Mauritania: Media und civil society come together for climate literacy | Climate change and the media | DW | 03.06.2024
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Climate change and the media

Mauritania: Media und civil society come together for climate literacy

Climate change is clear in the Maghreb, but many remain unaware of it. "Parler Environnement," or "Talking about the Environment," connects journalists and environmental NGOs from Tunisia, Algeria and Mauritania.

On the first day of environmental journalism training in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott, plastic water bottles are noticeably absent. It's taboo here, thanks to Maïmouna Saleck, who helped arrange for the participants to have a reusable water dispenser. Saleck, president of the nonprofit BiodiverCités, is dedicated to protecting the capital's environment, which includes demonstrating how organizations can also rid themselves of plastic bottles. At the hotel where the journalism training took place, the absence of the water bottles sent a clear message.  

Saleck, as BiodiverCités spokesperson, was herself a training participant of "Parler Environnement," which is DW Akademie's first project in Mauritania in several years. The project's goal is partly journalism training but also to teach environmentally-focused NGOs to communicate climate science easily so that journalists can then relay this information clearly to their audiences. The participants have met in Tunisia and online, but they also recently came together in Mauritania. 

DW Akademie Projekt zu Environmental journalism in Mauretanien

Maïmouna Saleck, standing in the background, assists at the "Parler Environnement" training in Nouakchott, Mauritania

Reliable climate information 

Mauritania is expected to experience the most profound changes in its history in the coming years. Rich in resources like gold, natural gas and petroleum, as well as excellent conditions for producing green hydrogen, the country draws immense foreign investment, including the AMAN project valued at $40 billion.  

Distributing the expected profits fairly - or not - from this investment could likely impact the country's stability. At the same time, increased migration into and through Mauritania is a challenge. And should StarLink satellites expand Internet access and, with that, social media to rural areas, reliable information and news will be all the more critical. 

Reliable information on climate change is already critical in Mauritania: but one example is the prevailing false belief among many in Nouakchott that malaria mosquitos can be eradicated if the trees there are removed.   

"Protecting the environment is a remote idea for Mauritanians. There's this sort of barrier of anxiety between them and the topic, simply because it's so complicated. If you don’t have scientific training, it's very difficult to understand," said the Mauritanian journalist Kadija Ibrahim Harim, who works for her country's news agency.  

DW Akademie Projekt zu Environmental journalism in Mauretanien

DW Akademie trainer Anne Le Touzé-Schmitz works with a "Parler Environnement" participant

The lack of awareness is perhaps not unsurprising considering there are almost no environmental journalists in Mauritania. This is why Maïmouna Saleck in 2019 initiated a "Sea Reporter" competition when it became known that the National Park Banc D'Arguin, a world-renowned example of biodiversity, was now threatened. Ibrahim Harim won the competition's second round and since then, together with colleagues, has produced the YouTube series "Environment and Sustainability".  

But journalists like Ibrahim Harim are the exception in Mauritania, as too in Tunisia and Algeria. The few that are covering the environment struggle themselves with the challenge of accessing information. This is in part because there is not much environmental information available in Arabic. On the other hand, many environmental organizations are active in all three countries, but the information they provide doesn't reach media outlets and Mauritanians themselves. 

The environment is a broad topic that affects everyone 

For Isabel Hénin, Germany's ambassador to Mauritania, both the media and the NGOS have to be involved in distributing information on the environment and climate change. It's two sides of the same coin. DW Akademie's "Parler Environnement" project therefore plays an important role. 

DW Akademie Projekt zu Environmental journalism in Mauretanien

At the "Parler Environnement" awards ceremony, Lars Döbert from the German Embassy in Mauritania, and Isabel Hénin, Germany's Ambassador to the country, recognize participant Maïmouna Saleck

"Environment and the climate are often not perceived as topics that have to do with daily life, health and food security and the economy," said the diplomat. But in fact, "The topics overlap and they affect all of us." 

It's not only what the project participants are learning in the trainings that is important, but also the regional network itself, Saleck believes. In the training for the environmental organizations, she shared what she learned from an Algerian NGO on how water in heavy rain downpours in the extremely dry areas of southern Algeria is captured and then distributed. Such ancient irrigation systems might inspire Mauritanian farmers, Saleck said. 

The project has also pierced prejudices between the NGOs and media. On one side is the belief that journalists only participate in the training if they are paid. On the other side, the NGOs are considered to be incapable of making their materials understandable to a lay audience. In this way, each side needs one another, said Saleck. Ibrahim Harim, the environmental journalist, appreciates that the NGO BiodiverCités provides critical support to journalists, specifically by providing a spokesperson. 

Above all, both the journalists and the NGOs recognized in the training just how seriously they need to take social media, and not only because it's estimated thatthere are more mobile phones in Mauritania than there are people

"Brief in format, but also well-explained in clear language, and especially videos, are all important," said Ibrahim Harim.  

Maïmouna Saleck herself has already had her first great success. 

"I didn’t know that I could achieve something in just a one-minute video," she said. "My first message, rich in content, was seen by 43,000 people, and 4,000 clicked on 'like'!" 

The two-year "Parler Environnement" runs until the end of 2024 and is funded by Germany's Foreign Office (AA). 

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