Amidst a worsening refugee and food crisis in Burkina Faso, Valerie Amos, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, visited a refugee camp in the north of the country last week.
Thousands in Burkina Faso are currently suffering from the food crisis affecting the broader Sahel region, and this has been exacerbated by the influx of refugees from neighbouring Mali.
The acute malnutrition rate in Burkina Faso is already above 10% and is expected to rise up to 19% due to the Sahel food crisis. In northern Burkina Faso, there is a 90% cereal deficit and the acute severe malnutrition rate is predicted to go up to 5% by September, according to the country’s Minister of Health.
So far, over 61,000 refugees have fled violence in northern Mali into neighbouring Burkina Faso, and NGO experts say urgent action is needed before the rains come in June when roads will turn to mud and become impassable.
Touring the Menteo camp in Soum Province, approximately 45 kilometres from the Malian border, Amos met Tuareg refugees who fled their homes after violence erupted between Tuareg rebels and the Malian military at the start of this year.
"It's not about one [crisis] or the other being a priority” Amos said. “Obviously, you had a food insecurity situation here in Burkina Faso before you had substantial numbers of refugees. That's why, for us, it's so important that we're helping the local community as well as supporting the refugee population."
Rosaire Toe, a Red Cross nurse at the nutrition centre near Djibo, to which hundreds of Burkinabé women come every week to pick up rations and receive medical attention for their children, said: "The refugees that have come really increases the number of malnutrition cases in the area. That worries us because we have a considerable amount of malnutrition already because of the food crisis.”
Basséta Waleta Sidi, a refugee from Mali, spoke to Think Africa Press. She explained that she and her husband travelled the 45 kilometres from their home country with their five-year-old son. “We fled the violence and the killing in Mali," said Sidi. "We are safe now, but the future is uncertain."
While seven-months pregnant, Sidi and her family fled one crisis only to find themselves in another. “We eat rice and oil here, which we are not used to,” she said. "And the amount is not even enough for one child.”
NGOs such as the Red Cross and Plan International are currently operating water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities, as well as food distribution and nutrition in Menteo.
Plan International has so far built one hundred latrines and six boreholes and will be introducing education and psychological support programmes for refugee children from June. Unni Krishnan, head of disaster response and preparedness for Plan International explained: “Plan’s ongoing work will focus on lifesaving efforts such as WASH and food distribution, protection, education and psycho-social support – emotional first aid for the refugee children.”
Much more, however, is necessary to help the tens of thousands in need, and for this additional funds are necessary. Mark Wentling, Plan International’s Burkina Country Director, insisted: “Our resources are stretched and donors need to give more now. It is not just food that is running out. It is food and time that are running out.”
Visiting a camp, Amos praised relief agencies, saying “I think that our teams are doing an excellent job”. She also, however, insisted: "There is clearly more that we need to do”.
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