This is a summary of what was said by Meritxell Relaño, UNICEF Deputy Director of Emergency Operations, at a press briefing at the Palais des Nations, following an inter-agency mission to Burkina Faso on 1-4 October.
11 October 2019 – Burkina Faso is witnessing a dramatic deterioration in humanitarian conditions, notably in the northern and central parts of the country. About one-third of the country is engulfed in fighting among multiple non state armed groups and no longer accessible to humanitarian workers. Insecurity and violence over the past months have displaced tens of thousands of families. Nearly half a million have now been forced to flee the fighting. We are particularly worried about the civilians, children especially, that we cannot reach.
The impact of the insecurity and violence is especially stark in terms of the impact on education and health. Attacks and threats on schools, students and teachers have forced more than 2,000 schools to close, depriving 330,000 children of education and affecting 9,000 teachers. Most of the closed schools are in the northern part of the country. This places more and more children, particularly girls, at risk of sexual exploitation and abuse, child marriage and early pregnancy. Children not in school are also at higher risk of being recruited by armed groups.
More than 68 health centres have also shut down, affecting the access to basic health care for 800,000 people. There is limited access to safe drinking water, and poor knowledge of safe hygiene and child feeding practices, and we are seeing a steep increase in the number of children who are malnourished – nearly one in four children below five years old are chronically malnourished, and about 150,000 suffer life-threatening severe acute malnutrition.
We visited a school in Barsalogho that was occupied by displaced families. I saw around 70 children of primary school age. What struck me most at first, was how traumatised they seemed. There was no learning taking place, and there was almost nothing for them to do. We also met with a group of displaced women and young girls in Kaya. Some were living in the open, others in schools, and others in extremely overcrowded shelters. We heard stories of women giving birth in the open while fleeing violence, and of cases of miscarriage. Young girls said it was crucial that they go back to school so to avoid early marriage and to learn skills that would help them find work.
Children and families in Burkina Faso desperately need more protection and assistance. UNICEF calls on all parties to protect children and the civilian infrastructure on which they depend, and for schools especially, to be safe spaces for learning. The humanitarian community can and must do more.
Funding is also critical. In July, the humanitarian community revised its response plan to account for growing needs, appealing for $187 million to assist 1.3 million people. As of October, just we had received just one-third of the required funding. For UNICEF, the gap is even more extreme: we have received just $11.4 million of our $47.6 million appeal.
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