Mauritania – A Life or Death Numbers Game


UPDATE 10 March 2012:
The fund raising appeal machine is getting into high gear now, with many major aid agencies highlighting a food crisis in the Sahel, and complaining about how the world dragged its feet last time, and earlier action is needed. However, this is not a new story in any Sahel country, and certainly not in Mauritania, where the alarm was raised last August but failed to win international attention until January of this year, when the “big guns” climbed on board.

Sahel food crisis : drought stricken South of Mauritania

Sahel food crisis : drought stricken South of Mauritania where lack of jobs force people to resort subsistence farming. This meagre existence is euphemistically referred to as "employment".

Back in August, Aziz responded to calls for help to deal with drought by telling people in rural communities not to worry, and promising rain would come. Well, those promised rains never arrived, and people are indeed worried. By November 2011, the government had concocted a scheme to seek funding from the international community and an emergency appeal to raise US$157 million was launched. This appeal, which you might see referred to as a “state of emergency” by international aid agencies, is almost a secret inside Mauritania. As is common with press relations about fund raising, you will not see mention of the US$50 already promised by Saudi Arabia, or the money available through significant sources of funding in Africa or the Gulf.

In the middle of January, after Mauritania and neighbouring countries had been rocked by widespread protests over basic commodities such as food, clean water and electricity, Aziz promised to keep food prices low. But 11 increases in the price of fuel in the past year have turned that into another impossible, broken, promise. Fuel prices are fundamental to the cost of food and water in a country like Mauritania, which covers a vast area of over 1 million square kilometres, and where 70% of all food consumed is imported.

The IMF flatters Mauritania with lavish praise for their financial mismanagement, cooing over an increase in foreign exchange reserves for which no one, not even the IMF I suspect, will ever see the actual calculations. Less publicity is give to the whopping US$70.9 million in loans via the IMF racked up since Aziz took control after a military coup in August 2008, for which less than US$155,000 in interest repayments is recorded. The IMF pins all of this on anticipated revenue from mining (mainly gold, copper and iron), neglecting to underscore the paltry value of 3% which is Mauritania’s cut of the proceeds.

Where are these millions being spent? The health minister recently boasted that almost US$80 million had been spent on healthcare in the past 3 years, including building 6 new hospitals. But they have a serious shortage of trained doctors, the infant mortality rate is over 75 per 1,000, and the only way to get medical treatment for serious health problems – say, if the President’s son leaves his wife and baby at home to go out joyriding and happens to shoot you – is to be flown out of the country. Sadly, only a handful of Mauritania’s inhabitants are privileged (or, in the case of Badr’s victim, unlucky) enough to afford such perks, and the rest are struggling under the burden of inefficient and corrupt administration. Recently, the World Bank reported that their Health and Nutrition Support Project was rendered ineffective because:

During four and half years of the project, there were two coup d’etats, (the first one on August 3, 2005, and the other on August 6, 2008); the Prime Minister changed four times, the Minister of Health had changed eight times, and the Director of Directorate of Financial Affairs (DAF) changed four times. All these changes occurred because of the political instability which prevailed in the country during the project period.

Mauritania, september 2008

Mauritanian Camel Market - Image via Wikipedia

Very few of Mauritania’s tiny online community even acknowledge the issues raised by the drought. They don’t talk about the fundraising appeal launched by the Mauritanian Red Crescent or other Human Rights Groups, and they don’t talk about the periodic alarms raised by UNICEF or other groups warning of the dire consequences of 1.2 million people being affected. They know that behind the drought, and the push to get international funding, and the clamour of agencies in the media, there is only more politics and more corruption. The offline community might not know the details, but they know Aziz, heralded as the “President of the Poor” in his election campaign. The people understand now that he was not advertising himself as their champion, but rather making a prediction that, under his administration, the entire country would be further reduced to grinding poverty.

While the government in Mauritania rakes in a tidy sum from loans and grants, actual economic data on the country is almost non-existent, and stories often contradict. For example the Mauritania PM says a healthy mining sector helped the country achieve record foreign reserves (to pay for massive imports) and stable economic growth despite international financial issues, but a couple of days later we hear that Canadian giant Kinross shares were hit by a 6-9 month delay in exploiting the Tasiast mine, which it plans to make the biggest in the world. Since then, they have announced that they intend to write off the US$4.6 billion they paid for Tasiast when they took over Red Rock. How much of that $4.6bn did Mauritanians get? None. Zero. Zilch. How can a country of just 3.2 million people be literally sitting on the biggest goldmine in the world and yet be scraping around for a couple of million dollars to stave of the effects of drought on over a third of the population?

