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living conditions in mauritania
The country of Mauritania is located in West Africa. It encompasses a land area of 1,030,700 square kilometers and has a population of more than 4,600,000. This makes it the 11th largest African country in terms of land area and 40th in terms of population. Despite its vast size, Mauritania is experiencing a devastating food and nutrition crisis, along with a horrific drought, that is making hunger in Mauritania more acute than it has been in years. The following is a list of the top 10 facts about hunger in Mauritania.

Top 10 Facts about Hunger in Mauritania

  1. Hunger is a serious problem: According to the 2018 GHI, Mauritania ranks 88th out of 119 qualifying nations in regard to the number of malnourished citizens within its borders. It has a score of 27.3 on the GHI Severity Scale. Thus, Mauritania is in the category of other countries, like Bangladesh and Burkina Faso, with serious levels of hunger.
  2. Drought cycles: Mauritania is located in the region of Africa south of the Sahara called the Sahel. This region consists of semi-arid grassland and has provided the continent with cash crops like cotton and millet. However, the Sahel receives extremely inconsistent rainfall and has suffered cycles of drought for thousands of years. The drought the Sahel currently endures has occurred since the 70’s. Because this drought is a regional problem, the lives of millions in countries outside Mauritania – like Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger and Senegal – are struggling through this drought as well.
  3. Managing drought: In a national report for Integrated Drought Management, Sidi Bobba, Director of Operations and Weather Forecasting and Sid El Kheir Ould Taleb Ekhyar, General Manager of M’Pourié Farm, say that Mauritanian authorities are employing strategies to minimize the impact of Mauritania’s current drought. Some of these strategies include encouraging Mauritanians to diversify their crops and use organic manure. Other strategies are using crops that are resistant to drought and focusing on farming techniques that promote the economy of the soil water.
  4. Reliance on imports: While fish, iron, natural gas, oil, copper, wild animals and gold are all natural resources that Mauritania has in abundance, many Mauritanians specialize in farming and pastoralism. Unfortunately, these sources of income are vulnerable to environmental shock. And because 80 percent of Mauritania’s land is desert that cannot be used for agriculture, this lack of arable land, combined with drought, has made Mauritania into a nation that depends on foreign imports to feed its citizens. In a good agricultural year, 70 percent of Mauritania’s food supply is imported, but in a bad agricultural year, 85 percent is imported.
  5. Cases of acute malnutrition: In January, UNICEF reported that 130,000 children, including 32,000 children with severe acute malnutrition, would require nutritional care and treatment this year. UNICEF also reported in a Humanitarian Situation Report that 24,521 children with severe acute malnutrition (11,770 girls and 12,751 boys) were admitted for treatment throughout Mauritania. This is 76 percent of the estimated 32,244 cases of severe acute malnutrition for 2018.
  6. Pregnant women and malnutrition: UNICEF also reported that 31,000 pregnant and lactating women would require nutritional care and treatment this year. The same report that reveals the number of Mauritanian children treated for severe acute malnutrition also reveals that 32,876 pregnant and lactating women have been offered aid at community health facilities. And 4,373 pregnant and lactating women were treated for acute malnutrition.
  7. Extreme poverty: Mauritania is one of the poorest nations in the world, with a GDP per capita of $4,500. As one of the poorest countries in the world, around 25 percent of Mauritanians live on less than $1.25 per day. This extreme poverty hinders many Mauritanians from accessing health and education services.
  8. Water production: Even though Mauritania is now working towards a solution to its water shortage, the African Development Bank Group reports that Mauritania has been able to meet only half of its estimated daily drinking water requirement of 100,000 m³/day for more than a decade. Its production level is only around 55,000 m³/day from the only available aquifer in the southwestern Mauritanian city Trarza.
  9. Malian refugees: Thousands of Malian refugees, escaping the 2012 coup and civil unrest, have entered Mauritania and the ongoing conflict in Mali continues to bring even more. The UN reported that in March there were 58,000 Malian refugees in Mauritania. In addition to needy Mauritanian citizens, these refugees also rely on food assistance. The UN World Food Program (WFP) and USAID’s Office of Food for Peace (FFP) give cash-based food assistance to around 55,000 Malians who live in the Mbera refugee camp in southeastern Mauritania.
  10. Malnutrition a key issue: The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has formed a chart that reveals the risk factors that drive the most death and disability combined in Mauritania. This chart ranks malnutrition as the chief risk factor from 2007 to 2017.

