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:


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.


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.


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

Photo: Flickr