By Susana Vera
There’s one thing I always do upon returning from a work trip. As soon as I leave my camera bag and suitcase on the floor I jump into the shower. I like having the water run down my face for a few minutes. I find it both relaxing and cleansing.
I never think much about how much water I’m using, I just tell myself that I “need” it, that I have a “right” to indulge after a long journey. I play around with the water temperature until I get it to that state where it’s neither too hot, nor too cold. After I finish, I head to the kitchen and make myself some food. That’s the same thing I did two days ago when I returned from Mauritania. But contrary to my habit in theses circumstances, I took a navy shower. I let the water run down my body just long enough to rinse the shampoo and soap off. The whole process took less than two minutes. Ten days in drought-stricken Mauritania photographing people rationing every bit of this precious and scarce resource are responsible for that change of heart.
Finding water and food to feed their families are the two main concerns of the population in Mauritania’s southern Gorgol region. What used to be the breadbasket of the country has, since the 1970′s, been significantly affected by climate change, causing a decrease in agriculture and the intensification of desertification. This has resulted in the exodus of many men from their villages to urban areas or even abroad to find jobs to support their families.
Women, the elderly and children have been left behind to work their land and care for their livestock. But that’s a very difficult mission when water supplies are running low due to severe rainfall deficit. If it does not rain soon, most crops and animal pasture will be lost and access to food for poorer families will become almost impossible.
I traveled to Mauritania with the Spanish Non-Governmental Organization Accion contra el Hambre, which has been warning about the food crisis since the beginning of the year after poor rainfall in 2011. According to their estimates, a full third of the country’s population, amounting to around a million people, are at risk of suffering from malnutrition if rain doesn’t fall by July.