During an overnight attack on June 4, a group of suspected extremists killed as many as 132 people, including 7 children, in the village of Solhan in the Yagha province in Burkina Faso. One local source described to the Agence France-Presse (AFP) traumatic scenes of gunmen methodically orchestrating “executions.” Government reports also state that resident houses and the village market were burnt down.
The attacks have drawn immediate condemnation from President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, who denounced the killings as “barbaric” and urged the Burkinabe people to “remain united and solid against these obscurantist forces.” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres similarly deplored the attacks as “heinous” and has called on countries to redouble their effort to curb “violent extremism and its unacceptable human toll.”
Although responsibility for the attacks has not yet been claimed, the events of June 4 follow a disturbing trend of jihadist violence sweeping across northern Burkina Faso and the Sahel. Since 2015, the country has struggled to quell increasingly frequent and deadly attacks from groups linked to al-Qaeda and more recently to Daesh. Initially, attacks were largely confined to the north near the border with Mali; however, attacks have since spread across the region and the worsening violence is threatening to devolve into one of the world’s most acute humanitarian crises, according to U.N. agencies.
Just last month on May 4, the village of Kodyel in the eastern province of Komandjari was attacked similarly to Friday’s tragedy: houses were scorched, 30 people were killed, and another 17,500 people were forcefully displaced. In total, the violence in Burkina Faso has displaced some 1.2 million people.
The deteriorating situation is exacerbated by the harsh effects of climate change. The desert region of the Sahel, the epicentre of these attacks, is the driest and hottest part of the country. Even before violence becoming endemic to the region, seasonal climatic variations for the Sahel were straining its water resources. The subsequent violence has only increased this pressure. According to the UN-Water, Hygiene, and Sanitation humanitarian group, around 92,000 people require assistance in Gorom Gorom, a small district in northern Burkina Faso. According to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the water crisis is worsening.
This in itself could trigger other destabilising effects, including the lack of clean water becoming a likely source for disease. Although this month marks the beginning of the rainy season, which will provide much-needed relief for water shortages, grave risks remain. Untreated water and higher concentration of people are the sources of several parasitic infections, skin diseases, and water-borne diseases, such as diarrhoea. Between January and March 2021, MSF received more than 1,200 children suffering from diarrhoea at just two clinics.
The persistent attacks pose more than a conventional security threat for Burkina Faso. The effects of climate change are negatively reinforcing conditions in the Sahel, threatening to further destabilise the region by resource shortages. Burkina Faso, a cash-strapped country still reeling from the economic toll of COVID-19, would be ill-equipped to face another disease outbreak should one fester in the aftermath of these attacks.
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