Monday, November 09, 2015

Mauritania's Misery

One of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, Mauritania has suffered from decades of desertification and the under-development of its agricultural sector, and has to import 70 percent of its food.

Malnutrition has hit emergency levels in six of Mauritania's 15 regions, affecting at least one in six people, and the proportion of malnourished children under five across the country has risen to 14 percent this year from 10 percent in 2014, the World Food Programme said. Around one million people - a quarter of the population - do not have enough food to live healthily, and 200,000 are going hungry and urgently need food aid to survive, the WFP said.

Droughts have reduced the availability of nutritious food, and widespread poverty - one in four Mauritanians live on less than $1.25 per day - means many cannot afford to eat healthily, according to WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin. "So many are living close to the edge... women and children are the most vulnerable. A failure to meet the nutritional needs of pregnant women will have a direct impact on the health of their children." The WFP is providing half a million people with food, cash and food vouchers, and giving pregnant women and young children nutritious food to prevent and treat malnutrition. A shortage of donor funding this year has forced the WFP to cut food aid, halving or cancelling rice rations in some months. Mauritania's Mbera camp needs $11 million over the next six months but has received less than half that amount from donors, the WFP said.

Some 50,000 refugees fled to the camp after conflict erupted in 2012 in northern Mali between government forces and Tuareg separatists. "This is a population that believes they cannot return home - they are not working, they cannot feed themselves and without support, they will go hungry," Cousin said. "I've looked into the face of a mother, almost in tears, who has absolutely nothing and is struggling to feed her kids... it is the responsibility of not only the WFP, but the global community to support refugees like her," Cousin added. Without urgent funding, the U.N. agency will be unable to continue its school meal programme past December, which means more than 150,000 children will miss out on a daily hot meal.

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