afrol News, 23 April - The World Food Program (WFP) is appealing for international aid to the 250,000 Mauritanians who are threatened by serious food shortages after drought and recent torrential rains. The crisis comes as a result of 30 years of climatic degradation, including increased droughts and desertification.
According to the UN agency, Mauritania is experiencing an "unprecedented food crisis." The 2001/2002 growing season saw seasonal droughts, the poor distribution of rainfall, and the low levels of the Senegal River floodwaters, disease and pests. This was combined with exceptionally strong rain on 9 to 11 January, which together has created an emergency situation.
The rain, mainly in the southern regions of Trarza, Brakna, Gorgol and Tagrant, rotted over 6,000 tonnes of rice and damaged grazing land, crops and livestock, newly released numbers show. An estimated 5,941 homes, schools and other buildings were destroyed and 20 people were killed.
Whole families are already migrating from the devastated villages into urban centres. WFP reports that local families have reduced main meals from two to one and are starting to sell off family possessions, classical warning signs of a serious food crisis. Also a rise in child malnutrition, abortion and diarrhoeal disease is registered among affected poor agriculturalists and small-scale livestock farmers.
Although the actual crisis is a direct result of last year's and January's climatic conditions, it is rooted in a serious environmental crisis going on for decades. 30 years of climatic degradation has made Mauritania's agricultural zone shrink to a 200 km wide strip running east to west along the Senegalese border.
With the national economy still based on the rural sector, the consequences for food security have been disastrous: Mauritania's 2.7 million population is exposed to chronic food shortages. The Sahelian/Saharan country is therefore even more at the mercy of natural disasters.
Under its current budget, WFP is already providing Mauritania with US$ 22 million and 30,000 tonnes of aid over the next five years. Needs are however much greater, and the UN agency together with the Mauritanian Food Security Commission have made an urgent appeal for US$ 7.5 million to help feed the affected population during the rest of the season. The operation, which was launched at the start of April, will provide 16,000 metric tonnes of aid for the victims over the next nine months.