The number of internally displaced people (IDP) in Burkina Faso has now surpassed the alarming threshold of one million. This is a huge figure in view of the country’s estimated population of 20 million people, but which could still grow in a security context that remains increasingly worrying.
Since 2015, Burkina Faso has been under fire from jihadist groups, mostly from Mali. They have probably decided, from 2017 onwards, to “redirect” their actions in this neighboring country where they have found a favorable breeding ground, in the face of a Burkinabe army that lacks resources and does not control its territory.
Of the country’s thirteen regions, six – the Sahel, North, East, Centre-North, Centre-East, and the Boucle du Mouhoun – are particularly affected by terrorist attacks that have caused more than 1,800 deaths (civilians and military) in 2019.
According to ACLED (Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project), an NGO that collects and analyses data on armed and political violence, from January to August 2020, 823 people died as a result of violence against civilians, nearly half of the 1,791 victims already recorded.
For its part, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recorded 1,217 security incidents in the first seven months of 2020, 19 of which were directed against humanitarian actors.
All these attacks, but also threats of offensives, cause massive population displacements. As of August 17, 2020, the National Council for Emergency Relief and Rehabilitation (Conasur, a public structure with a social and humanitarian vocation) estimated at 1,013,234 (including 450,000 new for the year 2020 alone) the number of displaced against 50,000 in December 2018. This corresponds to 5% of the total population of Burkina Faso, or even one in 20, and the Center-North and Sahel regions host three quarters.
The UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, estimates that less than 20% of the shelter needs of these displaced people are currently covered.
A staff member of a local humanitarian NGO operating in the North-Central region testifies anonymously: “We are operating in an area where the state is sometimes absent. Almost every day, we see dozens of people in distress who have fled the comfort of their villages following armed offensives or threats of attacks, leaving everything behind. These destitute people need assistance to survive. And the means of NGOs like ours are far from enough,” he says.
The officer also stressed the urgent need for “international awareness” of the humanitarian situation in Burkina Faso.
A neglected humanitarian crisis
While the Sahel region, which occupies the northern part of West Africa, is currently experiencing the most dramatic humanitarian deterioration in the world. The spearheaded by Burkina Faso, the humanitarian crisis in that country, has a surprisingly low international profile.
Yet 2.8 million Burkinabè (twice as many as in 2019) are food insecure, and more than 2,500 schools are closed, a situation that deprives 350,000 students of access to education. Besides, in addition to its one million displaced persons, Burkina Faso is home to nearly 20,000 Malian refugees. Most of them have been living in the country since 2012.
In order to meet these enormous and urgent humanitarian challenges – which are entirely beyond the means of the Burkinabe state – the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other agencies continue to call for the disbursement of promised international assistance. Of the $371.6 million required for humanitarian aid to Burkina Faso in 2020, only 26.3%, or $96.4 million, had been mobilized in the first half of the year.
Pending a dwindling level of aid, NGOs are forced to redouble their efforts on the ground. From January to June 2020, the ICRC’s communication coordinator in Ouagadougou explained that the organization provided food and household kits to more than 120,000 displaced people and vaccinated more than 32,000 children against measles and rubella.