Drought-prone, chronically hungry Mauritania, with the help of the UN, is reaching out to Arab donors, encouraging them to reach beyond their customary role in development and engage in humanitarian response.
Traditional humanitarian donors are largely members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC). But non-traditional, non-DAC donors’ contributions to humanitarian financing have been increasing in recent years. And with many Western donors cutting budgets amid fears of another recession, the Gulf region has gained influence in aid, especially in countries with large Muslim populations.
In early February, a group of Arab donors visited the food-insecure regions of Brakna and Gorgol, a trip organized by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Gogol and Brakna are severely food insecure. According to the most recent study, from December 2011, acute malnutrition rates surpassed the World Health Organization’s emergency threshold, at 11.7 percent in Gorgol and 12.5 percent in Brakna.
The World Food Programme (WFP), with its partner NGO Au Secours, is targeting 7,000 households across the region with cash transfers of 20,000 ouguiyas per month. It has 120 households on its books in Guosse Village in Brakna.
Chief of Guosse, Sidi Brahim Ould Samba, told IRIN his village, “like so many others, lacks everything… access to water, education and health." Even with ongoing help from the government, WFP, NGOs and other donors, it is never enough to move them much beyond survival, he said.
Guosse villagers rely almost entirely on debts or remittances from families in urban areas to dig themselves out of poverty, said Ould Samba, who called on donors to help them set up a health centre. The nearest reference hospital, he said, is in Aleg, 230km away.
“We need a school, fences to protect their market gardens, and money for income-generating project - not to mention a better water source,” he told donors.
In Beydia Taboyette, a village in Brakna constructed to house people displaced during the 2012 floods, the needs are immense, said chief Abu Ould Hakim. “The floods destroyed our harvest… We face all the basic problems that a recently displaced community would,” he told IRIN.
He thanked his Arab supporters for the visit and support they intended to give.
Mariam Mint Boubacar, member of a women’s gardening cooperative in Beydia Taboyette, said, “With a bit of help - access to water, some basic tools and training - women could play a much bigger role in supporting the village’s food security.”
Kaédi, a city in Gorgol region, was once part of Mauritania’s bread-basket, stressed the mayor, Moussa Sow. “Now we’re at the heart of the country’s food insecurity… The indebtedness of the villagers is not the problem,” he said. “It is because of the lack of structural support of farmers.”
Decent production will never be achieved without seeds, tools and the modern agricultural basics, such as better fertilizers and basic machinery, said the mayor.
Many of the donors on the visit said they were spurred to increase or launch a response to the needs they witnessed. Some stressed they would intervene in women's empowerment projects, others with seeds and tools, others with aid to the water sector.
“No organization on its own can face up to the needs. We have to work together,” said Jasem S. Al Nijmamr Al Shammary, director of international programmes at the Qatar-based Sheikh Al-Thani Bin Abdullah Foundation (RAF). “To see so many potential big donors from the Middle East, Europe and Africa working in partnership on such important issues as food security makes me optimistic,” he told IRIN.
Working towards collaboration
Traditional donors dominate humanitarian funding for Mauritania: In 2013, the largest humanitarian donors were the UK, European Commission and Japan. Kuwait came in 13th place and the African Development Bank 15th, according to OCHA’s financial tracking system.
Arab donors are already active in Mauritania, but they tend to focus mostly on development projects - infrastructure and business development - and mainly in urban areas, such as the capital Nouakchott. Several said they did not make a distinction between emergency and development aid.
Collectively, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) gave US$46.9 billion in official development assistance between 2000 and 2011, according to the Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2013.
Among the high-level visitors to Brakna and Gorgol were the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC); the League of Arab States; government representatives from UAE, Kuwait, and Qatar; members of the UAE and Qatar Red Crescent Societies; the International Islamic Charity Organisation; Qatar’s RAF Foundation; as well as representatives from the African Union, the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) and the European Union’s humanitarian aid department (ECHO).
Faeqa Saeed Al Saleh, joint head of the League of Arab States, stressed the need to fund education and income-generation for women. Onur Demirkol, representative of Turkish NGO Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, said the organization would focus on infrastructure development in communities hit by the 2012 and 2013 floods.
They also spoke of closer collaboration with traditional donors and the government, of more openness and the need to support resilience.
“Only by reinforcing the partnership between potential donors on these questions will these communities have a better chance to become resilient to future crises,” said Atta Al-Mannan Bakhit, joint Secretary General of the OIC.
Now the hope is that they will boost their role in humanitarian aid and longer-term support to shore up people's resilience in the Sahel, said Robert Piper, the Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel region.
“There are innovative partnerships that are starting to be established in the humanitarian world,” he told IRIN. “It’s no longer the West that responds to developing countries. This mission to Mauritania could kick-start communal actions eventually.”