When one considers these top 10 facts about hunger in Mauritania, one might not be able to see a bright future for this country arising any time soon. But with the work of organizations around the world who are both providing aid to Mauritania and raising awareness of its food and nutrition crisis, one can hope that one day hunger in Mauritania will no longer be an issue.

– Jacob Stubbs
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

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

modern day slavery shocking facts
The facts about modern day slavery are shocking and remain largely unknown to much of society. Below are the top modern day slavery facts.

 

Top Modern Day Slavery Facts

 

1. When Americans think about slavery, what often comes to mind is the transatlantic slave trade, Africans displaced from their homeland and the Underground Railroad. Though slavery has officially been abolished, modern day slavery exists. Slavery is not simply a thing of the past. It is estimated that there are anywhere from 20 to 30 million people who are in slavery at this moment. This is a large increase from the 12.3 million slaves estimated in the 2005 study done by the International Labour Organization (ILO). The number is huge and leaves many wondering what can be done to help those who endure the cruelties of others who enslaved and stripped these individuals of their freedom.

2. Contemporary slavery is not restricted to just one area. Forced labor lies within the realms of sexual abuse and prostitution, state-enforced work and many others. According to the ILO, someone is enslaved if he or she is:

  • forced to work through mental or physical threat
  • owned or controlled by an “employer,” usually through mental or physical abuse or the threat of abuse
  • dehumanized, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as “property”
  • physically constrained or has restrictions placed on freedom of movement

3. As of 1981, slavery is not considered legal anywhere. That year, Mauritania became the last country in the world to abolish slavery. However, the act of owning slaves didn’t become a crime in Mauritania until 2007. That being said, many in the country defied the law regardless. In fact, only one slave-owner has been successfully prosecuted in Mauritania. Despite the fact that slavery is illegal, it continues to happen and the practice affects all ages, races and genders.

4. Slave-owners often use euphemisms instead of the term “slavery” in order to avoid getting caught. Such euphemisms include: debt bondage, bonded labor, attached labor, restavec (a French word that means “one who stays with”), forced labor and indentured servitude.

5. According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2007 Trafficking in Persons report, there are 800,000 people trafficked across international borders every year; 80 percent of those victims being female. Even more shocking is the fact that 50 percent of these people are children under the age of 18. These victims live within 161 different countries.

6. Slavery doesn’t just reach adults; children are a very large part of contemporary slavery, especially in prostitution. According to the U.S. Department of State, one million children are exploited by the global sex trade every year. The average age a teen enters the American sex trade is 12-14 years of age. These children are typically runaways who were abused sexually at an even younger age.

7. The average cost of a slave is about $90.

Samantha Davis

Sources:  CNN: Freedom ProjectAntislavery.orgCNNAbolitionMedia.org
Photo: Lisa Kristine

 

modern_slavery_humans
Mauritania was the last country to officially abolish slavery in 1981, and slavery was only recognized as a criminal offense in 2007–almost 150 years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in the US. Despite the 2007 law, an estimated 10 to 20 percent of the 3.4 million Mauritanians still live in a state of slavery today, and only one person has been successfully prosecuted for slavery in Mauritania, a meager success for the victims and all those fighting for the abolition of slavery.

How is it possible that between 340,000 and 680,000 Mauritanians are still modern day slaves? For the first time, a journalist, John Sutter, was able to enter Mauritania and directly report the accounts of slaves and of former owners.

He recounts the story of Moulkheir Mint Yarba, a young woman who, as a slave’s child, automatically became a slave herself. After being separated from her parents at an early age to live with her master, she lived with sheep and camels during her childhood. After reaching puberty, she was repeatedly raped by her master. She told CNN reporter Shutter that “All of [her] children were born into slavery. And all of her children were the result of rape by her master.”

But Moulkheir resigned herself to her condition, she “couldn’t see beyond her small, enslaved world,” until the day her owner killed her baby. It happened while she was herding sheep. As she was returning from the desert, she came back to a haunting vision: her newborn daughter was left by her owner to die in the desert sun. The master wanted to punish her for bearing a child–his child. He said she “would work faster without the child on her back.”