These stories illustrate and highlight the predicament of people in Mauritania:

CERF Allocates US$4 million to UN agencies helping relieve Mauritania Drought Crisis

WFP Mauritania

WFP Mauritania

19 January 2012: Dry spells and the poor distribution of rainfall during the 2011 growing season resulted in a significant decline in cereal production. It is expected that the low coping capacity of households will result in progressively worsening livelihoods and above-average needs for emergency food assistance.

In response, the CERF has allocated US $4,005,971 to five UN agencies in response to the emergency. The World Food Programme (WFP) has been allocated $2,000,139 for management of acute malnutrition among vulnerable groups. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has been allocated $596,230 to manage child malnutrition, and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has been given $600,336 to assist farmers affected by food insecurity. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has been provided $426,912 to support reproductive health services for vulnerable groups while theWorld Health Organization (WHO) has been provided $382,354 to address severe malnutrition among children. More than 100,000 people will benefit from CERF funding.

via UN CERF – Mauritania 2012.

OIG identifies “losses” of $6.7 million, including misappropriations of $4.2 million

On 31 October 2011, the Global Fund’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released the final report of two separate investigations into five grants managed by two principal recipients (PRs):

  • Comité National de Lutte Contre le SIDA (SENLS) – one grant: HIV, Round 5
  • United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – four grants: malaria, Rounds 2, 6; TB, Rounds 2, 6

The investigations were conducted between 2009 and 2011.

The OIG identified what it called “losses” of $6.7 million, including $4.2 million in funds that were misappropriated, $0.8 million in ineligible expenditures and $1.7 million in unsupported expenditures. The OIG said that these losses should be repaid to the Global Fund.

(Note: The OIG defines “misappropriation” as “the knowing or intentional use of the property or funds of another person for one’s own use or other unauthorized purpose, particularly by a public official, or by any person with a responsibility to care for and protect another’s assets.” “Misappropriation” includes what the OIG calls “fraud and abuse.” The OIG defines “ineligible” expenditures as costs not in line with the budget and work plan approved by the Global Fund. The OIG defines “unsupported” expenditures as those lacking adequate supporting documents to provide evidence that the activity took place and that the expenditure was in line with programme activities.)

The losses that the OIG identified in Mauritania are not new, in the sense that they had been announced in December 2010 in an OIG progress report to the Global Fund Board (see GFOarticle). However, the breakdown of the losses into the various categories was different in the report released on 31 October as compared to the OIG’s earlier announcements.


US$ 17.9 million IFAD loan and grant to boost the agricultural sector in Mauritania

Rome, 3 November 2011 – A US$17.9 million loan and grant from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to Islamic Republic of Mauritania will help to improve the incomes and the living conditions of poor rural households depending on agriculture, the United Nations rural poverty agency has announced.

The loan and grant agreements for the second phase of the Poverty Reduction project in Aftout South and Karakoro regions were signed today in Rome by Sidi Ould Bebaha Ould Tah, Minister for Economic Affairs and Development of Mauritania, and Kanayo F. Nwanze, President of IFAD.

Agriculture, livestock and fishing are the main source of income for the people of Mauritania. While the country’s agriculture is fragile due to recurrent drought and the desertification, the sector employs more than 56 per cent of the country’s population.

During this second phase of the project, the Government of Mauritania and IFAD will work together to boost the potential of the agriculture sector by enabling vulnerable rural households to significantly increase their production, part of which will be used to improve their food security; to create jobs for young people in agriculture, and other related occupations. The project will also focus on capacity-building activities to help women to acquire access to new economic opportunities and responsibilities within the rural organizations.

The project will build on the accomplishments of the first phase, which began in 2002 in an area known in Mauritania as the “poverty triangle”. During this time, the percentage of households suffering from periodic food shortage decreased and improvements increased such as the status of children’s nutrition, overall living conditions and basic infrastructure.

The second phase of the project will help build an economic and social fabric based on sustainable natural resource management that will be inclusive to poor rural households, particularly women and young people. More than 21,000 vulnerable rural households, women and young people will benefit from the project.

To date, IFAD will have financed 13 programmes and projects in Mauritania for a total investment of US$115.1million benefiting 181,950 households.

via IFAD

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