Beneath the Sahara Desert lie gypsum, phosphate salt, zinc and Mauritiania’s main source of foreign exchange: Iron ore. Much of it is exported via a large port at Nouadhibou owned and managed by Societe Nationale Industrielle et Minere (The National Industrial and Mining Company, known as SNIM). The company is a huge driving force behind the economy contributing to around 25-30 per cent of Mauritiania’s total economic activity each year.

To maximise its potential, SNIM approached the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) to help finance essential upgrades to the port at Nouadhibo and to contribute towards the ‘Modernizing and Development Program’ which involved the development of a new mine, the Guelb II. These changes have revolutionized the entire operation.

With improvements to the 700km railway, on which some of the world’s longest trains carry iron ore from the mines near Zouerate to Nouadhibou, modernised equipment and improvements to the efficiency with which the ore is loaded on to ships, the project was set to increase the port’s loading capacity to 25Mt per year.

Increasing productivity of the port

Between 2007 and 2009, the IsDB provided US$26.47 million for SNIM to buy all the necessary machinery for piling, loading and transporting the iron ore to the port more efficiently and safely. A small percentage of this financing was used to buy electrical equipment for railway engines, to clear more land for the improved railway corridor, and for the project audit.

The installation of this machinery has been extremely successful in increasing the productivity of the port. Overall productivity rose from 10.65Mt in 2006 to 13Mt in 2014. The average rate of ship-loading increased from 2,500 to 6,000 tonnes per hour, reducing the times ships need to spend in the port from 155 hours to 148.5 hours. This simultaneously reduced the ships costs and improved efficiency. In addition to this, the stockyard was expanded to increase storage capacity and a dust-capture system was implemented to reduce the port’s environmental impact.

To maintain success in the renovations, SNIM ensures that machinery is regularly checked and continuously monitors any environmental improvements that can be made.

In a country with persistently high poverty levels and few other industries, the development of Nouadhibou has been hugely beneficial. As the modernisation and development programme continues to improve SNIM’s operations, there should be continuing benefits to Mauritiania’s people and economy.