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MAURITANIA: President calls on nation to pray for rain


Photo: Nicholas Reader/IRIN
Boy in a Mauritanian village perched in the arid Sahel belt
DAKAR, 1 August 2007 (IRIN) - In true Sahelian fashion, the rainy season is late in coming to Mauritania, causing concern amongst experts and locals in the West African nation and resulting in a presidential call for nationwide prayers for ample rain this harvest season.

According to a PanaPress report, Mauritanian citizens gathered on 29 July in response to a call by recently installed Mauritanian President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallah, praying for a good rainy season.

“The late rains are certainly causing worry here in Mauritania, considering the patterns of the last three years,” said N’fah Ouadtara, country representative for the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET), part of the US Agency for International Development. “The rains should already be here.”

Since 2002, Mauritania has faced natural disasters ranging from locust invasions to severe drought and flooding. The country is highly susceptible to variations in rainfall and recurring drought is typical. According to the UN World Food Programme (WFP), this has resulted in severely undermined food security throughout the country, especially in southern regions.

Southern Mauritania makes up part of the drought prone Sahel region in Africa, where rural and subsistence farming are highly dependent on rain. Mauritania in 2006 saw an especially short rainy season, resulting in inadequate crop yields.

The Mauritanian government, in partnership with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), WFP and others, has been working to establish food security and fight malnutrition, especially in the face of recent drought.

Aid agencies watching

Aid organisations have indeed taken note of the late rains in Mauritania, but are not yet certain that the issue will cause serious problems with food security in the country.

“WFP is looking to adjust our programming where necessary, but at this stage it’s too early to tell what the impact of this late arrival of rains will be. We do have plans to assess and assure that we and the Mauritanian government have all the information necessary to ensure future food security,” Marcus Prior, WFP regional public affairs officer for West and Central Africa, told IRIN.


Photo: IRIN

According to UNICEF, the rainy season should arrive in late June to early July. “For the moment, the rains are late. However, we must wait until September to see if the rains this season will be insufficient and cause food security problems,” Alpha N’Gai De, spokesperson for UNICEF in Mauritania, told IRIN. “But if it rains regularly in August and September, Mauritania could still have a good harvest season.”

The non-governmental organisation (NGO) Lutheran World Federation launched an appeal in mid-July for funding for the southeastern regions of the Hodh El Charghi and Hodh El Gharbi, where according to the NGO, shortfalls in 2006 hit hardest and only one municipality in each of the regions benefited from official assistance. The NGO intends to set up community feeding centres and distribute seeds and biscuits with high nutritional value.

Food imports

According to WFP, in Mauritania, where 51 percent of the population lives in poverty, agriculture typically consists of rain fed crops on floodplains and the country imports an average of 70 percent of its cereal needs. “Historically, Mauritania has imported such a large percentage of food because it has been unable to grow its own. In one sense, this makes them less dependent than other countries on their own harvests. However, drought will still seriously affect the well-being of subsistence farmers, to whom the harvest season is crucial,” said Prior.

A December 2006 nutrition survey by UNICEF in Mauritania noted that chronic malnutrition affects 24.5 percent of children under five. Natural disasters have only served to worsen the crisis, and the country has banned together in prayer and hope for rains to come.

“This is the first time any Mauritanian president has called the nation to prayer for rain,” said N’Gai De. “At this point, the country is praying proactively, not belatedly. And if rains come soon, they will certainly provide hope for Mauritania.”

ur/cb


Theme(s): (IRIN) Drought2006, (IRIN) Early Warning, (IRIN) Economy, (IRIN) Environment, (IRIN) Food Security, (IRIN) Health & Nutrition, (IRIN) Natural Disasters

[ENDS]

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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