peer reviewed / South-western Mauritania is located in a semi-arid environment exposed to large rainfall variations and affected by a severe drought since the mid-1960s. The studied area includes the right bank of the Senegal River and the southern extension of the Saharan sandy dunes and is based on the analysis of climatic data, field studies, and four aerial surveys realized since 1954. The climatic analysis shows that, after a strong decline of yearly rainfall started in the mid-1960s, a significant increase is observed from the early 1990s. In the meantime, dust storms frequency has dramatically increased while the threshold wind speed declined as a result of vegetation contraction. The comparison of the four mosaics of aerial photos reveals the major impact of both drought and human on recent environment changes with the strong decline of the forest, the reactivation of sandy soils and the apparition of large rice fields. If the increase of active dunes activity is likely to be a consequence of the persisting drought, forest decline is more likely to be attributed to fuel wood collection in a first time, then to the creation of rice fields since the late 1980s. Although the 2003 aerial photos show a timid return of vegetation in very limited and specific areas, field surveys show that wind erosion is still very important and water erosion is developing very rapidly because of the absence of vegetation cover. (C) 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.