Climate Change, COVID-19, And Violent Displacement In Burkina Faso

In Burkina Faso, recent reports released by national authorities have highlighted a surge in the number of people displaced from their homes in the last year. In total, a combination of a changing climate and escalating violence amid COVID-19 has seen a record one million Burkinabé internally displaced over the past 18 months. 453,000 people have been displaced since just the start of this year.

Organized raids and violent activity by armed groups in the north and east of the country have been key factors in causing people to move, and the two regions of the Centre Nord and the Sahel now host 76% of all the country’s internally displaced persons. According to the Burkinabé Council for Emergency Relief and Rehabilitation, there have been 184 attacks against Burkina Faso’s civilians since the start of the year. And recent information from the International Crisis Group has demonstrated that the country experienced the most Jihadist attacks in the Sahel region in the previous year. The level of forced movement is such that, within Burkina Faso’s population, one in 20 people are now displaced.

These statistics are made all the more extraordinary because Burkina Faso has provided security to refugees from neighbouring countries. The country has given Malian refugees access since 2012, and, in total, nearly 20,000 refugees reside in Burkina Faso. Now these groups are also facing insecurity. Only a few months ago, Burkina Faso’s Goudoubo refugee camp was forced to empty after a series of sustained attacks and threats by armed groups. Meanwhile, violence or the threat of violence in other refugee camps has severely restricted access for both refugees and resources across the country.

Adding to this woe are the recent crop failures witnessed across the country, a phenomenon exacerbated by the outbreak of COVID-19 and climate change. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)’s Tom Peyre-Costa has described this devastating impact: “The crops are not being harvested because people are being displaced or there are no crops because of the lack of rainfall, the prices of goods and food are rising, and the markets are being closed due to restrictions… This is also combined with climate issues – insufficient rainfall, and obviously the pandemic, which is exacerbating the needs of the people.”

It is innocent civilians who are suffering most from this vicious combination of violence, climate change-enforced food shortages, and disease. For Peyre-Costa, more action is needed from the international community, with only 30% of the NRC’s fundraising target met so far. “This one million number [of Burkinabé internally displaced] should really be a wakeup call for the international community about the daily violence against civilians,” he says. Indeed, this issue is one which requires prompt, decisive, multilateral action from countries whose infrastructures and climates are less precarious. Widespread and targeted investment is required to ensure that the international support genuinely reaches those civilians on the ground rather than being caught up in complex political bureaucracy. This is best achieved by funding organizations like the NRC, who are able to contribute on-the-ground work and support to those worst affected by this crisis.

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