Mauritania: one country against the Sahara

The first thing you see when you land in Mauritania’s capital, Nouakchott, is sand. Sand is everywhere: from the air, you can see the long stretch of desert that encroaches upon Mauritanians’ daily lives and businesses. While mysterious and fascinating, the desert’s march has swallowed up homes, livestock and livelihoods across the country. Decades  of persistent, severe drought have damaged the vegetation that holds sand dunes in place, releasing them to bury homes and fields. Three-quarters of Mauritanian territory is now covered by the Sahara, and the remaining one-quarter is a Sahelian zone. 



Mauritanians suffer from a vicious cycle of poverty and desertification: severe droughts have forced people to cut down forests to access land for pasture. Livestock overload is further degrading the land, which the UN estimates is costing nearly USD 200 million annually in potential revenue losses and healthcare expenses. 
The fight to hold back the desert requires a two-dimensional approach. First, prevention, through the sustainable management of forests, range lands and natural resources. Second, the rehabilitation and restoration of forests and oases, by stopping the sand from blowing on to the degraded soil and replanting.
The government has incorporated both dimensions into a suite of national sustainable development strategies and four action plans covering the Nouakchott Green Belt Project: sand fixing projects; sand encroachment prevention programmes and the development of agricultural projects; and oasis development projects. Mauritania recognises its role in implementing the continent-wide Great Green Wall initiative and plans to build botanical gardens in the capital Nouakchott, to select adaptable species for the GGW initiative, and to improve residents’ living conditions.



In 2014, the EU GCCA+ began implementing a project designed to build vulnerable populations’ resilience to climate change by developing specific climate-related services that boosted adaptive capacity and improved. At project end in 2018, over 200 farmers and ranchers, half of whom were women, had been trained to adapt to increasing climate variability – for example, by  managing a cropping calendar. Six agrometeorological stations and 500 rain gauges were installed to facilitate the collection of more accurate climate data and integrating it to improve farming practices. The second GCCA+ phase will further strengthen resilience by bridging the gaps between climate change, agriculture, and the vulnerability of local communities. Local interventions will aim to link with nationally determined contribution priorities to help stem the steady advance of the mighty Sahara.