How drought is making life harder in southern Mauritania
Little and erratic rainfall in the previous season is having a serious impact on people’s food security and livelihoods
In the village of Seyenne Wouro Molo in southern Mauritania, these days most of the inhabitants are women and children. It is a pastoralist community where men tend to family livestock. So, where are they?
“The men left the village much earlier this season,” says Maimouna, a 32-year-old mother. “We have to take care of the home alone.”
Annually, men sometimes move to Mali or Senegal to accompany livestock to pasture or go to work in fields. But due to the significant shortage in rainfall across parts of West Africa’s Sahel region including southern Mauritania in 2017, scarcity of water and pasture forced many pastoralists to migrate four months earlier than usual in 2018.
Without enough livestock, those who are left behind are finding it hard to survive.
“The decrease of our small livestock worries me a lot,” explains Maimouna. “The less livestock we have, the less money we have. We have been forced to sell several animals to repay our debts to buy basic needs.”
With no real income it is a serious challenge for the women — who run the homes — to provide adequate food and nutrition for their families.
“We sometimes manage to eat three meals a day, but we are obliged to reduce the rations, or to take only two meals,” adds Maimouna.
In the past, families relied on household gardens where they grow salads, onions, turnips, carrots and mint as an alternative. But harvests have been bad here since 2016.
“We do not know what to do anymore,” says Maimouna, with some despair.
The community’s dependence on markets has increased while prices of basic items have spiked because of the high demand. A bottle of milk costs 19 Ouguiyas (US$ 0.5) and a bag of rice costs about 115 Ouguiyas (US$ 3.2).
“Since the animals are no longer there, milk production has dropped a lot and we are often forced to buy it in town… and we cannot always afford it,” says Maimouna. “We have less meat on our plates and our meals are based on poor quality rice.”
There are a few animals left in the village of Seyenne Wouro Molo but they have nothing to eat. The villagers must travel to Kaedi, which is 18 km away, to buy fodder. The trip and fodder cost 300 ouguiyas (US$ 8.4). This leaves the villagers with a tough choice to make: whether to use their meagre resources to buy fodder for livestock or to buy food for their families.
Data from the latest Cadre Harmonisé — the regional food security analysis network — estimates that more than 530,000 people will need food assistance in Mauritania this year.
The government has agreed to intervene alongside humanitarian partners to respond to the serious situation. An integrated food security and nutrition plan was approved by the government in February and presented to donors. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP)is also ramping up efforts to respond to the situation.
Canada, the European Union’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Department (ECHO), France, Germany, Monaco, the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID), Saudi Arabia, Japan, United Kingdom, United Nations Central Emergency Response Funds (UN CERF) are the main partners supporting WFP’s interventions during the lean season.
You can help WFP provide support. Donate now.
Written by Adrien Rebours