#Mauritania’s Emergency Food Programme Under Fire


By Mohamed Abderrahmane

The sun is beating down on Nouakchott, the Mauritanian capital, and Habi Amadou Tidjane Diop is a tired and frustrated woman. Seated on an empty upturned bucket, the mother of nine is waiting in a long queue to buy food.

“I got here early because it’s Thursday and I need to buy groceries for both today and Friday – four kilogrammes of rice, two kilos of sugar, four kg of pasta and two litres of oil,” Diop told IPS.

The shop, in the Medina 3 neighbourhood of the capital, is one of 400 set up across the city to sell staple foods to the city’s poorest residents at subsidised prices. The manager, Sidi Ould Aly, explained that it’s part of the government’s nationwide “Programme Emel 2012”, intended to reduce the impact of a drought which has driven food prices beyond the buying power of many people in this arid West African country.

Figures released in 2010 by Mauritania’s National Statistics Office put the country’s poverty rate at 42 percent. This already vulnerable nation is now experiencing severe food insecurity, according to a report published by the World Food Programme (WFP) in December 2011. The WFP estimated that by the end of last year, 800,000 Mauritanians were in the grip of a food crisis linked to drought.

One of Mauritania’s “Hope 2012” Stores

A study released in February by international charity Save the Children and several partners found that more than a million people would be affected by the crisis between June and September.

Mohamad Baro, a nutritionist with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Nouakchott, told IPS that one in eight Mauritanian children between six and 24 months is suffering from malnutrition.

In response to the crisis, the government has introduced the Emel programme, with half of the programme’s 137-million-dollar cost coming from the national budget, and the balance from international partners. The programme, which was launched at the end of January, provides staple foods at subsidised prices for the poorest, as well as fodder for livestock, and vouchers that pastoralists can use to access water and veterinary assistance for their animals.

Assessing the programme in June, Prime Minister Moulaye Ould Mohamed Laghdaf told parliament, “Over the past four months, the programme’s 1,235 stores have distributed 150,000 tonnes of assistance, including 50,000 tonnes of food and 100,000 tonnes of animal feed.”

Popular dissatisfaction

But Diop and the others waiting in the intense heat at the Medina 3 store say they are disappointed not only by the long lines, but by the meagre daily ration sold to each household.

“I got home with two kilos of rice, one kilo of sugar and a litre of oil, which is not enough,” the mother of nine told IPS.

Mamadou Samba Sy and his two wives have an even larger number of people to take care of. While Sy is satisfied with the quality of the food from the Emel 2012 stores, as well as the prices, which are lower than in the open market, he too complains about the amounts available.

“Someone like me, responsible for two households with a dozen children, can spend the whole day queuing and return with one or two kilos of food,” he said.

Meanwhile, outside the capital, livestock herders desperate for food for their animals in the parched countryside are also critical of the programme.

Hacen Ould Taleb, president of an umbrella group representing agro-sylvo-pastoralists, complained about the quality of fodder provided, saying it’s not suitable for small ruminants like sheep or goats. He told IPS that herders with a small number of animals have gained nothing from the Emel programme. “Only the big operators and wheat traders wheat have benefited from the operation.”

Khalil Ould Khairi, president of the Mauritanian Association for Consumer Rights, said some of the animal feed being supplied is causing more harm than good.”There’s one foul-smelling feed variety which upsets the digestion of both camels and cows, quickly leading to the animals dying.”

Parliamentary scrutiny

In June, the lower house of parliament summoned Prime Minister Laghdaf to appear before it so legislators could question him over the management of the programme.

Members of parliament from both the ruling party and the opposition vehemently criticised the aid programme’s management, finding fault with both the quality of food and the locations chosen for the stores.

Ruling party MP Houssein Ahmed Hady told Laghdaf that citizens are unanimous in saying that Emel has not measured up to their expectations. He described the management of the emergency scheme as chaotic.

“The programme started seven months late,” opposition MP Moustapha Ould Bedredine told IPS, “the quantities distributed are insignificant and its management has been plagued by irregularities at all levels.”

