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Crisis-crippled Burkina Faso needs urgent help

OCHA's Ramesh Rajasingham
Ramesh Rajasingham
February 15, 2021

One million people have been driven from their homes by armed groups in Burkina Faso. The international community must address the world's fastest-growing displacement crisis, writes OCHA's Ramesh Rajasingham.

A woman standing in front of a hut in Burkina Faso
Unless the international community acts quickly, the crisis in Burkina Faso will become protractedImage: Giles Clarke/UNOCHA

Last week in northern Burkina Faso I met Fatoumata, a mother of 10, by a water point in the northern town of Djibo. Violence had forced her from her home, leaving her life and all her belongings behind. She is now surviving with the help of aid groups in this local community.

Her wish, she told me, is to grow and sell vegetables in a local market to make a living and rebuild a future for herself and her children. But Fatoumata knows that for the moment, it's impossible. For her and her family, safety and security are of paramount importance and she is grateful for the host community that protects her. This is echoed by many displaced women who are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence by armed men.

Violence and climate change have drastically reduced food production. One person in 10 is food insecure. Without the humanitarian assistance that they receive, thousands of families would go hungry, not knowing where the next meal will come from.

COVID-19 exacerbates a dire situation

Nearly a million people have no access to medical care and COVID-19 and the subsequent economic problems have made the situation worse.

OCHA's Ramesh Rajasingham
OCHA's Ramesh Rajasingham Image: UNOCHA/Naomi Frerotte

Almost 2,200 schools are closed in affected areas across the country, depriving 311,000 children of education and putting them at risk of exploitation and abuse. In one of Burkina Faso's most affected regions, Sahel, school attendance has dropped from an already low average of 50-60% to 25% over the past two years. This has an enormous impact on children's futures, particularly for girls, who are often unlikely to return to school.

Aid groups have significantly scaled up their presence and tripled humanitarian deliveries since 2019. Last year, thanks to help from donors, they assisted more than 2.4 million people, including in areas that were previously very hard to reach. But the conflict continues unabated, and the needs keep growing.

People themselves are a key source of relief. In Djibo, the number of displaced people hosted by the community far exceeds the number of inhabitants in the town. Their generosity cannot be overestimated.

International community must act

Together with the government,the UN and partners have launched their Humanitarian Response Plan for 2021 to comprehensively address the needs in Burkina Faso. The plan aims to reach 2.9 million of the county's most vulnerable people with aid this year. It needs $608 million (€500 million) in donor funding to be able to implement the program.

Lifesaving aid must go hand in hand with sustainable action to build up resilience and reduce future needs. Humanitarian partners in the city of Kaya have launched several innovative steps to support local basic service networks and infrastructure — a more sustainable solution for the entire community.

Most important of all is peace to avoid a protracted humanitarian crisis which suffocates the hope and dignity of a proud people.

I have been struck by people's resilience in the face of near-impossible challenges. But communities desperately need international support to get back on their feet. Fatoumata needs more than just security and safety.

Humanitarian organizations have demonstrated that with adequate resources they can help more people in more places with more effective support. As I leave Burkina Faso, I urgently call on the rest of the world to help them do just that.

Ramesh Rajasingham is the Acting UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

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