Burundi: Urgent action needed to prevent a humanitarian crisis

(New York, 15 December 2015): Two United Nations Emergency Directors warned today that urgent action is needed to prevent a descent into catastrophic violence in Burundi.

The Emergency Directors of seven UN agencies, the International Organization for Migration and three international NGOs travelled to Burundi from 2 to 5 December to assess the deteriorating humanitarian situation.

“Burundi is facing a critical crossroads,” warned John Ging, the Emergency Director of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “The levels of displacement and food insecurity are already concerning, but we risk another full-blown humanitarian crisis without urgent progress on the political front.”

Intensified violence in Burundi is worsening the humanitarian plight of an already vulnerable population. Burundi is placed 184 out of 187 on the UN Development Index, with over 80 per cent of families below the poverty line, 7 per cent of the population severely food insecure, and 58 per cent of people chronically malnourished. On top of this, many areas of the country are suffering the ill-effects of El Niño, with widespread flooding having destroyed homes and livelihoods.

Donor funding accounted for over half of Burundi’s budget before this crisis. However, several bilateral donors have suspended budget support in response to the political crisis, which is further straining the provision of essential public services like health and clean water. Free healthcare for young children and mothers has just been suspended, a cut which is likely to have severe public health impacts.

“Children are bearing the brunt of the violence in Burundi,” said Afshan Khan, UNICEF’s Emergency Director. “Many have been killed, wounded and arbitrarily detained, while many more are living with the constant sound of gunshots and grenades. These violations against the children of Burundi must end now. Children must be protected from all forms of violence and their rights must be respected.”

About 100 people have been killed by violence in the capital city Bujumbura in the past four days, with an estimated 340 people killed since April. The political crisis has led to popular protests which have been heavily repressed by security forces, resulting in significant human rights abuses and repression of the media. Some 220,000 people have fled Burundi and 15,000 people have been displaced within the country since April.

“Action is needed now to prevent a descent into catastrophic violence,” warned Mr. Ging. “Worsening tension in a country with a history of deep ethnic divisions must be urgently addressed to protect civilians from further harm.”

For further information, please call: Michelle Delaney, OCHA New York, delaneym@un.org, Tel + 1 917 367 4568, Cell +1 917226 6308

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