By Moustapha Diallo, IFRC
Mingui is dry. On the long road leading to this village in Magta Lajar, in Mauritania, pastures for livestock have vanished and there is no body of water to be seen. The landscape consists of thorny trees and never-ending sand dunes. Carcasses of animals littering the road witness the severity of the drought.
Sitting in the tent in which she lives, Zeina Mint Mahmoud has not yet prepared lunch. It’s almost 4pm and her children will certainly go to bed hungry, unless a miracle occurs.
Since the failure of last year’s harvest, Zeina has been forced to depend on manual labour to feed her family. She makes ropes out of used clothes and sells them in the markets, but business is not always good. Sometimes she prepares couscous during family ceremonies in return for a modest financial compensation of less than one euro.
She said: “My husband is old and sick, and I am obliged to take care of the family. It’s very tough. Sometimes we lack food for a whole day. It hurts my heart to see my children suffering under my own eyes and I can’t do anything for them.”
Her family used to be well-off in the past, with many cattle and goats. Today she has lost everything due to consecutive years of drought.
“With the absence of rain, our animals could not find sufficient food or water,” she explained. “So, they were progressively weaker and sicker. As my husband was also sick and could not go off with the livestock to find water or pastures, I was obliged to sell them before they all died.”
Many other people in Magta Lahjar are barely getting by. In the village of Lekra in Jonaba, one of the most affected communes in the region, eating became a luxury. Ahmed Ould Hadiya Ould Bilal, the chief of the village, said: “Many people wake up hungry, spend the day hungry, and go to bed hungry.”
Fatimatou Mint Bilal’s husband walked out on her more than five years ago. Now every day is a struggle to feed her eight children, particularly since the failure of her last harvest. To survive, she walks several miles every day to gather firewood that she sells in town for few ouguiyas – the local currency. With this hard-earned money, she can offer only one single meal of couscous and beans to her family per day.
When the rains fail in the village of Lekra, women like Fatimatou used to survive with the harvests from the market garden cooperative. But today water is scarce. The well they used to irrigate the crops such as tomatoes, carrots and onions is almost dry. Unanimously, they decided to use the water from the well only for drinking.
Amazingly, Lekra does not report yet any severe acute malnutrition among children thanks to the village solidarity. “We are sharing the few we have amongst us but for how long again? Are people waiting for someone to become terribly ill due to malnutrition to assist us?” asked village chief Ahmed.
Lancelot Mermet, Operations Manager with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Mauritania, warned: “Urgent action is desperately needed as the next harvests are expected in September.
“If the rains fail yet again, Zeina, Fatimatou Mint Bilal, their families, their communities and many others like them in Magta Lahjar, will face an even more bleak future.”
IFRC has launched an emergency appeal of 1.6 million Swiss francs to support the Mauritanian Red Crescent Society to provide immediate assistance to 17,400 people. The funds from the appeal will be used to provide food assistance (cash) and nutrition support to the most vulnerable people, while focusing on long term resilience-building solutions. The most vulnerable agropastoral families will also be helped to rebuild their livelihoods.