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Driving Directions Mauritania

MAURITANIA is near twice the size of France. Located on the west coast of Africa, almost the whole country lies within the sandy, stony wastes of the Sahara Desert. The only settlements in this area are around oases, where a little millet, dates, and vegetables can be grown.

There are dry Sahel grasslands in the south and a fertile agricultural land belt along the northern side of the Senegal river valley.

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The River Senegal forms part of the country’s southern border, and its valley and the Sahel grasslands support some natural vegetation and wildlife.

The climate is hot and dry, with a rainy season that produces small amounts of rainfall in late summer and autumn but only in the south.

Most people follow a nomadic way of life centered around the herding of grazing animals. Still, periods of severe drought in the 1970s killed about 70 percent of the nation’s animals forcing many people to settle along with the River Senegal. As a result, vast shantytowns sprung up around all the main cities. The republic has fatty deposits of iron ore and valuable Atlantic fish stocks, both of which are becoming significant contributors to the economy.

Mauritania finally achieved independence in 1960. However, as well as being severely affected by drought, it has also experienced some internal political unrest and disputes with its neighbors. Conditions appear to have become more settled in recent years, with a new constitution adopted in 1991.

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Approximately one-third of the Sahara Desert is in Mauritania. The Saharan region, a generally flat plain with occasional ridges and rocky outcroppings, covers roughly the country’s northern two-thirds. It includes a series of sandstone plateaus spanning the center of Mauritania from north to south. The southern third of the country and the coastal plain to the west are mostly semideserts, and there is a narrow strip of fertile land on the plain of the Senegal River in the southwest. Mauritania borders the North Atlantic Ocean.

Did you know about Mauritania?

The nineteenth-century shipwreck of the frigate Meduse, immortalized in a famous painting by Théodore Géricault, occurred off Mauritania’s coast. Many of those who did not die aboard the fragile life raft built by the passengers perished onshore during a futile trek across the desert.

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