Over 2 million people displaced, Burkina Faso government says, as aid falls short

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Violence linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group has made Burkina Faso a country with one of the fastest growing populations of internally displaced people in the world. , with a number that has increased by more than 2,000% since 2019, according to government data.

Figures released last month showed that more than 2 million people are internally displaced in the West African nation, the majority of them women and children, fueling a serious humanitarian crisis as the conflict pushed people from their homes, farms and into congested urban areas or makeshift camps.

Aid groups and the government are scrambling to respond amid a lack of funds and growing needs. One in four people need help and tens of thousands face catastrophic levels of hunger. Yet not even half of the $800 million humanitarian response budget requested last year by aid groups has been funded, according to the United Nations.

“The spectrum of consequences (for people) is vast but dark at every moment. Many people could die, and they are dying because they could not access food and health services, because they were not properly protected, and the humanitarian assistance and government response have not been enough,” said Alexandra Lamarche, a senior researcher with advocacy group Refugees International said.

The violence has divided a once peaceful nation, leading to two coups last year. Military leaders have vowed to stem insecurity, but jihadist attacks have continued and spread since Captain Ibrahim Traore took power in September.

The government retains control of less than 50% of the country, much of it in rural areas, according to conflict analysts. Al-Qaeda and Islamic State-affiliated groups control or threaten large areas, said Rida Lyammouri, senior fellow at the Policy Center for the New South, a Morocco-based think tank.

“The state security forces do not have the resources (human and material) to fight the two groups on all fronts,” he said.

The jihadists’ strategy of blockading cities, preventing people from moving freely and goods from entering them, has deepened the travel crisis. Some 800,000 people in more than 20 cities are under siege, aid groups say.

“The situation is very difficult. … People have no food, children have no school,” said Bibata Sangli, 53, who left the eastern town of Pama in January 2022 just before it came under siege. . She still has family there who can’t leave, Sangli said.

A community leader who met Jafar Dicko, Burkina Faso’s top jihadist, last year said Dicko’s group blocks towns that don’t accept its rules, such as banning alcohol and obligation for women to veil their face. The leader spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

In January, the United Nations began using Chinook heavy-lift helicopters to airlift supplies to areas inaccessible by road – an extremely expensive approach. The three Chinooks were reduced to one in May, making it harder to reach so many people so quickly.

As the humanitarian situation deteriorates, the ability of aid groups to act has also deteriorated.

Since the start of military takeovers by the government of Burkina Faso in January 2022, incidents against humanitarian organizations perpetrated by security forces have increased from one in 2021 to 11 last year, according to unpublished data for the humanitarian groups consulted by the Associated Press. Incidents included arrested, detained and injured workers.

In November, security forces killed an aid worker with a Burkinabe aid organization in the Sahel region, the vast expanse beneath the Sahara Desert, according to a text message sent to a WhatsApp group of aid workers seen by the PA.

Rights groups, analysts and civilians say Traoré, the junta leader, is solely focused on achieving military gains and cares little for human rights, freedom of expression or justice. hold people accountable for the indiscriminate killings of individuals suspected of supporting activists.

Burkina Faso’s security forces killed at least 150 civilians in the north in April, according to residents of the village of Karma, where most of the violence took place. Prosecutors said they have opened an investigation into the murders.

Earlier this year, an AP investigation of a video circulating on social media determined that Burkina Faso’s security forces had killed children at a military base in the north of the country.

While the government is waging war, civilians suffer and lose hope.

After jihadists attacked his village in eastern Burkina Faso in April, killing people and stealing cattle, a father of five, who did not want to be identified for security reasons, fled to the main town in the region, Fada N’Gourma.

But now his family has no food or access to health care, and the aid provided by aid groups is not enough, he said.

“Since we were displaced, our situation has been getting worse,” the 46-year-old said. “I miss my home.”


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