Bedredine accused the government of using the programme to buy people’s political support, even as the country’s pastoralists are under serious threat.

Ahmed Ould Daddah, from the Democratic Forces Party, warned the government that the country’s livestock herders face catastrophe. “An urgent and effective solution must be found… to avoid the worst.” he cautioned.

via IPS

Is Destructive Addiction Accelerating Poverty in America?


Even those with incomes have less “wealth”

Year after year, federal spending on poverty programs has been going up, but we still see more and more people who have no margin to guard against unexpected expenses or job loss. At the same time, for different reasons, Americans who are not impoverished have seen their wealth decline sharply.  In this Brookings Podcast video interview, Ron Haskings discusses poverty in America.

Child Poverty and Deprivation Concerns

Report Card 10, from UNICEF’s Office of Research, looks at child poverty and child deprivation across the industrialized world, comparing and ranking countries’ performance. This international comparison, says the Report, proves that child poverty in these countries is not inevitable, but policy susceptible – and that some countries are doing much better than others at protecting their most vulnerable children.

“The data reinforces that far too many children continue to go without the basics in countries that have the means to provide,” said Gordon Alexander, Director of UNICEF’s Office of Research. “The report also shows that some countries performed well – when looking at what is largely pre crisis data – due to the social protection systems that were in place. The risk is that in the current crisis we won’t see the consequences of poor decisions until much later.”

“The report makes clear that some governments are doing much better at tackling child deprivation than others,” said Mr Alexander. “The best performers show it is possible to address poverty within the current fiscal space. On the flip side, failure to protect children from today’s economic crisis is one of the most costly mistakes a society can make.”

Is Rampant Military Spending Responsible?

More than half of every dollar Americans pay into taxes goes toward military spending, according to an analysis in an Al-Jazeera video featuring a conversation between radio host Dennis Bernstein and journalist Dave Lindorff.

“People have to realize that 53 cents of every dollar that they are paying into taxes is going to the military,” Lindorff says. “It’s an astonishing figure. There is an enormous, enormous amount of money being blown on war and killing and destruction.”

Of the proposed $3 trillion budget, Lindorff says, $717 billion would be allocated to the Pentagon budget; a $158 billion “contingency fund” would be used for military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan; $40 billion in “black box” intelligence spending.

“They never tell us how much they spend on the CIA, NSA and DIA, and all these different intelligence activities, which are all war-related,” he says. An error in testimony about two years ago an error in Congressional testimony led to the revelation that the covert intelligence budget was around $37 billion, Lindorff says, adding that he suspects the budget is really closer to $60 billion or $70 billion.

Poverty Impacts Life Expectancy

Despite modest gains in lifespan over the past century, the United States still trails many of the world’s countries when it comes to life expectancy, and its poorest citizens live approximately five years less than more affluent persons, according to a new study from Rice University and the University Colorado at Boulder.

The study, “Stagnating Life Expectancies and Future Prospects in an Age of Uncertainty,” used time-series analysis to evaluate historical data on U.S. mortality from the Human Mortality Database. The study authors reviewed data from 1930 through 2000 to identify trends in mortality over time and forecast life expectancy to the year 2055. Their research will be published in an upcoming issue of Social Science Quarterly.

Although the researchers found that the U.S. can expect very moderate gains in coming years (less than an additional three years through 2055), the U.S. still trails its developed counterparts in life expectancy. For example, the average life expectancy in the U.S. for a person born today is is 78.49, which is significantly lower than people born in Monaco, Macau and Japan, which have the three highest life expectancies (89.68, 84.43 and 83.91 years, respectively). In addition, the most deprived U.S. citizens tend to live five years less than their more affluent countrymen, according to Justin Denney, Rice assistant professor of sociology, who was principal author for the study.

Denney said that in 1930, average life expectancy in the United States was 59.85. By 2000, it rose to 77.1 years. “But when broken down, these numbers show that those gains were mostly experienced between 1930 the 1950s and 1960s,” he said. “Since that time, gains in life expectancy have flattened out.

