Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso: Gov't inaction delays help to 300,000 in need of food

OUAGADOUGOU, 2 May 2007 (IRIN) - The Burkina Faso government's failure to make an official statement confirming the results of a government survey in March that identified hunger and nutritional insecurity in 12 of 45 provinces is delaying the start of aid operations to some 300,000 people.

United Nations agencies, nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and some government officials are warning that the delay is potentially putting aid operations for thousands of people at risk as the annual rainy season approaches.

"We are insisting that those who can intervene do so without waiting for an official declaration so to avoid the situation worsening," Michel Zerbo, director of the early warning system at the Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries, told IRIN.

"Acting now will be better because the rainy season renders certain areas inaccessible," he said.

But the World Food Programme's (WFP) Paula Dos Santos explained that without an official letter from the government UN agencies "cannot act".

Some NGOs, UN agencies and the Ministry of Agriculture are in the process of drafting a memorandum on the food situation, which will be presented to the government.

"This is to show that we share the same concerns and the same views on the situation," explained Felix Sanfo, representative of the UN humanitarian coordination agency (OCHA) in Burkina Faso.

A government-commissioned report on the 2006-2007 agricultural campaign, released last month by Burkina Faso's national statistics agency, said at least 300,000 people in 500 villages are affected by food shortages.

Last year's harvest was very poor in some areas and widespread poverty prevents many people from supplementing their supplies with purchasing at markets. Other causes of the food shortage include a shortage of water to carry out market gardening and to sustain cattle.

WFP has been observing parts of the region since October. In one area surveyed in March, 60 percent of 20 surveyed households had already run out of food stocks and seeds, forcing people to chew leaves and sorghum. Other families have resorted to sending men and children to look for work at gold mines and in urban areas in Burkina and in neighbouring Togo and Benin.

Preparations should have started in late March for the transfer of more than 3,000 tonnes of food from national intervention stocks to markets every month, according to the report.

WFP is currently providing food for school canteens in priority zones, mainly in the north and Sahel regions of Burkina, which frequently face food insecurity.

WFP also provides food to literacy centres and "food for work" to assist populations with cereals to support land restoration activities in the country. It will distribute at least 15,000 tonnes of food this year.