Mauritania is the eleventh largest country in Africa with the region’s second lowest population density of less than 4 inhabitants per square kilometer. Its total population reaches 3.5 million in 2015, growing at a natural rate of 25 per 1000 with youth under 30 years making up 86.8% of the population in the past decade. The maternal mortality rate in Mauritania is four times higher than the Arab region’s average of 156 per 100,000; however, it has witnessed a significant decrease from 813 per 100,000 in 2000 to 602 per 100,000 in 2015.
Poverty in Mauritania persists at strikingly high levels, particularly in rural areas. In 2011, more than 2 million Mauritanians were reported as multi-dimensionally poor, which makes up 55.6% of the population, while an additional 16.8%, i.e. around 622 thousand people, lived near multidimensional poverty.
Illiteracy remains a major challenge in Mauritania, where the adult literacy rate levels at 52.1%, compared to an average rate of 80.5% in the Arab region in 2015. While the gross primary enrollment rate increased from 82.7% in 2000 to 98% in 2014 and the primary Gender Parity Index (GPI) reached 1.1, the gross tertiary enrollment rate is still as low as 5.5% in 2013 and the GPI at the tertiary level was 0.4 in 2013, compared to an average tertiary enrollment rate of 28.1% in the Arab region in 2013.
Mauritania is a lower-middle-income country with a GDP (Purchasing Power Parity, constant 2011 prices) of Int$ 14.7 billion and a low GNI per capita (Purchasing Power Parity) of Int$ 3,710 in 2014, compared to an average of Int$ 16,033 in the Arab region. In 2014, GDP growth rate (at constant 2005 prices) reached 6.9%. Due to the decline in iron ore prices, the economic performance has weakened, and the growth rate declined to the level of 1.9% in 2015. Given iron’s ore pivotal role in the economy, the extractive sector (petroleum products and metal ores) contributed to around 27% of GDP in 2013. The inflation rate remained relatively low at 3.5% in 2014 but declined to 0.5 in 2015 and the cash deficit shrunk from MRO minus 53.8 billion in 2013 to MRO minus 24.74 billion in 2014. Mauritanian government made progress in tax collection, reflected in an increase in tax revenues from 55% of total revenues to 64% of total revenues in 2015 . Mauritania still faces several development challenges, including the efficient use of revenues derived from natural resources, competitiveness, diversification, and poor governance, noting that its public debt, despite declining from 234.4% of GDP in 2000, is still high at 78.11% of GDP in 2015.
The country is rich in natural resources, especially in the mining sector. It is the second exporter of iron ore in Africa  with iron representing 44% of total exports. The country’s exports also revolve around fishery products which, on average, accounted for 28% of total exports between 2000 and 2011, and for 34% of total exports in 2014. In this regard, the fishery sector benefited from the finalization of the bilateral agreement with the European Union in 2015.
Mauritania is highly trade-dependent; in 2014, international trade-to-GDP ratio is at a level of 118% of GDP, exports and imports reached 48% and 70% of GDP, respectively. The country’s foreign trade has been heavily oriented towards Europe and, progressively more, towards Asia. Lately, exports have become even more concentrated, with iron and fishery products representing more than 74% of total exports. Hence, its economy remains vulnerable to exogenous shocks.
Women labor force participation rate in Mauritania has increased over the last period from 23% in 2000 to 29.1% in 2015; however, their participation remains low compared to men which leveled at 65.3% in 2015. Women unemployment rate remained relatively stable, at 36.8% in 2000 and 35.4% in 2015. However, unemployment rate amongst youth is higher for women with a rate of 61.7% compared to 39.7% for men in 2015.
Mauritania is considered a modest oil producer, it started producing crude oil in 2006 with a level of 11.2 million barrels, but decreased to 2.2 million barrels in 2014. Net oil exports registered minus 4.1 million barrels in 2012.
This overview has been drafted by the ADP team based on most available data as of 30 September 2016.