, originally derived from Berber
, "place of the winds")
is the capital
and largest city of Mauritania
. It is one of the largest cities in the Sahel
The city also serves as the administrative and economic center of Mauritania.
Nouakchott was a mid-sized village of little importance until 1958, when it was chosen as the capital of the nascent nation of Mauritania. At the time, it was designed and built to accommodate 15,000 people. However, beginning in the 1970s, a vast number of Mauritanians began moving to Nouakchott because environmental conditions in their home villages had become too harsh due to drought
and increasing desertification
. As of 2013, the city had a population of just under a million people. Many of the newcomers settled in slum
areas of the city that were poorly maintained and extremely overcrowded. However, more recently, the living conditions of some of these inhabitants have improved.
Nouakchott was a large, fortified fishing village (ksar
) in pre-colonial times and under French rule
. As Mauritania prepared for independence, it lacked a capital city and the area of present-day Nouakchott was chosen by Moktar Ould Daddah
and his advisors. Ould Daddah desired for the new capital to be a symbol of modernity and national unity which ruled out existing cities or towns in the interior. The village was selected as the capital city for its central location between Saint-Louis, Senegal
, the city from which the colony of Mauritania was governed, and Nouadhibou
. Its location also meant that it avoided the sensitive issue of whether the capital was built in an area dominated by the Arab-descended Moors or Black Africans.:369
Construction began in March 1958 to enlarge the village to house a population of 15,000 and the basics were completed by the time that the French granted independence on 28 November 1960.
Nouakchott was planned with the expectation that commerce and other economic activities would not take place in the city. Nouakchott's central business district was planned with broad streets and a grid-like structure; the new Cinquième Quartier
(Fifth District) was located close to this area and became the location of a large open-air market and residential area within a few years. During the 1960s, the city obtained its own local government. By the 1970s, these new areas had grown so much that they replaced the old ksar
in terms of importance, as they also hosted the governmental buildings and state enterprises.:369
The city was attacked twice in 1976 by the Polisario Front
during the Western Sahara conflict
, but little damage was caused by the guerrillas. The city has had massive and unconstrained growth, driven by the North African drought
, since the beginning of the 1970s; hundreds of thousands moved there in search of a better life. The official censuses showed 134,000 residents in 1977 and 393,325 in 1988, although both figures were probably smaller than reality.:370
The population is now estimated to consist of at least one third of the country's population of 3.2 million
and the 2013 census showed a population of 958,399.
Satellite image of Nouakchott with district names
Population density and low elevation coastal zones. Nouakchott is especially vulnerable to sea level rise
Located on the Atlantic
coast of the Sahara Desert, it lies on the west coast of Africa. With the exception of Friendship Port
and a small fishing port
, the coastal strip is mostly left empty and allowed to flood. The coastline includes shifting sandbanks
and sandy beaches. There are areas of quicksand
close to the harbour.
Nouakchott is largely flat and only a few meters
above sea level
. It is threatened by the sand dunes
advancing from its eastern side which pose a daily problem.
There have been efforts to save particular areas, including work by Jean Meunier
Owing to the rapid build-up, the city is quite spread out, with few tall buildings. Most buildings are one-story.
Nouakchott is built around a large tree-lined street, Avenue Gamal Abdel Nasser
, which runs northeast through the city centre from the airport. It divides the city into two, with the residential areas in the north and the medina quarter
, along with the kebbe
, a shanty town formed due to the displacement of people from other areas by the desert.:50–57
Other major streets are named (in French
) for notable Mauritanian or international figures of the 1960s: Avenue Abdel Nasser, Avenue Charles de Gaulle, Avenue Kennedy, and Avenue Lumumba, for example.
consists of cement
buildings that are built overnight and made to look permanent to avoid destruction by the authorities. In 1999, it was estimated that more than half of the city's inhabitants lived in tents and shacks, which were used for residential as well as business purposes.
The city is broken into nine arrondissements
, sub-divided into alphabetised Îlots
. These are Teyarett, Ksar, Tevragh Zeïna, Toujournine, Sebkha, El Mina, Dar Naïm, Arafat and Riad. The Sebkha (Cinquième) Arrondissement is home to a large shopping area.:116−17
Nouakchott features a hot desert climate
: BWh) with hot temperatures throughout the year, but cool winter night temperatures. Due to the city's oceanside location, Nouakchott is generally not quite as hot as other cities with this climate. Still, the city can experience very hot days. While average high temperatures are relatively constant at around 33 °C (91 °F), average low temperatures can range from 25 °C (77 °F) during the summer months to 13 °C (55 °F) during the winter months. Minimum temperatures can be as low as 10 °C (50 °F) during winter nights in Nouakchott. Average rainfall in the city is 95 mm (3.7 in) a year.
A partial view of the city
Nouakchott is divided into three administrative regions
) led by governors appointed by the central government, each of which contains three departments
Separate from the wilayat
, a directly elected regional council was established in Nouakchott in 2018, which took over the roles of promoting social and economic development from the communauté urbaine
of Nouakchott which it replaced. Fatimatou Abdel Malick
was elected council president in September 2018.
Nouakchott was initially divided into four departments in 1973. In 1986 the current nine departments were created.
Formerly a district, in 1990 Nouakchott became a region of Mauritania.
On 25 November 2014, it was split into the three current regions
and its governor Mahi Ould Hamed
became the first governor of Nouakchott-Nord.
For comparison, its population was only 20,000 in 1969. Part of the difficulty in estimating the city's population is that part of it is nomadic
, setting up tents in suitable locations, then packing up when the need strikes. Some estimates put the 2008 population at over 2 million, estimated to be close to one-third of the country's population.
The 2013 census gave the city's population as 958,399.
In 2009, the government of Mauritania announced that it would begin a process of clearing the slum on the outskirts of Nouakchott, as 24,000 families would eventually be relocated to planned housing in the city. The process was scheduled to begin with the relocation of 9,000 families from the outskirts into the poor Arafat department
neighbourhood of "Kosovo", popularly named for its high crime rate and poor services. The government planned to begin moving families in June 2009, despite concerns from aid agencies that needed infrastructure could not be put in place in the receiving neighbourhood.
In 2013, it was reported that "slums have been replaced by social dwellings for the poorest",
with the World Bank
reporting that the plan met with substantial success, resulting in access to improved services for 181,035 people in the slum areas.
The beach in Nouakchott
Nouakchott is the center of the Mauritanian economy, with three-quarters of service sector enterprises located in the city as of 1999 with 90% of the city's economic activity consisting of informal transactions. Some inhabitants have multiple addresses and maintain strong ties with their regions of origin, at times returning for labor.
Nouakchott has a Chinese-built deepwater port
that opened in 1986. It was designed for a capacity of 500,000 tons deadweight
(DWT) of cargo a year, but has been handling 1,500,000 tons (DWT) by 2009.
China agreed in 2009 to invest US$282 million in the port, aiming to extend the main quay
by over 900 m (3,000 ft).
As of 2011, the World Bank
was investigating funding a new shipping container
facility at the port.
The Cairo–Dakar Highway
leg from Nouakchott to Nouadhibou was paved in 2004, although the Nouakchott-Rosso
leg was paved before independence.
A 1,100-kilometre (680 mi) road (Route d'Espoir
(Road of Hope)) connects the city with Néma
In the city, there is a public transport and commuter system, with vehicles serving major boulevards.
Places of worship
Twin towns – Sister cities
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