HOME I. Introduction

Mauritania, officially the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, country in northwestern Africa. It is bounded on the north by Western Sahara and Algeria, on the east by Mali, on the south by Mali and Senegal, and on the west by the Atlantic Ocean. The country has a total area of 1,031,000 sq km (398,000 sq mi).

II. Land and Resources 

With the exception of a narrow strip in the south along the Sénégal River, the country lies entirely within the Sahara. The elevation varies from 150 m (500 ft) in the southwest to 460 m (1,500 ft) in the northeast. Daytime temperatures in much of the country reach 38° C (100° F) for more than six months of the year, but the nights are cool. Annual rainfall varies from less than 130 mm (less than 5 in) in the north to 660 mm (26 in) in the Sénégal Valley.

A. Natural Resources

The most important resource of Mauritania is its large deposits of iron ore located in the Fdérik area. Other mineral resources of the country include deposits of phosphates, sulfur, copper, and gypsum.

B. Plants and Animals

Upper Mauritania has little plant life and few animals. In the south, however, in a belt of steppe with trees of the genera Acacia and Commiphoa, lions and monkeys are found.

III. Population 

Two-fifths of the population is of mixed Moor and black African heritage. Another 30 percent of Mauritania's people are Moors (of mixed Arab and Berber ancestry), many of whom lead nomadic existences. More than 90 percent of the population lives in the southern quarter of the country. About 30 percent of the people are black African farmers, who are settled in the Sénégal Valley.

A. Population Characteristics

According to the 1988 census, Mauritania had 1,864,236 inhabitants. The 2000 estimated population was 2,660,155, giving the country an overall population density of 3 persons per sq km (7 persons per sq mi).

B. Political Divisions and Principal Cities

Mauritania is divided into 12 regions, each administered by a council, and 1 district, which encompasses the country's capital and largest city, Nouakchott (population, 1996 estimate, 608,228). Other principal towns are Kaédi (40,633), a farming center on the Sénégal, Nouadhibou (88,313), a fishing center and seaport, the exports of which include iron ore sent by rail from Fdérik, and Rosso (50,000).

C. Religion and Language

Islam, the state religion, is professed by nearly all of the people. Arabic is the official language, and Poular, Wolof, and Soninke are recognized as national languages.

D. Education

The government of Mauritania attempts to provide free primary education. The effort, however, has been hindered by the nomadic character of the people. In 1996 some 83 percent of eligible children, or 312,700 pupils, attended primary school. Just 16 percent of secondary school-aged children were enrolled. Higher education is provided by the University of Nouakchott (1981) and by a college of public administration, also in the capital.