Burundi: UN seeking to prevent outbreaks of deadly disease among flood victims

Burundi: UN seeking to prevent outbreaks of deadly disease among flood victims

The United Nation’s Children’s Fund is struggling to prevent outbreaks of deadly diseases like diarrhoea and cholera in Burundi, where hunger and flooding have already killed some youngsters, made more homeless and are keeping others out of school.

“People are dying from a variety of causes, which range from being beaten for stealing crops to food poisoning from eating unfamiliar roots and leaves – or they are simply starving to death,” UNICEF said in its latest update on the mounting death toll.

“Others have drowned in the flooding. Mothers are selling clothes and other belongings to keep their children alive, and some families are selling off land, roofing sheets and even the wooden supports from their homes as firewood.”

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has led UN agencies and national non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in calling on the international community to provide food aid for 2 million Burundians, almost one third of the population, between now and the next harvest later this year. The small Central African country is trying to recover, with UN help, from decades of ethnic conflict that killed hundreds of thousands of people.

Families in the affected areas have no food reserves and most households eat only once a day. Crops planted in August were lost during an unusually harsh dry spell. When the rains resumed at the end of September and farmers began planting again, the rains turned to torrents and floods, sweeping away crops and submerging farmlands.

“Most households have lost up to 50 or 60 per cent of their income because they cannot farm,” UNICEF Burundi Communication Officer Olalekan Ajia said. “Their farms have been swept away, their homes destroyed and they are either displaced internally or they have started fleeing towards the border with Tanzania.”

At least 60 per cent of Burundians live on less than $1 a day, but the price of beans, their most affordable source of protein, has almost doubled. One kilogramme of beans which cost 450 Burundian francs (about $0.4) in January 2006 now costs an average of 750 francs.

As well as causing hunger, the flooding has destroyed thousands of homes, hundreds of schools and several bridges and roads. Some 13,475 people have been left homeless, and in one province alone 908 children are reported to have left school.

UNICEF is supporting 20 therapeutic feeding centres and 198 supplementary feeding centres with nutritional milk and Plumpy'nut, a vitamin-rich peanut paste, and has distributed insecticide-treated mosquito nets to prevent malaria. It is also helping communities rebuild schools by supplying roofing sheets.