afrol News, 27 September - "Mauritania is facing alarming food shortages that could lead to mass starvation unless action is taken," Manuel Aranda da Silva, the World Food Programme's (WFP) Regional Director for West Africa, declared during a press conference yesterday.
Around 750,000 of Mauritania's population of 2.7 million are already affected by food shortages with malnutrition taking on alarming proportions. The crisis was created by a drought following torrential rains earlier this year in a zone already deeply affected by desertification.
The distribution of 3,558 tons of wheat under a WFP emergency operation had started immediately after the Mauritanian government's declaration of emergency on 1 September and is expected to be completed by the end of this month, the UN agency informs in its weekly 'Emergency Report'.
Although six regions were targeted under this emergency operation (Hodh el Gharbi, Hodh el Chargui, Gorgol, Assaba, Tagant, and Brakna), "only those which were targeted to receive a wheat ration alone received WFP's emergency assistance since the full food basket has yet to become available due to delayed donor response to this operation." This distribution would ensure the coverage of 108,500 persons for 3 months.
Although significant rainfall during the last two weeks had produced pasture in certain areas, the rain-fed crop forecast remained bleak, since these rains had come too late to reverse drought damage to date. The rain-fed crop harvest was thus expected to fail.
WFP reports that it had only received 30 percent of the US$ 7.5 million it asked for its emergency operation. "Donor support is essential for WFP to carry out its planned activities," the agency stressed.
On 1 September, the government of Mauritania declared a state of emergency and issued an appeal for 37,000 tons of cereals and 14,000 tons of other foods for emergency distribution to meet the needs of people in the most affected areas for 3 months; 18,000 tons of cereals for sale at subsidised prices for those with a minimum of purchasing power; and 20,000 tons of livestock feed and veterinary support.
Following meagre harvests of rainfed crops in December covering only a fraction of their consumption needs, farming communities across Mauritania are facing bleak prospects. A freak storm in January killed tens of thousands of livestock. Late, low and erratic rainfall in June and July has delayed the start of the cropping season, possibly for good in some areas.