Hunger grips Burkina Faso due to increasing jihadi violence

Martine Roamba's 10-month old daughter tugs at her mother's breasts to get milk.

Hunger grips Burkina Faso due to increasing jihadi violence

Since birth, the baby is struggling to eat because her mother didn't have enough food to make enough breastmilk after fleeing her northern Burkina Faso village last year. This was when jihadis began killing people.

Roamba, 30, attempts to soothe her daughter's crying while she lies on a hospital mattress with Ouagadougou and other severely malnourished children.

She said, "It is very worrying, and we're praying that God doesn't allow the baby to deteriorate into an even more dire situation."

The increasing violence in conflict-ridden Burkina Faso is the result of increasing violence that is linked to al-Qaida or the Islamic State group,, which has killed thousands and displaced many millions and prevented people from farming. According to U.N. agencies and the government's latest food security report, 3.5 million people are insecure. Nearly 630,000 will be at risk of starvation. This represents an 82% increase in emergency hunger compared to last year.

Claudine Konate (a nutrition specialist at UNICEF) stated that "the nutrition situation in (the nation) is deteriorating more rapidly, there are more people in dire need." She said that the country must prepare for a growing crisis.

Clarisse Nikiema (head of nutrition at the hospital) stated that the hospital has seen an increase in severely malnourished children since two years ago. There is not enough staff or space to accommodate them.

She said, "Because of their displacement, they are deeply poor and can't provide for their families, so children become malnourished." She said that sometimes, after recovery, families won't leave their home because they don't want the children to go hungry back at home.

Burkina Faso’s democratically elected president was overthrown by mutiny in January. The ruling junta stated that their number one priority is restoring security. According to the U.N., attacks have increased, with a 11% increase in incidents in February. Experts say that violence is bringing more people closer to starvation.

The northern Sahel region is where the situation is the most dire. Cities like Djibo were besieged for months by jihadi rebels, limiting the ability to deliver food aid. Other cities, such as Gorom Gorom have no functioning health centers. Jean Paul Ouedraogo from Lay Volunteers International Association, an Italian-based aid group, stated that only two of the 27 districts are functional.

Jihadi rebels are expanding westward into Burkina Faso's breadbasket and are stealing crops, livestock, and chasing people out of their rural homes and into the cities.

Prices are rising due to a decrease in supply and an increase in demand. Locals claim that the cost of 100 kg of corn has almost doubled in recent years, from $30 to $50. Due to the conflict in Ukraine, aid organizations are anticipating more price increases. According to the U.N., Burkina Faso purchases more than a third its wheat from Russia. While the effects are not yet evident, humanitarians believe it is a concern.

Gregoire Brou is the country director of Action Against Hunger in Burkina Faso. "The crisis in Ukraine will also likely to affect soaring grain prices. This will make an already difficult situation worse." The country's aid is already inadequately funded -- the UN reported that the UN requested $607 million last year for its humanitarian response plan. Now agencies claim that donors are suggesting a 70% reduction in funding to support operations in Ukraine.

Hunger is now a problem for almost everyone in the country, including those who are trying to defend it. A group of civilians, who volunteered to fight alongside army troops in the northern town Ouahigouya told The Associated Press that they are fighting jihadis with empty stomachs.

One volunteer said that volunteers "fight for the country but they fight hunger." He spoke under condition of anonymity as he wasn't authorized to talk to the media. He said that the $8 per month minimum wage as a volunteer is not enough to sustain oneself due to lack of farming.

According to Dr. Gerard Koudougou Kombassere who works in a local hospital, malnourished people are increasingly arriving in Ouahigouya's health centers in serious condition. It takes longer for them to recover. He said that the most vulnerable are those who have been forced to leave their homes and that malnutrition rates are increasing among them. Residents of Ouahigouya, where around 2,300 people sought refuge, told AP that they had received food assistance once in the last 10 months.

Salamata Nacanabo, a refugee, said that her family used to eat five meals a day in their village. Now they only eat once. The 31-year old recounts her experience with gunshots and mimics the sound of gunshots.

She said, "They stole everything. They stole my cattle, food, and they also took my goats." "Now it is very difficult to care for the children."


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