Poverty in Mauritania

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MAURITANIA — Though it is immensely rich in profitable resources, the people of Mauritania are constantly battling poverty. Over the years, Mauritania has grown more fragile as droughts and food shortages have endangered the survival of its people. However, there have been and continue to be governmental initiatives, as well as efforts made by humanitarian organizations, to give Mauritania a brighter future.

Mauritania is located in the Sahel region of West Africa, a region characterized by sweeping desert areas and a combination of urban and rural living. In 2008, the percentage of the population living at the poverty line was 42 percent, down from 51 percent in 2000. In that time, the life expectancy has not increased substantially and the access to a reliable water source has barely improved.

The shortages of food and water are the most detrimental obstacles in trying to alleviate poverty in Mauritania. In 2011, Mauritania was extensively effected by a severe drought that led to a steep increase in food prices, unsuccessful farming and a startling loss of livestock. This resulted in a food shortage, leaving 700,000 people in the midst of a food crisis, as of 2012.

The food crisis subsequently led to high death rates, and prevented children from receiving the nutrition they require to grow and thrive, resulting in chronic malnutrition. High death rates directly contribute to increased poverty as they prevent children from contributing to society through work.

There has been a widespread movement to help countries in West Africa, like Mauritania, that have yet to make large improvements in regards to their impoverished state. In May 1994, Mauritania’s government presented a five-year action plan at a Consultative Group meeting that encompassed the major factors leaving Mauritania impoverished.

Twenty years later, it’s clear that the strategy was not overwhelmingly successful, but it has made some progress in the fight against poverty in Mauritania. The strategy identified the health sector, as well as the education system, as important elements to address on the road to recovery, and the governmental approach to these factors has been successful. The World Bank indicated that in 2012, 97 percent of eligible children were enrolled in primary school, which is up from 67 percent in 1994 when the strategy was developed.

Conditional cash transfers are another method in the Sahel region, and they have helped millions of families. Cash transfers manifest as a monthly allotment of money given to families living in poverty, often with strings attached to ensure that the money is not wasted. Families are often required to attend nutrition classes and to ensure that their children remain in school.

There is some skepticism about the effectiveness of the cash transfers, in favor of skipping that step and just giving the families food. However, observations have found that communities given cash transfers see increases in school enrollment, decreases in early sexual activity and improved health and nutrition.

Mauritania still has untapped potential, as it is rich in mineral resources and its coastal location provides it with access to large fish reserves. With a coastline of approximately 700 kilometers, Mauritania has the capacity to export more fish than it does currently, though it lacks the necessary investors.

Mauritania produces the third largest amount of iron in the world, and could produce up to 30,000 minerals from the gold mines per day. The lack of labor and resources to facilitate this kind of production are holding the country back. While exporting goods isn’t a long term solution, it would be the economic boost Mauritania needs to speed up progress.

An impoverished state like Mauritania, located in an area prone to droughts and food shortages, make for an even more challenging fight against poverty. However, past efforts have been successful. With improvements in education and health, the population of Mauritania hopes for further progress with government initiatives and investments from developed countries.

Maggie Wagner

Sources: The World Bank 1, The World Bank 2, BBC News, Al-Monitor, World Food Programme, Daily Mail
Photo: Wikipedia

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