- In a little known drought crisis in northern Burundi, caused by three years of failed rains, lives are lost to hunger each and every day. By presidential decree, the northern Burundian provinces of Kirundo and Muyinga last week were declared 'disaster areas'. Little aid is however received.
In a seldom move, the Episcopal Church of Burundi (Anglican) today sent out a warning message to the world, asking for attention on the crisis in the north of the normally fertile country, which is now "claiming lives every day." The church community was praying that the international community "will make appropriate responses so that people receive basic food supplies."
The developing famine in northern Burundi is one of the many crises that have come in the shadow of the enormous tsunami disaster. Despite a recent declaration of "disaster" by the Burundian Presidency - which was announced to foreign representatives in Bujumbura at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 7 January - news of the crisis in Kirundo and Muyinga provinces barely has hit international headlines.
The province of Kirundo is situated in the north of Burundi and is an area of great natural beauty, with lakes, hills and valleys. The fertile land usually produces beans and sorghum for the whole country. However, that beauty and productivity is marred at the present time by drought, with valley floors dried up and subject to fires, and vegetation disappearing.
For the last three years the rains have either been insufficient, or have come at the wrong time for crops to grow. This situation has resulted in food shortages across the region. There are now few, if any, supplies of sweet potatoes and cooking bananas. Further, the vital cassava plant became diseased resulting in a lack of flour and vegetable cassava.
According to the Anglican Church in Burundi, "the situation is fast becoming an emergency" as the neighbouring provinces of Muyinga and Ngozi are also affected. "Hunger is widespread with deaths occurring on a daily basis. An increasing number of people are now at risk," the church's emergency call reads.
With large families to feed, locals now grow cassava and beans and keep goats in order to provide for their families. With the failure of the cassava crops, goats have had to be sold to raise a little money in order to buy from those with produce to sell. Hope diminishes for such people as the little they have disappears and they become totally dependent on help from others.
Life is particularly hard for those still living in camps for the internally displaced due to the war. Many choose to remain in the camps where there is a sense of security and where they are known, and where they have a basic thatched shelter. Although some still possess a plot of land, they have no means to return, or rebuild houses that have been destroyed.
The internally displaced now exist without electricity, or means of transport to get to markets that are many hours' walk away, and have to rely on people or relatives passing by to give them a kilo of flour or beans since the climate has made cultivation impossible. The current crisis has left many of them with nothing.
As awareness of the crisis has become known, some help has begun to reach the area, but "responses have been slow and too late for some. Much more assistance is urgently needed," the Episcopal Church of Burundi says.
One of the aiding agencies is the UN's World Food Programme (WFP), which has worked in Burundi's northern provinces even before the crisis turned as grave as it is now. In September last year, WFP stepped up its aid and food distribution in Kirundo province, although mostly among the internally displaced.
- Given the prevailing situation in Kirundo, WFP over the next two months plans to release ... general distributions of 15-day rations, twice per month, in the most affected areas, the UN agency says in its latest 'Emergency Report', released today. More targeted assistance was also planned for vulnerable groups, WFP said. The agency however faces shortfalls in food supply.
Stocks in the country remain short as compared to increasing requirements. "There is a need to closely monitor the delivery of regional purchases and any food earmarked for Burundi transiting in the region," according to WFP. Such monitoring would "enable WFP to cover the increasing requirements due to the deteriorating food security situation in northern Burundi."
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