The Ugly Side of Inequality

“During periods of expansion in length of life, a similar expansion has occurred between more and less advantaged groups – the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, inequality grows and life expectancy is dramatically impacted,” Denney said. “And despite disproportionate spending on health care, life expectancy in the U.S. continues to fall down the ladder of international rankings of length of life. It goes to show that prosperity doesn’t necessarily equal long-term health.”

Denney said many of the chronic conditions that have led to smaller gains in life expectancy are more easily treated when people are more financially stable. He said the study shows “the ugly side of inequality,” and he hopes it will draw attention to the fact that more needs to be done to address stagnating life expectancies in the U.S. and eliminate inequalities in the U.S.

“Even in uncertain times, it is important to look forward in preparing for the needs of future populations,” Denney said. “The results presented here underscore the relevance of policy and health initiatives aimed at improving the nation’s health and reveal important insight into possible limits to mortality improvement over the next five decades.”

News and Comments 7 Feb 2012


Syria crisis: Gulf Arab states expel Syrian ambassadors

Gulf Arab states say they are expelling Syrian ambassadors in their countries and recalling their envoys from Syria.

The Gulf Cooperation Council said Syria had rejected Arab attempts to solve the crisis and end 11 months of bloodshed.

The US closed its embassy in Syria on Monday, and several European countries have recalled their ambassadors.

The moves came as Syrian government forces continued their fierce assault on the restive city of Homs, and Russian officials visited Damascus.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for a solution to the crisis based on Arab League initiatives, days after Russia and China vetoed a UN resolution on Syria.

After meeting Mr Lavrov, Syrian media quoted President Bashar al-Assad as saying he was willing to co-operate with “any efforts towards stability”.

Separately Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, denied reports that he had threatened Qatar’s prime minister during talks at the UN last week. Someone was trying to drive a wedge between Russia and the Arab world, he said.
The GCC said it would urge all other Arab states to adopt “decisive measures” when the Arab League meets next week. The UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy have also recalled their ambassadors

Ambassadors recalled from Syria

  • United States (embassy closed)
  • Europe

  • France
  • UK
  • Italy
  • Spain
  • Netherlands
  • Belgium
  • Gulf Arab states

  • Saudi Arabia
  • Qatar
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Bahrain
  • Oman
  • Kuwait

via BBC

Prop. 8: Gay-marriage ban unconstitutional, court rules – latimes.com

Court strikes down gay marriage ban in LA County

A federal appeals court Tuesday struck down California’s ban on same-sex marriage, clearing the way for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on gay marriage as early as next year.

The 2-1 decision by a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that limited marriage to one man and one woman, violated the U.S. Constitution. The architects of Prop. 8 have vowed to appeal.

The ruling was narrow and likely to be limited to California.

via latimes.com.

Another President Quits – Mohamed Nasheed Steps Down after Maldives Protests

President Nasheed of the Maldives briefs repor...

Mohamed Nasheed

Rather sad that the former human rights and environmental activist didn’t last the course. He was replaced by his vice president after the police and army clashed in the streets of the island nation amid protests after Nasheed ordered the military to arrest Abdulla Mohamed, the chief judge of the Criminal Court. The judge had ordered the release of a government critic he said had been illegally detained.

The crisis came to a head today when hundreds of police demonstrated in the capital, Male, after officials ordered them to withdraw protection for government and opposition supporters protesting close to each other. The withdrawal resulted in a clash that injured at least three people.

Later, troops fired rubber bullets and clashed with the police. When Nasheed visited the police and urged them to end the protest, they refused and instead chanted for his resignation. Mohamed was released after Hassan took power.

Nasheed resigned on TV this morning, and Mohammed Waheed Hassan, who previously worked as a top UNICEF official, was sworn in as the new Maldivian president this afternoon. Soon after, the judge was released.

