How to Help People in MauritaniaAs a vast but very sparsely populated nation of less than 4 million, Mauritania is a country that rarely finds itself in the media spotlight. However, the nation has all of the classic signs of a developing nation: over half the population lives in or around the country’s capital of Nouakchott, over two-thirds of Mauritanians are younger than 15 years of age, less than half of the nation has access to improved sanitation facilities and only about half of the population can read and write. The nation’s dire situation raises the question of how to help people in Mauritania.

The first and perhaps most urgent situation when understanding how to help people in Mauritania is that of Mauritania’s food security crisis. According to the World Food Programme (WFP), Mauritania depends on cereal imports to cover over 70 percent of its needs for the country’s 3.8 million people, and nearly 10 percent of the nation’s children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition. With 80 percent of the country’s landscape a desert, and less than 4 percent of it arable, this is a difficult issue to solve.

As for the economy, Mauritania’s main exports include fish, as well as raw minerals such as iron, copper and gold ore. While these resources are in constant demand across the world, their prices are very rarely, if ever, constant. Fluctuations in the global market leave the nation’s economy completely unprotected from unpredictable and uncontrollable economic factors that directly impact Mauritania itself.

The final factor in studying how to help people in Mauritania is that of a very difficult to solve socioeconomic issue found in many other developing nations, though rarely on the same scale: slavery. In fact, Mauritania did not fully abolish slavery until as late as 2007. In Mauritania today, over 1 percent of the population lives in modern slavery. While at first glance that figure may seem rather low, that equates to roughly 40,000 people experiencing life in slavery, a proportion that has granted Mauritania the alarmingly high rank of 7th out of 167 countries in slavery prevalence.

Therefore, the best answer to the question of how to help people in Mauritania can be split into two categories: short-term and long-term solutions. In the short term, donations to NGOs should focus on the most pressing issues Mauritania faces, such as food and water security. Perhaps the most well-established and wide-reaching NGO in this area is the World Food Programme, which operates in 80 countries. Specifically, in Mauritania, the WFP focuses on food security, nutrition and school meal provisions, as well as adaptation to climate change.

In the long term, countries and large corporations must do more to provide foreign direct investment into practices more sustainable than mineral and oil extraction. In particular, foreign finance agencies would be wise to invest in providing solar panels across the country, as well as train locals in their setup, maintenance, and repair in order to provide valuable skills and a reliable income to local tradesmen. In fact, a 15-megawatt solar panel facility has been established in Nouakchott, providing over 10,000 homes with a clean source of electricity. Establishing similar plants across the country will ensure access to electricity without damaging the local environment.

With NGOs stabilizing the present, and foreign direct investment establishing a bright future, the question of how to help people in Mauritania largely comes down to two key aspects: solving the most immediate problems while setting up an environment to avoid such issues in the future. Mauritania may face dire problems today, but is in an excellent position to implement a brighter tomorrow.

Brad Tait

Photo: Flickr

Causes of Poverty in MauritaniaMauritania is a sparsely populated and enormous nation stretching across a vast area of Northwest Africa. It is also cripplingly poor; about 21 percent of children under five are chronically malnourished and recent climatic changes have worsened the situation.

The causes of poverty in Mauritania are linked to both geographical inevitabilities and the immense corruption taking place at the government level. The country has experienced a dramatic 20-year drought, which has caused widespread desertification. Approximately 90 percent of the nation is now considered desert land, which has inevitably caused major problems for the small rural population that is scattered across it.

Nomadic communities have declined in population as they struggle to adjust to the new environment they find themselves in. New shantytowns have arisen as a result, which offer poor sanitation and a lack of basic water needs. Donkeys carrying containers are the main method of water transportation and failed sewage systems frequently contaminate the ground supply.

Corruption is another one of the major causes of poverty in Mauritania, which has prevented the country from exploiting its resources – these include fish, minerals and livestock. Economic policy is unstable and inconsistent, preventing any major investment from Europe or the Arab world. Educated Mauritanians mostly leave the country to work in the Gulf States, where opportunities abound by comparison.

Despite 170,000 hectares of agricultural land, Mauritania is food insecure as a result of this corruption. Public officials almost never face recrimination for usurping public money; as a result, the country starves. About 26 percent of Mauritanians in the lean season – where rainfall is scattered – do not get the basic foodstuffs they need to survive.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are working to improve the situation. The World Food Programme has implemented a distribution system where they provide two meals a day in rural areas, focusing on areas where malnutrition is high and children are unable to attend school. The changing climate is also being addressed. Supplementary feeding is being provided for pregnant women and young mothers in areas enduring the shock of a climate shift.

