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WFP Operation in Mauritania Runs out of Money

The World Food Program (WFP) says it will have to cut rations in half for hundreds of thousands of people in Mauritania, because funds are drying up.

Over the past few years, Mauritania has been hit with a number of natural disasters - floods, drought and locust invasions. Now, the World Food Program says many people in Mauritania face another potential crisis, unless the international community responds quickly with funding.

WFP spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume says, after last year's crisis, the agency put in place a system that could make people less dependent on international help for food, by helping them to hold on to their assets.

"In villages, we have created what we call village food security stocks," she said. "So, those are stocks that we gave to the village. It is managed by the elders, by the chiefs of the community. The two first stocks are free and they can sell those stocks at a reasonable price to poor people, so they do not need to sell their assets. They do not need to borrow money. They can buy that food."

Berthiaume says this system has been popular with the villagers. She says it was enabling some 350,000 people throughout the country to stave off hunger and hold on to their livestock and other assets.

"When you are in a situation of pre-crisis, the big problem is that people sell their assets, because the prices are too high, because there is not enough food," she explained. "So they are selling whatever they have. Once all that is sold, and they have nothing, now you get into an emergency situation. So, those stocks can prevent a situation to become dramatic, and [we] find ourselves with malnutrition rates among children that are too high."

The WFP says its relief operation in Mauritania is facing a complete break in supplies at the end of July, when existing funds run out. It says this is a particularly sensitive time of year because Mauritania will be at the height of the so-called hunger season. This is the period just before the next harvest when most food stocks will have run out.

Berthiaume says 13 percent of Mauritania's children suffer from malnutrition. She says more than 260 feeding centers currently are open around the country, and that number is due to double over the next few weeks.