This case is far from being an isolated incident. A 2012 United Nations survey estimated that “for every 100,000 live births in the country, 510 women die from pregnancy, with significant disparities between the death rates of Black slaves and Arab owners. An even greater concern is that due to female slaves being forced to have children with their owners, an estimated 71.3 births per 1,000 live births are adolescents who suffer extreme mental and physical abuse.”

Slavery in Mauritania is not just physical, it is not only about shackles and chains; it is also psychological. Slavery is so highly embedded in mentalities that it has become the normative state of mind for most Mauritanians. Slaves are led to believe that the state of slavery in which they evolve is “normal.” A leader of an abolitionist group told Shutter that “the multigenerational slave, the slave descending from many generations, he is a slave even in his own head. And he is totally submissive. He is ready to sacrifice himself, even, for his own master” for he believes he will go to heaven if he serves his owner well.

Mauritanian slavery is “the slavery American plantation owners dreamed of”. Shutter’s shocking documentary effectively shows the true state of slavery in Mauritania, interviewing actual slaves and former slave owners. Although the abolitionist movement’s influence is increasing abroad, Mauritania’s situation on slavery is widely unknown. The subject is so taboo that Mauritanian officials deny the very existence of slavery in their country. Abolitionists have told Shutter that some have been captured and tortured by government officials so that they wouldn’t speak out.

Mauritania is a developing country. The life expectancy is 57 years old, but great disparities exist between slaves and owners. A slave’s health comes last, and some have never been to the doctor. But slaves stay with their owners despite their evident exploitation and maltreatment. Indeed, for many, freedom means starvation, and many of those who escape end up returning to their homes because they cannot afford a life on their own.

– Lauren Yeh

Sources: Forbes, FemInspire, CNN

Poverty in Mauritania

The West African country Mauritania borders the North Atlantic Ocean and marks the western edge of the Sahara desert. Like many countries in North Africa, it is rich in oil and other natural resources. Unfortunately, Mauritania itself has one of the lowest GDP in Africa; like similarly resource-rich countries, it, too, suffers from what is known as the resource curse. Poverty in Mauritania is quite prevalent — the World Food Programme estimates 42% of the population is in poverty — and is caused by a number of factors.

1. Geography and Climate: Only 0.5% of Mauritania’s land — a little over 1 million square kilometers — is suited for agriculture, but a majority of Mauritanians still depend on agricultural subsistence or raising livestock. Food insecurity is a severe problem due to incessant cycles of drought and erosion; such cycles were severe enough to force nomadic Mauritanians to the main cities in the 1970s and 80s. Because of Mauritania’s placement against the Atlantic Ocean and prevailing winds, the country is afflicted by intense dust storms at times.

2. Increasing Terrorist Threat Discouraging Investment: Travel to Mauritania has been discouraged in the last decade as militant Islamic groups have moved into the North Africa region; kidnappings of travelers for ransom or by al-Qaida groups (AQIM) have been reported by US State Department travel advisories as recently as May of this year. Travel is particularly dangerous in the northern and southeastern regions of the country. The security risk discourages foreign investment, especially in extractive industries where natural resources are located in rural areas.

3. Spill-Over from Neighboring Conflicts: Even though health care services are strained for funding for Mauritanian citizens, the country also faces further difficulty due to conflict that spills over from neighboring countries. Tens of thousands of refugees from Mali fled ahead of the conflict erupting in their country; the Mbera camp is one such refugee camp in which NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has worked extensively. These camps are often far removed from the rest of the country, straining degrading or nonexistent infrastructure required for transportation of health care supplies and food.

On the whole, Mauritania has a great opportunity for improving the living conditions of its population. Its vast natural resources have been left relatively untapped — oil was discovered first only 12 years ago — which presents an opportunity for responsible resource extraction and processing so as to avoid the worst of the “resource curse.” The country has a long relationship with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and its inflation rates have remained steady in the past few years despite the risk for severe crises due to high food prices. If foreign investors can find a secure environment in which to responsibly invest in its vast natural resources, Mauritania has great potential to face — and overcome — its extreme poverty.

Naomi Doraisamy

Sources: CIA World Factbook, International Monetary Fund, MSF, World Bank,World Food Programme
Photo: Cultureist