Living on food aid

Mbouche and her children benefitted from the last two voucher distributions in the area of Kankossa, where World Vision Mauritania and USAID launched a programme in response to the prevailing food crisis in Mauritania. The Kankossa Emergency Assistance Program (KEAP) sometimes provides people with food vouchers so that they have enough to eat in the wake of the food crisis sweeping across parts of West Africa.


“My husband has been away for almost one year now, looking for work in one of the urban areas. Since there was no rain last season, he could not continue working in his small farm here in Hamoud,” says Meime, a young woman in Hamoud.

Approaching the town of Hamoud, along the Mali-Mauritania border, one notices how the drought has affected the landscape in the area. Trees look like they have been scorched by a fire, with no more green leaves growing on them. It’s been too hot. 

A lake near the town, that provides water for animals and that women use for washing clothes, has very low water levels. Although the water is too unclean for human consumption, many people in the community fish in the lake. The low water is affecting people and their animals in the area, especially with the increase in the temperature nowadays, which can soar to 50 degrees Celsius. 

In the midst of this hard situation, an old woman is struggling to scrape together enough food for her children and grandchildren. “I have been struggling daily this year to feed my children. Since my daughter passed away I have also to look after my grandsons as they came here to live with us,” says Mbouche, a 70-year-old grandmother from Hamoud. Mbouche is one of the beneficiaries of the USAID and World Vision emergency programme in the area of Kankossa.. This programme, titled the The Kankossa Emergency Assistance Program (KEAP), entails a monthly distribution of food vouchers to 4,070 households in the area. Each household is composed of an average of six people, so the target population is 24,420 persons in the area of Kankossa. 

Mbouche continues, “Before these vouchers, we were obliged to ask people for food. Now, this is the second voucher I received. We managed to live on the last voucher for a month, and hopefully this will be the case this month too.” 

Mbouche’s granddaughter, Meime, and her three sons, are living with her. “I am doing the daily housework to help my old grandma. We were used to growing plants here, but this year we could not grow anything due to the drought,” 21-year-old Meime says. 

As Meimi talks, Sidi, her two-year-old son, sits in her lap. The other two boys, who are five and eight, are not yet in school. Instead, they sit inside the hut with their mother and grandmother. 

While her grandma talks about the crisis, Meime is busy knitting a white Malahfa a traditional garment worn by Mauritanian women. Asked why she is knitting this Malahafa, she responds, “I do not have money to buy ready-made clothes, so I am knitting them myself.” 

The father of the children, Meime’s husband, was forced to leave her and his children, looking for work in a city that is about 1280km away. “Because of the crisis, my husband has been in Rosso (Traraza region) looking for work. He has been there for almost one year. He has been sending some money, but not regularly.” 

Due to cultural sensitivities, it was hard for Meime to describe how difficult it is for her to be separated from her husband for a year. In Mauritania, young women cannot talk freely about their married life in presence of older adults. Nevertheless, she was able to state that she would like the situation to get better in order for her husband to come back home. 

“If it was not the crisis, my husband would have stayed here with us. He would have been planting cereals to feed us,” Meime states.

The Kankossa Emergency Assistance Program is in response to the prevailing crisis in Mauritania. 

“The programme will run for eight months. This is the second vouchers distribution in the programme. There are two types of vouchers: conditioned and unconditioned. Beneficiaries have to do some work for their respective communities in order to get the conditioned vouchers. This work includes rehabilitation of dykes, sanitation, etc,” says Johan Razafiarison, Food for Peace (FFP) programme manager, who is based in Kankossa. Beneficiaries who receive the food vouchers often exchange their labour for work and people who live in communities such as the villages like Garn le Paris are rehabilitating a dyke that will help preserve water for their farms in case the rain comes in the upcoming months.