Mauritania

Cattle dying, stench of death: Mauritania, Senegal face drought

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by Christine Hahn - West Africa Regional Communications Manager
The smell of dead animals is filling the dust-filled fields of West Africa as the region faces a catastrophic drought after a summer with no rain.

Mauritania is the worst hit; the country's rainfall records which date back to 1954, reveal that this is the first time on record the country received no rain in July.

Cattle are dying by the hundreds and rotting in the fields, said World Vision Mauritania National Director Charles Ossey, who toured Area Development Programs in the Tagant and Assaba regions last week.

"I saw first-hand the parched ground which should be green with grass by now, smelled the stench of dead animals and met with regional officials, local herdsmen, farmers and World Vision personnel. Everyone is talking about the beginnings of a drought," said Ossey.

With no vegetation for the animals, farmers have moved their animals to the southern border where some vegetation exists, to keep them alive.

As a result, women and children in Mauritania now have no access to fresh milk and meat.

"We are talking about hundreds of thousands of people being affected and children are the most vulnerable, obviously. This is going to be a record breaking drought," said Stan Doerr, World Vision's program director for the Assaba and Tagant regions.

Even if a short rainy season does occur in Mauritania, the best case scenario is a 40 per cent loss in crop production. If no rains fall, that number could jump to 90 per cent of crops destroyed.

"You can understand why people are worried and praying daily for rain. While we are hoping and praying that the rains will come, we are preparing for the worst," said Ossey.

The situation isn't much better in Mauritania's neighbor to the south, Senegal.

While many regions of Senegal did receive heavy rain August 10, levels are still far below normal.

The regions where World Vision Senegal works typically receive 24 inches of rainfall per year.

As of August 12, they have received only 2-5 inches.

The situation is being described by Senegal government officials as "menacing."

Last week, the country also held a national day of prayer, for rain.

"All the warning lights are flashing red," stated Senegal's vice-president of the national rural development association.

If more rain doesn't come in August, the results could be "catastrophic" for the country, said Torrey Olsen, National Director for World Vision Senegal.

"We are prepared to start to respond to this as early as September if necessary. Even if the rains fall, starting now, it will still be catastrophic, agriculturally speaking," said Olsen.

The rain however, will come too late for most varieties of millet, sorghum and peanuts and many farmers have already planted their seed.

More than 5 million people living in Senegal will be directly affected by the drought, said Mansour Fall, World Vision Senegal Director of Special Programmes.