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Mauritania: Supporting families in uncertain times

I work for Save the Children’s Humanitarian team as Regional Emergencies Coordinator for Africa.

Last week I returned from Mauritania, where for the past two weeks I’ve been looking into the possibility of Save the Children establishing a programme in Kaedi, southern province of Mauritania, which borders Senegal.

Families in the area I visited are facing uncertain futures due to drought in West Africa, which has affected not just Mauritania but the wider Sahel region, including Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. The rainy season in 2011 was very poor and new rains are not expected until later this year.

Surviving the dry season

Typically, in the time between the rainy seasons families will survive on crops they have stored from the previous harvest and to get a balanced diet they will make small purchases from local markets.

But, in what should have been the rainy season, there was almost no rain, crops failed, livestock died. This means that many families have virtually no food stored.

Mauritania produces only 30% of cereals for domestic consumption; the rest is imported from Senegal or Mali. But as the crisis in the Sahel has also affected neighbouring countries, there is little food across the region and what food there is costs too much due to increased fuel prices.

In addition, there is insecurity in northern Mali, where thousands of people have been uprooted by fighting between government forces and rebel groups.

Hard to find work

People cannot just go out and look for a job either to bring in money. It’s not an easy task to find work in Mauritania.

In the area I visited, people make their money from agriculture and grazing animals, but both these activities have been severely affected by the drought. This has been particularly devastating in Kaedi – one of the poorest in the country.

People have less money to buy extra foods to supplement their diet. In an area that already has very high chronic malnutrition levels, the lack of food is a serious problem that demands urgent help before hunger has devastating consequences on children’s health.

Supporting livelihoods

Our focus is on children and my work was to identify the needs of children in this food crisis as the long-term effects of malnutrition are especially dangerous in children, above all in those under five years old. And this is what our programme would aim to stop.

Save the Children has worked in Mauritania for many years, implementing protection and education projects.

Due to the country’s urgent need, we’re about to start projects that will help people protect their livelihoods, so livestock and agriculture. This will ensure a minimum purchasing power to the poorest families so they can buy the food they need and accompany them in the next rainy season, when hopefully they will not be failed again.

This blog was written by Clara Bajo, Regional Emergency Co-ordinator for Africa.

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