Mauritania’s trailblazer for women and resilience

Ms. Abdel Malick, Mayor of Tevrah-Zeina, Nouakchott, Mauritania
 
By Helena Molin-Valdes

Nouakchott, 13 December 2012 - She was the first woman to take office as a Mayor in Mauritania and her stature as a champion for resilience and disaster risk reduction in Africa was confirmed last week when she was elected President of the Women’s Network of Mayors in Africa.

The motto of Ms. Abdel Malick, the Mayor of Tevragh-Zeina, a municipality in the sprawling capital, Nouakchott, is "Toujours engagée pour la Réduction des Catastrophes" or “Always committed to Disaster Reduction”.

She proved it again this week when she helped UNISDR and UNDP to bring together representatives from 40 towns and municipalities to spend a day debating urban risk. As a result, 20 mayors have now stated their intention of joining UNISDR’s “Making Cities Resilient” Campaign.

The meeting was opened by the Minister of Rural Development, Brahim Ould Mbarek ould Mohamed el Moctar; the Minister of Finance, Thiam Diambar; and the Minister delegate to the Prime Minister in charge of Environment and Sustainable Development, Amedi Camara. Their presence signaled the growing concern for disaster risk reduction issues in Mauritania.

First elected in 2001, Mayor Abdel Malick, said: “I felt the responsibility and expectations heavily back then. I had to succeed to open the doors for other women to follow. And I indeed wanted to improve the conditions for all of the inhabitants in Tevragh-Zeina. Party politics ends when you are elected, you should then represent the interest of your entire constituency”, she said.

Today, there are four women elected Mayors in Mauritania, and more potential candidates. At last week's Africities Summit held in Dakar, with more than 5,000 local government representatives from across Africa, Mayor Abdel Malick was elected President of the Women Federation of Mayors in Africa.

Mayor Abdel Malick has what she describes as a “modern outlook on how her city should be managed and grow.” Her approach is an open door policy, listening to the citizens and making room for participation. Since she was elected, she has prioritized access to basic services, improved education, created public spaces such as playgrounds and municipal parks where free Wi-Fi is provided thus attracting many young people to gather there.

Above all she is a strong believer that resilience and disaster risk reduction (DRR) is an urgent issue that requires the engagement of all citizens.

Mayor Abdel Malick joined the UNISDR “Making Cities Resilient” Campaign in May 2011 when she also participated in the Mayors’ forum at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction. Since then, she has taken every opportunity to engage national and other local authorities on the topic, and to rally for support.

Her municipality, Tevragh-Zeina, is one of the nine municipalities of the capital of Mauritania, Nouakchott, which is home to a more than a million people. This is a third of Mauritania's population and the country is experiencing rapid urbanization.

Tevragh-Zeina itself has around 60,000 inhabitants and hosts most of the capital's market and administrative functions. People are coming to the capital to seek opportunities but also because of the alarming spread of desertification across the country.

With 720 km of coastline, Mauritania and especially Nouakchott are vulnerable to climate change and sea level rise. In fact, according to recent findings by Prof. Ahmed Senhoury of the University of Nouakchott and Director of the Coordination Unit of the Regional Coastal and Marine Conservation Program for West Africa linked to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) presented to the mayors this week, showed that if no protection measures are taken, 50% of Tevragh might be affected by floods by 2020 due to climate change.

The impact of floods is becoming stronger every year and affecting a large part of the population. Desertification, water scarcity and sand storms are other major risk factors. Floods are exacerbated due to the absence of drainage and sewage systems, fewer areas for water run off, and environmental degradation, including by degraded sand dunes along the coastline. These characteristics are similar for many of West Africa's coastal cities.

One major success discussed this week has been been the ending of the practice by private companies and individuals taking sand from the sand dunes which serve as a natural barrier to protect Nouakchott from sea-level intrusion thanks to a partnership between the Mayor’s office and the Mauritanian NGO, Clean Beach.

Since Ms. Abdel Malick joined the “Making Cities Resilient Campaign” she has organized several programmes and campaigns with schools and youth groups, women groups and the population at large to clean up the city, protect dunes and strengthen preparedness. She started planting date palms and other indigenous trees to improve the quality of life in the city.

Workshops to consolidate the National Platform for DRR and to report on progress on the implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) are taking place in Mauritania this week. The country will also undertake national consultations for the 'post-2015' development agenda (post-MDG) and disaster risk reduction (post-HFA) early next year.

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Video on Making Mauritania Disaster Resilient

The Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction will take place in 2015 The Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction will take place in 2015.
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