Five Things You Need to Know about Burundi

By UN Humanitarian*

Located in the Great Lakes Region, Burundi is one of the world’s poorest nations, faced with a fragile humanitarian situation mainly due to recurrent natural disasters, chronic vulnerability and food insecurity.

Photo from UN Humanitarian..

Funding for the humanitarian response in Burundi remains far too low and people in need in Burundi deserve more attention.

Here are five things you need to know about this often forgotten country.

1. The humanitarian situation is improving, although it remains fragile

In 2019, an estimated 1.8 million Burundians – or 15 per cent of the population – will need humanitarian assistance, half as many as in 2018. This improvement in the humanitarian situation is mainly due to more productive agricultural seasons and fewer epidemics last year.

The joint efforts made by the Government and humanitarian partners have also helped to alleviate the suffering of thousands of households.

When flash floods swept her home away in 2016, Julienne had no choice but to leave her home and seek refuge in Gitaza camp in Rumonge Province. She lived in the camp with her eight children for two years. “We were in very poor conditions, in torn down tents as small as bird nests. With eight children, it was very tough,” she recalls.

Thanks to funding from donors and the support of humanitarian partners working alongside the Government of Burundi, Julienne and her children received shelter and reintegration assistance.

“I am now excited to have a house, a room for children, a room where I can relax and a room for guests. I was no longer able to host visitors, as there was no room for them,” she explains. “We are now very grateful that we are going to have enough space, a toilet and enough security.”

Formerly refugees in Tanzania, this family decided to return to Burundi in April 2018. In the transit camp of Mabanda (Makamba Province), where they received humanitarian assistance before being transported to their area of origin, they expressed their happiness to finally come back home.

2. Food insecurity and malnutrition persist

While food and farming output saw an uptick in 2018, food insecurity remains a challenge in Burundi, affecting 1.72 million people. Rural farmers are dealing with soil degradation, pressure on land resources, limited farm machinery, recurrent natural disasters and damaging plant pests that affect outputs. Burundi’s population density is the second highest in continental Africa, placing additional pressure on already scarce resources.

Children are paying the highest price, with nearly 6 out of 10 children under the age of 5 suffering from chronic malnutrition – one of the highest rates in the world.

Jacqueline lives with her six children in Kirundo Province. She is a farmer, but was unable to harvest at the beginning of the year due to a lack of rainfall since November.

The past three consecutive plantations have been lost due to the drought, putting her in a critical situation. Most of the time Jacqueline can provide only one meal a day to her family. She has already sold a cow to buy food at the market, where the prices have doubled due to increasing demand. One of her sons is suffering from acute malnutrition, but she cannot afford the transport to go to her closest health centre.

3. Climate change hazards are recurrent and undermine the resilience of the population

Sweeping homes and crops away, natural disasters are the main cause of internal displacement in Burundi. Three quarters of the country’s 130,000 internally displaced persons are displaced because of climatic hazards. In 2018, heavy rains and violent winds affected about 100,000 people, displacing 20 per cent of them.

Government and humanitarian partners have been working together to provide assistance to affected households, but aid has been hampered by limited contingency stocks.

Following torrential rains in Bujumbura in January, Elizabeth and her husband, parents of seven children, lost everything. Their mud brick house collapsed and all their belongings were washed away by the floods, including the family’s food stock, mosquito net, jerrycan to fetch drinking water, kitchen tools, bed linens, as well as their children’s school materials.

Over the course of just one day, they found themselves displaced and were forced to start over from scratch.

4. Population movements continue to create humanitarian needs

More than 50 per cent of internally displaced people and more than one third of repatriated Burundians from the subregion are hosted by Burundian communities, adding pressure on scarce resources, and leading in some cases to land-related conflicts. Thanks to the Government’s open door policy and generosity, there are also some 76,000 Congolese refugees in Burundi who continue to need assistance.


During her official visit to Burundi in September 2018, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs (ASG) and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ms. Ursula Mueller, visited Songore transit centre in Ngozi Province. She was moved by the testimony of Beatrice and Emmanuel, who had returned to Burundi after two years as refugees in Tanzania, hoping for a better future in their country.

Having witnessed the importance of the assistance and protection services provided by humanitarian partners to Burundians voluntarily repatriated, the ASG stressed that more needs to be done to help people reintegrate and to support them in the creation of income-generating activities and ensure social cohesion.

Repatriated Burundians from Tanzania at the Songore transit centre, Ngozi Province. OCHA/Dama Bizimana.

5. There are high risks of epidemic outbreaks

Recurrent in provinces bordering Tanganyika Lake, cholera and waterborne diseases are exacerbated by poor access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Heavy rains contribute to this unsanitary environment by overflooding latrines. They also exacerbate proliferation of mosquitos, leading to the risk of malaria outbreaks.

According to the World Health Organization, there has been a worrying increase in malaria cases in Burundi since this past November. Some 1.85 million new malaria cases were reported during the first three months of 2019, an increase of 36 per cent compared with the same period in 2018.

Beyond the internal epidemic risks, Burundi is also at high risk of exposure to the Ebola virus outbreak, which was declared in August in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo. Preparedness efforts continue, but, should Ebola spread into Burundi, it would impact the entire country, with possibly catastrophic outcomes.


*SOURCE: UN Humanitarian. Go to ORIGINAL.

2019 Human Wrongs Watch

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