Delivering emergency food relief may not seem like the best way to make people self-reliant, but one UN program in Mauritania is tying its aid efforts to education in order to build towards a more sustainable future.
The desert landscape of Mauritania, in West Africa, lends itself to exotic images on-screen. But, in reality, life here can be harsh and unforgiving. Ninety percent of the country is covered by sand. With less than one percent of its land capable of producing sustainable crops, the government imports two thirds of its cereals for the nation's nearly three million population. But after three successive years of severe drought, the chronic problem of food shortage has now become a crisis. Famine now threatens tens of thousands of lives. The government has declared a state of emergency and appealed for international assistance. The World Food Programme, WFP, has set up nutrition centers to deliver food aid to women and children. In addition to emergency relief, the UN agency also carried out long-term activities to promote self-reliance. Philippe Guyon Le Bouffy is WFP representative in Mauritania.
PHILIPPE GUYON LE BOUFFY
In all the activities carried out by the World Food Programme, food aid is used as a tool to provide sustainable assistance. It aims to create long-term benefits to the families and communities, providing them with the necessary means to survive by themselves and also to pursue a better life.
Education is one of the best ways to ensure a sustainable future and to lift people out of poverty. But in rural villages, only half of the children go to school. For those who do make it, they often attend classes on an empty stomach. Aghla, like all children here, comes from a poor family. She likes to study and wants to become a teacher. But it's hard to concentrate when one is feeling hungry. Many end up dropping out or repeating grades. WFP has traditionally sponsored a school-feeding program to help increase rural school attendance particularly. Now such programs have become all the more necessary as more parents become desperate to feed their children. Including Aghla's mother, Mariam.
I am grateful for the program. It feeds my children and allows them to learn to read and write. Thank God for that. I also have orphan children who lost their father.
Since the school added a free lunch, enrollment in Aghla's school has more than doubled. The WFP program is one of the big attractions, says school director, Mohamed Lemine.
Apparently, the schools have benefited a great deal from the feeding program. Especially in areas where there are no schools, children will have to walk long distances from surrounding villages.
Children trek across the desert to attend school five days a week and 180 days a year, as long as classes are held. Their aim is to get a nutritious meal, an education, and to survive. The desert, whether it's beautiful or hostile, is not their concern. To them, it's the landscape within which they struggle to live, and with help from the international community, to create a better life. This report was prepared by Patricia Chan and Ricardo Lobo for the United Nations.