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'Hidden crisis' in Mauritania

© UNICEF video
A child receiving therapeutic feeding at a UNICEF-supported feeding centre in Mauritania.

By Sarah Crowe

GORGOL REGION, Mauritania, 30 September 2005 – Locust infestations and radical climate changes are but two contributing factors to the hidden food crisis in Mauritania, a vast country located at the western edge of the Sahara Desert.

For years plague upon pest – and even bitter cold – have burdened this sparsely populated country. Erratic weather has killed off much of the livestock and few are left to get the most from the recent rains.

When the crops fail and farm animals die, men in the village are forced to leave to seek work elsewhere.

Alassan Yero, leader of the village of Weddeje Bokki, is troubled by the cycle. “As a leader what I have heard is troubling, because these men have no choice anymore but to leave. And every time the man leaves, he leaves the family in a bad situation,” he said.

Children in the villages are at risk as crops wither and livestock perish. One woman, Mounoumuin Minb, had a stock of 200 goats, but after a cold spell killed them off, her husband had to leave and find work to make money for the family. Minb said her children are undernourished due to a lack of food.

“After the cold and the drought the children all became very weak and they were not able to walk or talk. It was at the same time we lost all our animals. I want God to change these conditions,” said Minb.

© UNICEF video
Climate changes and erratic weather are threatening crops that feed children in Mauritania.

The longevity of a hidden crisis

For her children’s daily bread she relies on a government-run feeding centre, where UNICEF provides therapeutic feeding. Those severely malnourished are sent to a therapeutic feeding centre where their progress is carefully charted.

“It is a hidden crisis, because it’s been going on a long time, almost more than ten years. Mauritania is not able to produce what the population will need,” said UNICEF’s Representative in Mauritania, Dr. Souleymane Diallo. “In a better situation, it will produce only forty per cent of the needs of the population. That means every time they have to import food for women and children.”

UNICEF is also helping get more children into the classroom, as the future of the country ultimately rests on the younger generations. And getting girls and boys into schools will help Mauritania secure a better future for its citizens.

For the present time the perpetual cycle of cultivating the land, then being forced to leave it as crops die and livestock perish, continues to pull families apart. And as men leave for the capital, Nouakchott, to find work to feed their children, families continue to rely on the help UNICEF and others are able to provide.





30 September 2005:
UNICEF correspondent Sarah Crowe reports from Mauritania on the hidden crisis of failing farmlands and livelihoods.

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