The causes of poverty in Mauritania are both manmade and natural. The nation’s shifting geography and desertification have devastated rural communities and worsened hunger and child mortality. Corruption acts in tandem with this to worsen the situation and has left Mauritania unable to fully exploit is significant natural resources to dig itself out of its poverty trap. The work of NGOs like the World Food Programme offer a glimmer of hope for the nation to begin to raise itself out of poverty.

Jonathan Riddick

Photo: Flickr

Slavery in Mauritania
On an April afternoon in 2012, Biram Dah Abeid held up books of Islamic legal interpretations. A large crowd in front of him watched as he dropped the books into a large box and set them on fire. As the books disintegrated, a tiny part of the legacy of slavery in Mauritania seemed to turn to ash along with them.

The books that Biram Dah Abeid burned contained interpretations of Islamic law that justified slavery. In the North African country of Mauritania, an estimated four percent of the population is currently enslaved.

The origins of slavery in Mauritania are complex. Over 2,000 years ago, Arab slave traders began capturing and enslaving dark-skinned people in the region. Now, slaves in Mauritania are called Haratines. Their owners are light-skinned and are called White Moors.

Slavery in Mauritania was officially banned by the Mauritanian constitution in 1981, but the government made no effort to enforce this. Because large swaths of Mauritania are rural and spread out, many White Moors continued to own slaves. The government did virtually nothing to stop them. Finally, in 2007, Mauritania passed a law making owning slaves a criminal offense. However, as of 2017, only three slave owners have been prosecuted. One of the owners was let out months after his arrest. The other two were sentenced to only a year in prison.

Biram Dah Abeid is fighting against this. In 2008, he started an organization called the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA). The IRA rescues enslaved Mauritanians and engages in large, nonviolent protests to publicize their cause. But Abeid’s protest does not come without cost. In recent years, the Mauritanian government cracked down on IRA activists. After the book burning incident, the President called for Abeid’s execution. Abeid was eventually arrested and detained for months. Three years later, he was arrested again for simply being a member of the IRA. According to the government, it was an “unauthorized organization.” He spent nearly two years in prison before being released.

Being an abolitionist in Mauritania is difficult. Slavery is incredibly entrenched in Mauritanian culture. Most slaves have no concept of who they are, outside of being slaves. And, on top of that, forty-four percent of Mauritanians are impoverished. No matter how much their masters dehumanize them, slaves are hard-pressed to imagine better alternatives. So, for the IRA, ending slavery in Mauritania is not really about removing physical chains. It’s about constructing a new culture—one that doesn’t have slavery as a foundation.

International organizations are now taking note of the vital work the IRA and Biram Dah Abeid are doing. In 2013, Abeid received the U.N. Human Rights Prize. In 2016, he was awarded the Trafficking in Persons Report Heroes Awards.

Ending slavery in Mauritania will be a lengthy process. Changing the mindset of an entire nation does not happen overnight. But the voices of people like Biram Dah Abeid are impossible to drown out. Abeid’s vision is inescapably expansive—in 2019, he plans to run for the Mauritanian presidency. His message is clear: Mauritania needs to become the type of place where anyone can do anything, regardless of how dark their skin is.

Adesuwa Agbonile

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in Mauritania
Water quality in Mauritania is affected by contradictory factors—the region receives little rain but is also at near-constant risk of flooding.

The southern part of the country gets 26 inches of rain annually while Nouakchott, the capital, only gets 5.5 inches. This isn’t too surprising, considering that Mauritania is mostly made up of desert and averages a temperature of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit for more than half the year, but most of the rainfall occurs over a short period of time in August and cannot be properly absorbed into the ground.

This absorption problem is due to the fact that Nouakchott is below sea level and therefore prone to frequent floods caused by rising sea levels. Rainfall only adds to pre-existing pools of stagnant water. And, because Mauritania lacks permanent drainage infrastructure, the water becomes a carrier for illnesses such as malaria and dengue fever. This is compounded by the fact that many in the region who live in poverty lack plumbing and are forced to dispose of solid waste in the stagnant water. Waste, in turn, damages temporary drainage setups.

Lacking water infrastructure for drainage, sanitation, plumbing and everyday use, the people of Mauritania rely on vendors for their drinking water. Vendors are sometimes miles away, so people commonly transport water in barrels or on donkeys.

Very few trees survive in Mauritania due to its desert climate as well as the fact that the rising water is exclusively salty.

