At Kiffa, in the heart of the “triangle of poverty,” the desert is synonymous with scorching winds, sand in the streets and a sky tinged by red dust.
The capital of the south-central region of Assaba in the west African country of Mauritania is one of the areas worst affected by desertification and its corollary — a rural exodus.
Rains in this area are extremely rare and irregular. The soil does not retain moisture and the water table is 40m below the ground under a layer of granite.
All these factors have combined to turn the country’s former granary into a frontline region threatened by desertification and deforestation and led it to be rebaptised the “triangle of poverty.”
“The entire country is menaced by advancing sands which destroy fertile lands,” Mauritanian Minister of Rural Development and Environment Moustapha Ould Maouloud said.
“Poverty in Mauritania is synonymous with desertification because the majority of those living in abject poverty in our country are former nomads who have lost everything with the sand and drought,” he added.
He said, “the only way of putting up an effective fight is to plant trees to stop the dunes and renew the green cover. But we don’t have enough finances to do that.”
Sand is everywhere on the bitumined road linking Kiffa to the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott with dunes often blocking the road.
To fight this daily phenomenon, enormous bulldozers have been deployed to clear the roads. Some hardy trees, imported from Asia, have been planted on both sides of the tracks to stop the sands.
Outlying villages have been badly affected and so has farming.
“The government is conscious of the gravity of the problem and has as its objective the mobilisation of the maximum amount of resources to combat the problem,” Ould Maouloud said.
On the ground, many Mauritanians have launched individual or collective initiatives, some of which have achieved a degree of success.
The accent is on barricading areas where trees and bushes have been planted to stop the desert and to prevent livestock from destroying them.
“These efforts have had a real impact on the daily lives of inhabitants and above all on emigration, which has slowed down,” said Cheikh Ould Toufeil, sub-prefect of Assaba.
Water storage facilities and wells have been built with the help of organisations such as the World Food Program.
At Gouroudiel, a village of 230 households, the residents have just finished building a barrage which will allow the irrigation of about 20ha, where millet and other crops will be grown.
“There was a dyke which quenched our thirst for 13 years but it is now dry,” said Ibrahim Ould Sidi Mahmoud Ould Djouba, the aged village chieftain.
“Thanks to the barrage, we hope many families will return and life will be back to normal.” –AFP