Humanitarian Health Action

Unfolding crisis in Burundi requires resources to scale up humanitarian support

WHO supports health response to Burundians in need.
WHO supports health response to Burundians in need.
WHO Burundi

The World Health Organization (WHO) and its United Nations partners say that continuing political unrest in Burundi increases the risk of an impending humanitarian crisis, and there are not enough resources to respond to the country’s next emergency.

“More than 200 000 people have already fled to neighbouring countries. Any escalation of the emergency due to increasing violence, further displacement, disease outbreak or disaster could devastate Burundi. There is little capacity to effectively respond, particularly in the health sector,” said Dr Babacar Drame, WHO Representative for Burundi.

Anticipating a deteriorating situation, the humanitarian community amended its planning figures for Burundi to ensure adequate measures are in place to help save lives and alleviate the suffering of some 500 000 people who could be affected by the political crisis over the next six months. In addition, various factors, including rising food prices and declining tax revenues, could cause the humanitarian situation to rapidly deteriorate.

Due to political disputes and reports of human rights violations, foreign aid has been scaled back or suspended. For a country that counts on foreign aid for half of its national budget, the potential humanitarian effects of this shortfall could be debilitating. Further instability, continued suspension of financial support, flooding or another disease outbreak could put Burundi over the edge.

“Where displaced people have moved, overcrowding and poor water and sanitation facilities could easily lead to communicable disease outbreaks, such as cholera. Stocks and logistical capacities are low for a humanitarian response,” added Dr Drame.

With limited funding available for food aid and 97% of Burundians dependent on agriculture, malnutrition could significantly increase the chances of illnesses and deaths in children and other vulnerable groups. The El Niño effect, which is expected to set in soon, is likely to worsen this situation. Eleven out of Burundi’s 18 provinces could be affected by excessive rainfall caused by El Niño, possibly resulting in floods and landslides.

In general, existing capacity in most humanitarian sectors is only sufficient to meet the needs of about 10 000 people. Only a small number of partners are present and available to scale up any response, particularly for health and nutrition issues. Existing funding shortfalls will be overwhelmed if the humanitarian situation deteriorates even further.

A funding upsurge is required to prepare for the planned increase in needs. UN humanitarian agencies and partners estimate that US$ 32.5 million would be required to prepare for and respond to the humanitarian needs. As part of this humanitarian appeal, WHO estimates US$ 5.9 million to meet minimal requirements to prepare and respond to the crisis.