New Bruce Lee Film

‘I Am Bruce Lee’ tells the amazing story of one of the most iconic human beings ever to enter the public consciousness. Voted as one of the most important people of the 20th century in Time Magazine’s Time 100, as well as one of the Greatest Pop Culture Icons by People Magazine, Bruce Lee continues to be honoured and remembered for his enduring legacy.

In Hong Kong, teams visited the memorial statu...

Water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend

~ Bruce Lee

Scotland Yard has recovered over 300,000,000 emails News of the World said were deleted

They doubled resources on the team and are analysing and are identifying hundreds, perhaps thousands, of possible victims going back over 30 years. Daily Record

Violence in northern Mali forces over 20,000 into exile

UNHCR report on Mali upheaval:

Malian Refugees in Mauritania

Malian Refugees in Mauritania

UNHCR has deployed emergency teams to countries surrounding Mali to help meet the needs of some 20,000 people who have been forced to flee fighting in northern Mali. Most of the displaced are in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.

Fighting between rebel Tuareg groups and governmental forces in the Azawad region of northern Mali began in mid-January.

In the past three weeks, at least 10,000 people are reported to have crossed to Niger, 9,000 have found refuge in Mauritania and 3,000 in Burkina Faso.

Local communities along the border, affected by the food crisis themselves in the Sahel, are sharing their resources with the new arrivals. The authorities have also distributed food. Four additional UNHCR staff are already in Niger and more are on their way. We plan to send aid for 10,000 people from our stockpiles in the region.

Our office in Ouagadougou, in Burkina Faso also reported the arrival of some 3,000 Malian Tuaregs following attacks on their homes and businesses in the Malian capital Bamako and in the nearby town of Kati last week. Many of the new arrivals are staying with host families in Ouagadougou and Bobo Dioulasso, 320 kilometres south-west of the capital. Other new arrivals have been reported in the north west of the country, especially near Djibo, in Soum province. An inter-agency mission, including UNHCR, is scheduled to go there by the end of the week to assess the needs of the people.

Meanwhile in Mauritania UNHCR has sent several missions to the village of Fassala, in the region of Hodh el Chargi 3km from the border with Mali, where over 9,000 people have arrived since 25th January. The mainly ethnic Tuareg Malian refugees come from the region of Léré on the other side of the border. They told UNHCR that they fled fighting between Government forces and rebel Tuareg fighters, fearing retaliation by army troops.

Human Rights Watch Warns of Lead Poisoning Crisis in Nigeria

Thousands of children in northern Nigeria need immediate medical treatment and dozens of villages remain contaminated two years into the worst lead poisoning epidemic in modern history, Human Rights Watch said today while releasing a video on the issue. Four hundred children have died, according to official estimates, yet environmental cleanup efforts have not even begun in numerous affected villages.

Artisanal gold mines are found throughout Zamfara State in northwestern Nigeria, and high levels of lead in the earth and the use of rudimentary mining methods have resulted in an epidemic of lead poisoning among children, Human Rights Watch said. Research by Human Rights Watch in Zamfara in late 2011 found that children are exposed to this lead dust when they process ore in the mines, when their mine worker relatives return home covered with lead dust, and when the lead-filled ore is manually or mechanically crushed at home. Children can also be exposed to toxic lead in contaminated water and food. Healthcare workers in Zamfara State told Human Rights Watch that there have also been high rates of infertility and miscarriage among affected adults.

Politics, Religion, Media – an Unholy Trinity

You might enjoy reading this exclusive article in the Daily Beast about the head of the Washington Times and his roles as unofficial envoy to North Korea for former US President and war criminal at large, George W. Bush. I think it’s great when journalists research and publish this information. But I find myself asking constantly why no action ever ensues. It’s as though ‘publish and be damned’ turned into ‘print and be done’.

Behind The News: Yemen Times

Good, informative story from SourceFabric about the trials, tribulations and revival of Yemen Times, an essential and important source of news from this remarkable country, still dealing with the aftermath of former president’ Saleh’s barbaric regime.

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.

via aidspan.org

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