afrol News, 10 January - The government and its partners still have nor mobilised aid needed by numerous households facing famine, according to a newly posted Food Security Emergency alert for Mauritania.
An appeal for aid urgently published by the Mauritanian government on 1 September 2002, describing the precarious famine situation among many of its citizens, has not proven fruitful. Only small donation had been made by those countries that habitually cooperate closely with the Mauritanian government, according to an alert published yesterday by the US agency 'Famine Early Warning Systems Network' (FEWS).
The food aid programmes carried out by the Food Security Commission (FSC) and the World Food Programme (WFP) thus are finding it difficult to start distribution of food, and are in any way too limited to address the large food deficits experienced among farmers in the Aftout, the Senegal River Valley and the Hods Central Plateau.
According to the FEWS emergency report, the majority of households making their living from agriculture and livestock in these three affected regions are now completely stripped of cereal stocks after years of crises. I addition, the climatic disasters of last year has left their livestock eliminated, thus removing them of their last, traditional crisis survival strategies.
Meanwhile, no traditional cereals are to be found on rural markets and the constantly rising prices on other, imported food staples are now superseding the capacity of poor rural households.
The famine that has already reached the Aftout region is by now spreading to the Senegal River Valley and to the Hods Plateau, the Nouakchott office of FEWS is warning. Perspectives were scarce, cereal imports from nearby Mali was even scarcer and imports from Senegal close to zero, the agency reports. The local population thus is left to trust in international and national solidarity.
The crisis is now spreading from these three core areas, FEWS reports. The situation for small-scale herders in the districts of Trarza, Brakna and eastern Gorgol, where the situation hitherto had been considered satisfactory, had been rapidly weakened by a widespread degradation of the pastures due a massive influx of livestock from the northern regions.
Considering the upcoming harvest, FEWS assesses that the only most favoured parts of the population way endure the next five months, when modest yields are expected. Under normal conditions, these rural communities would be able to base their livelihood on their livestock and on the gathering of firewood and other natural products for the local market. These strategies normally can assure a minimal diet for some seven months.
Under the prevailing conditions of multiple economic shocks, however, FEWS holds it "illusory" to believe that these rural communities could improve their situation by own force. Numerous villages are without access to any kind of natural resources and live only on a day-to-day basis, thanks to the solidarity of other Mauritanians or the occasional external assistance, FEWS laments.
The current grave food crisis in Mauritania is the result of a chain of negative impacts. The Sahelian south of the country has for years been subjected to massive desertification, slowly encroaching the limited agricultural zone and the scarce pastures.
Following meagre harvests of rainfed crops in December 2001 covering only a fraction of their consumption needs, farming communities across Mauritania already were facing bleak prospects. A freak storm in January killed tens of thousands of livestock. Late, low and erratic rainfall in June and July 2002 delayed the start of the cropping season in many areas. Harvests resulted minimal.
Since June 2002, WFP has warned about an emerging famine in Mauritania, estimating that about one out of the country's 2.7 million inhabitants were facing some degree of food insecurity. The UN agency on several occasions has had to disrupt its food distribution due to lack of donations.