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