Despite the many conflicting factors that threaten water quality in Mauritania, a 2011 review of the country’s status contended that there had been significant increases in the percentages of both rural and urban populations’ access to drinking water from 1990 to 2008, especially in the case of rural populations, which saw a 21 percent increase. The report identifies small piped networks and water wells as structures that are effective in helping people in rural areas of Mauritania access clean water. Unsurprisingly, the report claims “major financing” is needed to build more permanent supply and sanitation solutions.

Caroline Meyers

Photo: Flickr


Situated off the coast of the Atlantic Ocean in West Africa, the Islamic Republic of Mauritania lies between the Maghreb and western sub-Saharan Africa. Though it is rich in natural resources, Mauritania is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 151st out of 191 countries in gross domestic product, according to the International Monetary Fund. Weak health infrastructure and poor human development have contributed to a life expectancy of just over 63 years. Here are the top diseases in Mauritania:

Tuberculosis

A dangerous infectious disease spread by coughing and sneezing, tuberculosis is the deadliest disease in Mauritania, accounting for more than 12 percent of the total deaths in 2014. The first studies examining tuberculosis in Mauritania were conducted in 1987. Since then, government-directed anti-tuberculosis programs have had some success, even reducing the incidence of tuberculosis by almost eight percent from 1995 to 2001.

Malaria

Endemic in many regions across the country, malaria is another one of the top diseases in Mauritania. According to the World Health Organization, malaria made up almost seven percent of deaths in 2014. Since 1990, the number of reported cases of malaria have increased, with an average of 181,000 cases per year. Frequent epidemics often overwhelm understaffed health clinics and lead to the spread of the disease.

Through the National Malaria Control Programme, the Mauritanian Ministry of Health has developed a plan to lower malaria-related fatalities. The plan aims to improve methods of detecting and treating malaria.

HIV/AIDS

Like some of its neighbors, Mauritania has been greatly impacted by the spread of HIV. HIV/AIDS accounted for almost three percent of total deaths in 2014. In 2014, as chair of the African Union, Mauritanian President Abdel Aziz pledged to step up efforts across the continent to fight AIDS. A primary component of the renewed efforts will be shifting production of treatment to the continent.

Clearly, Mauritania is committed to financing its health programs without relying on international support. Yet until the country improves its health infrastructure, continued foreign aid will be key in fighting the top diseases in Mauritania.

Yosef Gross

Photo: Flickr

Slavery In Mauritania
Slavery in Mauritania is not a thing of the past. The practice persists despite laws abolishing and criminalizing it. Slavery is ingrained in society and is perceived as a normal part of life. Below are ten shocking facts about slavery in Mauritania today:

  1. Mauritania was the last country in the world to abolish slavery in 1981, but the practice continues. It took until 2007 to criminalize slavery by law with a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. This law has not been widely enforced, and the government continues to deny that slavery exists.
  2. A new law in 2015 replaced the 2007 law and declared slavery a crime against humanity. It increased prison sentences for slavery to 20 years. It also created tribunals to address slavery issues. The new law allows human rights organizations to bring cases on behalf of victims but still does not protect the rights of victims.
  3. Slave families are usually dark-skinned, serving lighter-skinned Arab-Berbers. Slavery in Mauritania is descent-based, persisting down family lines from ancestors who had been captured years ago. Slaves are typically given as gifts and are thereafter enslaved for life. The children of slaves are born slaves, and many are born out of the rape of slaves by their masters.
  4. Slavery is perceived as a normal part of life in Mauritania because it has persisted for so long. Some slaves are beaten or held under the threat of being beaten. Others are convinced that they are meant to be in slavery because of their darker skin. Many slaves do not understand their position and believe this is the life they are supposed to lead.
  5. Slaves are not physically bound, but most do not escape in part for social reasons. Some do not want to lose the social status they have gained from being a slave for a wealthy family. Others are concerned about the lack of social mobility they will face due to the persistence of a strong caste system. Escaped slaves are still considered part of the slave caste.
  6. Slavery in Mauritania also persists for religious reasons. Local Islamic leaders approve of slavery and participate in it. Although Islam does not allow Muslims to enslave each other, slaves are told that Allah wishes for them to be enslaved. Leaders of other religions also teach slaves that obedience will send them to heaven.
  7. SOS Slaves is an organization that was founded to liberate slaves. It created a school for escaped slaves and children to learn skills they need in their new lives. Funding for the school comes from SOS Slaves and the European Union. Despite this incredible step forward, many former slaves live without help.
  8. The United Nations has recommended various changes that the Mauritanian government can implement to combat slavery, including allowing international monitors into the country and funding rehabilitation centers for former slaves. Global participation is essential for the success of the antislavery movement.
  9. The percentage of people enslaved in Mauritania dropped to one percent in 2016. This represents a substantial decline in the practice. As recently as 2012, the number was estimated to be 10 to 20 percent. However, information about slavery from Mauritania is extremely hard to gather since the government continues to deny its existence.
  10. Mauritania is not the only country that still engages in the practice of slavery. A 2016 report ranks North Korea as the country with the highest rate of enslavement, with one in 20 people believed to be enslaved within its borders. The report estimates that 45.8 million people are still enslaved throughout the world.

