UN calls for support for the most vulnerable in Burkina Faso to “restart their lives”

The humanitarian appeal for 2021 is around 500 million euros and stems from a “massive” displacement crisis


Burkina Faso is going through an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, which draws on the same weaknesses that plague other Sahel countries and whose main exponent is a “massive” displacement crisis. The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Ramesh Rajasingham, asks the international community for help so that these people can “restart their lives.”

Humanitarian agents have requested 607 million dollars (around 500 million euros) for 2021, a figure that far exceeds the amount required a year ago and that aims to alleviate the situation of 2.9 million people.

On the one hand, the violence has caused more than a million displaced people in just two years and has raised the total number of people in need of help to 3.5 million, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Intercommunity violence has been added to the activity of Islamist groups, which mainly pits herders against farmers.

In addition, despite the rains in 2020, food insecurity and malnutrition also remain at “alarming” levels, especially in areas affected by insecurity such as the north and east. So much so that in two provinces there are already 11,000 people at risk of going into a situation of famine.

Rajasingham explains in an interview to Europa Press that “the history (of Burkia Faso) is very similar to that of other parts of the Sahel” and it intermingles issues related to security and also effects derived from climate change, which are particularly important with those who depend on agriculture or livestock to survive.

This combination of factors has led to a “massive displacement” of people who “have lost their homes, their livestock, their way of life” and who, now, “are completely dependent on humanitarian assistance.” In this sense, the head of the UN has insisted that they are “people who cannot fend for themselves” and whose life is hanging by a thread.

Rajasingham visited Burkina Faso this month, where he saw first-hand the situation in hot spots like Gibo, where a community of just 50,000 people – and “not very rich” – has had to adapt to the arrival of 150,000 displaced people.

“I have never come across figures like this for a host community,” in which the displaced outnumbered “three to one” residents of the area, says Rajasingham, who acknowledges the “enormous generosity” with which Gibo has responded to newcomers despite their “limited resources.”


The programs proposed by the UN also aspire to alleviate the collateral effects of displacement, both on the host communities and on the displaced themselves, who not only require a simple survival channel. Rajasingham warns of the risk of women and girls experiencing sexual violence or the “long-term impact” of slamming down education.

The COVID-19 pandemic also does not help in places where “maintaining social distance is very difficult”, with shops where dozens of people can crowd. Burkina Faso has registered more than 11,000 cases of coronavirus and more than a hundred deaths – according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) of the African Union, but Rajasingham notes that both its capacity to perform tests and health care is “weak”.

In this sense, it recognizes that, as in other countries in the area, COVID-19 “is having a massive impact in Burkina Faso” and, in the specific case of the camps for displaced persons, it is intended that at least “they are aware of the risks “. The information campaigns “are working very well,” according to Rajasingham, who also includes the distribution of masks among the relief work.

In terms of hygiene and sanitation, note that humanitarian actors are doing “a great job” and trying, “where possible, to support local infrastructure.” The UN official cites as an example of good practices a water project that he himself saw and that, after being initially built for the displaced, was expanded with more sophisticated means until it was connected to the local network.


Burkina Faso is one of the countries grouped together in the G5 Sahel, a regional alliance that earlier this week held a meeting open to other international actors as well. The forum ended up dominated by messages on security matters, based on the military commitments announced by the different parties involved – also from Europe.

Security “is a huge concern,” says Rajasingham. “If you want to achieve improvements, surely you have to improve security”, but it is also necessary to ensure that vulnerable people can “pick up the pieces of their lives and regain their livelihood,” he adds.

Thus, he points out that any message in terms of security must go “hand in hand” with development programs, for example taking into account “the future impact” of climate change, which is already being noticed with more unstable climates ranging from droughts durable to massive rains in much of Africa.

Rajasingham, who advocates a long-term vision, nonetheless recognizes that any future work depends on what can be done now. “If we cannot support them today, whatever program we do tomorrow will not work,” he stresses.


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