Humanitarian Situation Worsens in Burkina Faso Amid COVID-19

Burkina Faso is a low-income Sahelian country with limited natural resources. Its economy is largely based on agriculture, which employs close to 80% of the working population, although gold exports have increased in recent years. Despite the progress made in the past two decades, Burkina Faso faces many development challenges, particularly in terms of health and education. It ranks 144th among 157 countries in the new human capital index established by the World Bank, and 40.1% of the population lives below the national poverty line. Furthermore, insecurity linked to frequent terrorist attacks since 2016 has created an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

Burkina Faso continues to experience a complex humanitarian crisis characterized by violent attacks, violations of human rights, weakened social bonds between some ethnic groups and increasing socio-economic disparities between northern and central regions, which have led to significant internal displacement. The humanitarian situation in Burkina Faso deteriorated rapidly in 2019, driven primarily by conflict involving armed groups that have gained control of territory in the north and east. Instability in Burkina Faso has driven a massive rise in displacement, from 9,000 people at the start of 2018 to nearly 5,00,000 (as of October 2019). The conflict has decreased access to education, health, and other services and the trend has likely continued in 2020. It is estimated, by the end of 2020, almost 9,00,000 people will be displaced.

Burkina Faso is one of the world’s biggest exporters of gold, however, it has little to show. Despite all the income that is generated in the country, there are just 11 ventilators to cater to the need of 20 million people. The country is ill-equipped to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. Hospitals and clinics are closing down after threats of attack by an Al-Qaeda affiliate in the Islamic state in the Greater Sahara. Reportedly, two groups have stepped up their operations despite the pandemic causing the few hundred doctors of the country to abandon their posts; leaving the people of Burkina Faso alone to deal with a virus that’s rapidly spreading.

Faso is a ticking time bomb. This crisis is revealing how fragile and vulnerable some countries in West Africa are during a pandemic, more specifically the Sahel countries that are faced with the challenge of armed groups.

ALOUNE TINE, FOUNDER, AFRIKAJOM THINK TANK

In the current scenario, while most of the students are seeking education online, those living in Burkina Faso haven't been to school since 2019. Children living in Burkina Faso have been deprived of their basic right to education. Schools and teachers are soft targets for Islamists militants, who oppose secular education. Over 200,000 children have been affected by these closures — a staggering number in a country where education is already an issue. In 2016, only 57.9% of children finished primary school. In late March 2020, the UNICEF office in Burkina Faso received a GPE grant of US$70,000 to support the Ministry of Education in planning its response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. However, due to the militant uprising in Burkina Faso, most parents are scared to send their kids to school. The armed forces have tried to establish their rule by killing innocent teachers and shutting down schools. In the most recent attack that took place in Burkina Faso is dated May 31, 2020. Some 30 people have been killed in eastern Burkina Faso in a gun attack on a cattle market, reports say.

Burkina Faso is home to some of the most disturbing humanitarian issues in the world. While the number of displaced people continues to rise, over 1.2 million people witness a food shortage. Not only that, but insecurity is also cutting off swathes of the country to aid workers. The negotiating access with armed groups is proving difficult and the lack of funding is undermining the humanitarian response. Widespread frustration with the lack of jobs and infrastructure has made Burkina Faso a fertile recruiting ground for jihadists — and there are numerous smaller groups, not all of which are affiliated to larger ones or pledge allegiance to Islamist ideology. Conflict and instability also create conditions that allow jihadists to install bases and control territory. The increased terror in the last few years has made living conditions in Burkina Faso even worse.