Every day, community members across Africa are working towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In recognition of this year’s MDG week, we will be posting a story each day about how communities are working together to achieve each of these goals, leading their own development from the grassroots.

Mauritania is a dry land where the effects of desertification, caused in part by deforestation and poor water management, threaten the daily lives of communities as sand advances across their farmland and homes. It is situations like this that the seventh Millennium Development Goal, Ensuring Environmental Sustainability, seeks to address. Communities taking part in the Tostan Community Empowerment Program (CEP) in Mauritania, having learned about their right to an environment which promotes their wellbeing and the related responsibility to look after it, have decided to work together to reverse this desertification process  and to overcome other environmental challenges.

Under the leadership of their Community Management Committees (CMCs), 17-member groups democratically selected during the CEP, community members from our partner communities in Mauritania have taken the initiative to plant a large number of trees, replacing forests which have disappeared over the years. So far, more than 12,700 trees have been planted in the region of Brakna!  There are many benefits to reforestation. The trees attract rain and break the wind, meaning that sand dunes will be more stable and sand storms will be reduced.

Some communities, such as Azlat, have already created a ‘green belt’ to protect themselves from these strong winds and sand storms, and it is also hoped that animals that have disappeared from the region will eventually return to these regenerated forests.

As the impact of these green belts will take years to fully come to fruition, communities are also taking action which allows them to protect the small amount of pre-existing forest which remains. The work of CMCs across the 60 communities participating in the Tostan program has led to the construction of 790 improved stoves – these more efficient versions retain heat far better than traditional stoves, significantly reducing the amount of wood needed to cook a meal for a family. Reducing the wood burned daily also reduces the harmful smoke breathed in by the person bent over the stove cooking – usually a women or girl.

This interlinking between the environment and health does not apply to stoves alone. Poor waste management, and a lack of adequate sanitation and clean water, not only pollute the environment but are also the main causes of infections such as diarrhea, the biggest killer of children in Africa. As they have learned about how germs and diseases are spread, many CMCs have organized regular clean-up days to ensure a healthier environment in their local area. Community members work together to clear public areas of standing water, a factor in the spread of malaria, and waste from their surroundings.  

Combined, these collective actions led by Mauritanian communities empower them, and their future generations, to overcome the difficulties of living in a challenging natural environment, ensuring that all community members live in a space that encourages their health and wellbeing.

Story by Shona Macleod, Tostan