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Finding Solutions to Fight Malnutrition and Drought in West Africa

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Lowering the Casualty Toll of Drought

On a drive across drought-stricken regions of Mauritania, the desert is punctuated by slowly decaying animal carcasses among the thorn trees and leafless baobabs. Each carcass represents a piece of the calamity for rural communities in this West African nation, which depend on livestock to generate income.

Every year, men and boys take herds of goats, sheep and cattle on long migrations, as far as neighboring Mali and Senegal, in search of pasture and water.

The current drought – Mauritania’s worst in 15 years – has contributed to a food crisis across the Sahel region of West Africa, putting more than 15 million people at risk. The U.N. Children’s Fund says it has raised only 38 percent of what it needs to address hunger in the region.

With less water, animals are at increased risk of disease and death. Dehydration and lack of forage are constant concerns. Animals in stressed conditions are more susceptible to disease. Water sources become increasingly contaminated through overuse, and the convergence of large herds around these watering holes creates easy opportunities for large-scale disease transmission.

For poor Mauritanian communities, the consequences of drought and animal disease can be tragic. Livestock provide a key source of income and food throughout the year, particularly when insufficient rainfall compromises production of staple food crops. In these water-scarce periods, successfully maintaining the herd is critical to a family’s survival.

When the health of their livestock is compromised by drought, many pastoralists resort to a process known as “destocking” – selling a significant portion of the herd to maintain the health of the remaining animals. This can help to reduce disease and dedicate scarce food and water resources to the livestock they retain, but at a cost: destocking periods mean reduced profits as increased supply drives animal prices down.

The drought has brought other costs. The early onset of herd migration in search of food and water takes men and boys away from their normal seasonal income-generating activities such as farming and trading, and animal deaths reduce earnings even further.

Families suffer. Reduced income means less food for children, the inability to buy medicines or send sick family members for treatment, and the sale of such vital household assets as farm equipment and tools. As a result, malnutrition rates among children and pregnant women rise, communities’ overall health deteriorates, and the next year’s earning ability is compromised.

That’s where Counterpart International comes in.

Through its programs in Mauritania, Counterpart works with pastoralists to promote improved animal health, especially during critical water shortages like the current drought. Counterpart has constructed five animal health parks – fenced facilities where herders can bring their livestock for vaccinations.

Partnering with government to reach more

Counterpart works in coordination with the Mauritanian Ministry of Rural Development, which provides inexpensive vaccines and the services of 57 government livestock extension agents, to offer animal health fairs.

Simple vaccination campaigns protect livestock from disease, and improved information and training about good animal health practices help empower pastoralists to manage herds effectively.

Before this year’s drought, Counterpart worked with the Ministry of Rural Development to offer vaccination campaigns that protected more than 200,000 animals in the Assaba and Hodh el-Gharbi regions from disease.

Although Mauritania’s weather conditions may always present a challenge for herders, improved access to vaccinations and animal health services can help them better overcome these challenges and maintain vital sources of income for their families.

 

Related Stories:

The State of the World’s Mothers

Women’s Land Rights Bring Wide Benefits

The Farm Bill: What Does It Mean for Food Crises?

 

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34 comments

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11:59AM PDT on May 29, 2012

Drought resistant food sources will be good to have in the U.S. the way things are trending.

3:47AM PDT on May 21, 2012

It does sound more sensible to keep births down to the number of children that can be decently fed, as others have mentioned here.
Children are the future, but giving birth to babies that will die of malnutrition means suffering not just for the poor babes during their short lives, but also for their mothers and the community as a whole.
If programs like the above develop and provide more food then births can be increased again.

1:44AM PDT on May 21, 2012

Interesting article.

9:33AM PDT on May 20, 2012

thanks

6:41AM PDT on May 20, 2012

thanks for sharing

6:39AM PDT on May 20, 2012

We should be thankful for even the little that we have, because there are people out there worse off, with practically nothing. So do not complain.

10:34PM PDT on May 19, 2012

Recommend birth control.

9:12PM PDT on May 19, 2012

thanks

8:35PM PDT on May 19, 2012

I love this story ....hope they can continue without some dumb war or some corrupt officials moving in on them ...
Educate and enable women and they will chose to have fewer mouths to feed. I think as a rich western country it would be great to provide FREE contraception too.

3:03PM PDT on May 19, 2012

Our charity, NPI, has developed an advanced counter-desertification program to help grow food, feed, fiber, niche, & green energy crops on desert lands (1/3rd of all lands). NPI will soon be demonstrating this technology in Kenya & the SW U.S., to include the Navajo Nation. Areas w/ drought/ extreme drought may use these techniques to create jobs & produce food crops & other crops needed to improve local population well-being. To see early counter-desertification efforts, please do a Google search for Thar Desert, in NW India. By working to make the world's deserts green, some two billion nutrient deficient people can have the foods they need ...while supporting a massive carbon sequestration effort (via new desert vegetation) to help slow global warming. Co-ops, like the one(s) described in this article, may be organized to undertake a new means to farm arid/ desert lands. By helping to start farming on all desert lands, the U.S. is expected to save trillions of dollars in the fight against global warming. This is one time when overseas development will have massive benefits for the U.S.

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