There is still a long way to go to abolish slavery in Mauritania entirely. Global and local organizations need to engage in direct efforts for change. However, recent developments have improved the situation of slavery in Mauritania. There is hope that soon the practice will become a thing of the past.

Lindsay Harris

Photo: Flickr

Malnutrition_in_mauritania
Though the shores are teeming with fish, childhood malnutrition in Mauritania persists.

According to UNICEF, 20 percent of the country’s children under five are underweight. Another 22.5 percent of children exhibited signs of stunting, an inhibition of growth caused by chronic malnutrition. Wasting, a deterioration of fat and muscle due to acute malnutrition, was seen in 12.2 percent of children.

Mauritania ranks 27th in the world for under-five mortality, with a rate of 84 per 1000 births. Thirty-four percent of children are born with a low birth weight of less than 2500 grams.

Professor and nutrition expert Michael Golden stated in a 2012 interview with UNICEF that malnutrition is often caused by a combination of poverty, low social mobility and poor medical services. “What is needed now is to focus on health services research – how to deliver services effectively to poor people in places like Mauritania,” Golden said. “We need to maximize the efficiency of small numbers of staff who are not always well trained.”

One of the world’s poorest countries, Mauritania is known for its slave trade. Though slavery was outlawed in 1981, there were no criminal penalties for slave owners until 2007 and the practice is still widespread.

Mauritania’s economy relies mostly on agriculture, fishing and mining in lieu of industry. Very little of Mauritania’s land is arable and the country suffers from recurring droughts. Overfishing by foreigners has hurt its economy.

The country continues to be home to nearly 50,000 refugees fleeing neighboring Mali. In 2012, war broke out between the Malian government, Tuareg rebels and Islamic extremists. The region remains volatile and refugees are reluctant to return.

According to the U.N.’s Standing Committee on Nutrition, malnutrition is the single largest contributor to disease. It is especially dangerous for young children, who need a proper diet to develop. Without necessary vitamins and minerals, children may suffer from stunted physical and mental development.

Malnutrition is both a cause and symptom of global poverty. In countries where families consist of many children, it may not be possible to feed all of them. Those who are malnourished may struggle to work and mothers are often unable to breastfeed. As stunted children typically earn less as adults, malnutrition is a major factor in the cycle of poverty.

– Kevin Mclaughlin

Sources: CIA, UNICEF 1, UNICEF 2, UNICEF 3
Photo: Voice of America

slavery_india
Slavery is a global problem that is currently on the rise. It is defined as “owning another person such as child marriages and human trafficking among others” says Reuters. Recent studies have shown that out of the world’s 7 billion people, 30 million people are living in slavery across the globe. These studies have also shown that most of these 30 million people are women and children who fall victims to sex trafficking networks. According to surveys held by the Walk Free Foundation, 10 countries out of 162 accounted for more than 70% of the world’s slavery. The 10 countries which make up more than 70% of the world’s slavery include Pakistan, Nigeria, Russia, the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as rising nations such as China and India.

However, the West African Nation of Mauritania is known to have one of the highest proportion of slaves in the world.  Reports estimate that there are “around 140,000 to 160,000 enslaved people in Mauritania” (Reuters.com). That is around 10% of the population in that nation alone. Despite this, reports have found that there is much higher amounts of enslaved people in other nations.   According to npr.org, India has been reported to have the most slaves. India is known to  have between 13.3 million and 13.7 million enslaved people. China is also not far behind. China’s enslaved population ranges from 2.8 to 3.1 million people. Pakistan recently moved up to third place on the list due to it’s large enslaved population which ranges from 2 to 2.2 million (npr.org). In these nations, slaves face poor working conditions, extreme gender differences, and extreme poverty (CNN.com).

Despite these worrisome reports, other nations have also reported a decrease in slavery. Britain and Ireland have been ranked as the “nations with the fewest slaves” (npr.org). UN officials have opted to use the cases of Ireland and Britain as models to provide a solution for slavery. Unfortunately, the United States is not ranked in the list of nations with the least amount of slavery. According to UN reports, the United States has been ranked as the 134th nation with the least amount of slavery. Hopefully,  these new studies will help eradicate slavery on a global scale.

– Stephanie Olaya

Sources: NPR, CNN, Reuters