DevelopmentHumanitarian Crises

Displaced People In Burkina Faso May Be Impacted By Russia-Ukraine War

Humanitarian actors have called on the international community to not divert funds and attention away from the Sahel region because of the crisis in Ukraine.

The unfolding humanitarian emergency in Europe caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine is shifting priorities of donor governments and aid actors away from the armed conflict and security fallouts of a January military coup in Burkina Faso that have displaced more than 1.7 million people.

Humanitarian organisations say they are concerned that the wave of cuts will become a trend and affect Burkinables whose lives have been upended by years of unending violence, more.

A proliferation of Al-Qaeda and Islamic State Affiliate-linked terror and counter-insurgency actions by state armed forces in the Sahel region have spread and engulfed Burkina Faso since 2018, causing an exodus of millions of people across the country almost on a daily basis.

In Jan. 2019, the country registered a total of 87,000 displaced people but the displaced population grew by 2,000 per cent within two years, with over 1.7 million people now uprooted—more than two-thirds are children.

The insecurity has cut people off from their livelihoods, particularly farmlands, exacerbating the food shortage crisis in the country where 40.1 per cent live on less than $1.90 a day. 

Burkina Faso is a landlocked country whose struggling economy, heavily dependent on rainfed agriculture, has been buffeted by climate shocks — drought and flood—and COVID-19 pandemic fallouts.

In two years, the number of people in need of emergency food aid in the country has tripled to more than 3 million— the figure is expected to increase significantly during the lean season in 2022. 

More than 95 per cent of the displaced currently live in hosting communities like Dori and Ouahigouya, depending on the already limited humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations humanitarian agency.

According to the country’s humanitarian response plan 2022, at least $590.9 million is needed to provide life-saving assistance to 3 million people targeted, with food security budgeted at $224.9m claiming the largest part of the plan.

The World Food Programme (WFP) says critical funding gaps may affect its ability to assist people during the lean season in the country. In 2021, the WFP scooped $112.7 million out of $342.4m funded plans. The response plan had required $607.9m but aid funding only covered 43.7 per cent of the plan in 2021.

Humanitarian organisations say the overall funding for the humanitarian response is less than half of what is needed.

Russia-Ukraine war impacts

The ongoing conflict in Burkina Faso has severely affected both humanitarian access to the most vulnerable populations and communities’ access to basic services, impacting some 1.7 million people in need of healthcare. A total of 155 health facilities are closed and 273 are operating at minimum capacity, affecting 879,820 people.

Continuous displacements have led to decreased vaccination coverage and the resurgence of measles outbreaks, according to the UN refugee agency.  In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, the country is also facing other epidemic threats, particularly cholera, Ebola, Marburg fever, and polio, with limited response capacities.

The situation is projected to be direr with the shifting focus of donor governments and aid actors to the humanitarian and displacement crisis in Ukraine. According to Safia Torche, General Director for Medicins du Monde(Doctors of the World), a global medical charity in Burkina Faso, some donors have indicated that they would proceed to a 70 per cent cut of the charity’s funding to support their operations in Ukraine. 

“We are very concerned that this will become a trend, making access to healthcare and other basic services even scarcer for displaced people in Burkina Faso,” said Torche.

The crisis in Ukraine is also likely to impact soaring grain prices, making an already bad situation worse,  Grégoire Brou, Country Director for Action Against Hunger in Burkina Faso said.

“Now is the time for the mobilization of all, not disengagement,” Bruo said.

In a statement on Thursday, March 10, the aid actors warned it is important the crisis in Ukraine does not divert funds and attention away from the Sahel region in 2022.

“Flashing around big figures at high-level meetings doesn’t mean anything to people who lack decent shelter, clean water, and can’t feed their children three meals a day,” Hassane Hamadou, Country Director for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Burkina Faso said. “We call on donor countries to make good on the promises made at the Central Sahel Conference in October 2020.”

Hamadou said the crisis in the Sahel region should not be addressed only when strategically convenient, or when a Sahel country is in the media limelight. “The international community has a duty to alleviate human suffering, whether they hit close to home or not,” he said.

Meanwhile, the trend of aid cuts in Burkina Faso has been eminent even before the war broke out in Ukraine. A series of factors such as aid sanctions, COVID-19 fallouts and donor fatigue has followed the trend of aid funding falling short. For instance, the United States (U.S) -the largest donor in the country- earlier in February halted nearly $160 million in aid to the country after determining that the January ouster of President Roch Kabore constituted a military coup.

In 2021, the United Kingdom (U.K.), Australia and Saudi Arabia also cut their funding to the country due to the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, aid cuts, humanitarian actors say, mean beneficiaries will be left on their own, and many local aid workers will be out of a job, with access constraints to essential services such as the sexual and reproductive healthcare that helps thousands of survivors of gender-based violence and rape. 

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Aishat Babatunde

Aishat Babatunde heads the digital reporting desk. Before joining HumAngle, she worked at Premium Times and Nigerian Tribune. She is a graduate of English from the University of Ibadan.

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