in the southern and eastern parts of the country in a timely and effective manner. The operation serves more than 30 user organizations.