Some 13,500 metric tons of food, valued at US$5.7 million, will be distributed over the next nine months in the Assaba, Brakna, and Tagant regions where World Vision operates extensive community development projects. The US$600,000 cost of delivering the food is being financed by World Vision Canada (37%), World Vision Germany (13%), World Vision Switzerland (13%), and World Vision U.S.A. (37%). The rations include cereals, beans, oil, wheat-soya blend, and sugar. More than 80 local staff are being recruited to help implement the program.
This is the first time in World Vision Mauritania's 20 year history that the agency has been awarded such a large general food distribution contract from WFP. Three other international agencies -- Caritas, Lutheran World Federation, Oxfam -- also signed contracts with WFP.
"World Vision is the first NGO in Mauritania to be entrusted with this amount of food," said Demba Diop, World Vision Mauritania's national program coordinator. "WFP has evaluated our capacity and seen that we have the structure and the capacity to deliver the goods. As a Mauritanian, I am proud that World Vision took a lead in providing international government donors with critical information and reports that initially drew attention to the crisis here."
According to the WFP, Mauritania lies at the epicentre of West Africa's food crisis, with an estimated 420,000 people out of a total population of 2.7 million at risk of starvation.
In January 2002, a freak rain storm killed nearly 120,000 cattle, sheep and goats on which households depend between harvests. The storm rotted already dry pasturelands and destroyed about a quarter of all harvested crops. Then, in June and July, late, low and erratic rainfall delayed the start of the cropping season, possibly for good in some areas. With farming communities across Mauritania already suffering from a poor 2001 harvest, these natural disasters drained grain reserves and forced families to skip meals to cope with the food shortages. Many people are borrowing money against the next harvest -- whose outcome is likely to be poor -- to pay for what little food can be found in rural markets.
Evidence of malnutrition now abounds among children and adults in the form of exhaustion and weight-loss, night blindness, dehydration, diarrhoea, and hunger-related deaths.
"Thousands of people are counting on us to get this food to them," says Myles Harrison, World Vision Mauritania's operations director. "A lot of work went into securing the grant, but now the real work of getting the food out there begins. We hope to begin delivery in the next few weeks."