Food crisis looms for 2 million Burundian flood victims, UN warns
Two million people hit by recent floods in Burundi need $12 million in urgent aid to tide them over until the end of the so-called ‘lean season’ in June and avert a food crisis, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today.
“If we do not bring urgent help to the most vulnerable, the consequences could be devastating for the recovery of a country still weakened by 13 years of civil war,” WFP Country Director Gerard Van Dijk said, noting that 2 million people represented 25 per cent of the small East African nation’s total population.
“Given how long it takes to get food aid and other assistance to Burundi, we have no time to waste; we need international support now in order to help people until June,” he added.
Last week UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) appealed for $132 million for their work in Burundi during 2007, a figure that includes the present urgent requirement of $12 million.
An assessment in January led by WFP and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found that heavy rains and floods had destroyed 50-80 per cent of the November harvest and much of January’s crop of beans, sweet potatoes, maize, sorghum and rice across large parts of the country.
It recorded increasing use of survival strategies with some people cutting down to one meal a day and resorting to ‘famine foods’, such as cassava leaves or bitter banana. Mortgages of fields, the sale of assets and people being forced to leave their homes are worrying signs of an impending major food crisis.
The late arrival of rains at the end of last year combined with cassava disease and recent floods have had a devastating effect on the food stocks of the poorest families in Burundi.
“All these elements are signs of a looming food crisis,” Mr. Van Dijk said.
Due to a shortage of food stocks, WFP and its NGO partner, CARE, delivered reduced food rations to 400,000 people, most of them affected by the floods. WFP also had to cut rations by 25 per cent for refugees, returnees, Burundians expelled from Tanzania and children in its school feeding programme.
“The floods have hit the country at the worst possible time; although peace prevails, living conditions remain extremely difficult, with most Burundians having to focus on just meeting their basic daily needs,” Mr. Van Dijk said.
In the most affected areas in the north and centre of the country, the traditional ‘lean season,’ when food from the last harvest runs out, began in September 2006 and will last until the end of June 2007, when the next harvest is due. Burundi is still emerging from the civil war that killed more than 300,000 people and displaced more than 1 million others.