As prepared for delivery
I went on a quick visit to Burkina Faso last week to meet the new leadership – you will have seen that Ibrahim Traoré was sworn in as the Transitional President on Friday – and, importantly, to get a better understanding of the humanitarian situation in the country.
Allow me to share a few thoughts about this trip.
We flew to Djibo, in the north of Burkina Faso, hours away from Mali and Niger. Close to 90,000 people had lived in Djibo, safely and kindly, for generations.
Then, a few years ago, three times their number descended on their town and stayed.
They stayed out of fear of the many armed groups nearby, who had decided to wage war on the Government. The people of Djibo welcomed them into their sparse township.
For Djibo, food comes down the road from the big cities of Burkina Faso, lying to the south. Trucks have, forever, brought in what the people of Djibo need for their survival. And Djibo has repaid this service with the money they earn from the great cattle market that is their reason for being.
But this year, the trucks stopped.
In September, a convoy of trucks was destroyed in attacks by armed groups. Since then, not a single truck has arrived.
There were no goods in the market, and it has not been possible to grow much food in the area. The cattle were driven out. Mothers were forced to feed their children with leaves and salt.
By the time we visited Djibo, the leaves were also running out. The women told us that they go out at night, in the cover of darkness, to the villages nearby where they might still find leaves for their hungry and sick children. To do this, they break out of their encirclement and risk attacks, rape and death.
A 19-year-old boy wept as he told me how hungry he and his friends were.
Sadly, the situation in Djibo is not unique. Dozens of other parts of Burkina Faso are witnessing a similar plight: Road closures due to the presence of armed groups, leaving people without food, medicine and other vital services.
The families I spoke with told me this themselves: Reopen roads and supply routes. Provide aid not just to the displaced people but also to the host communities. And end the conflict so that people can return to their homes and so that their children can finally have a future.
I relayed this message to Transitional President Traoré.
I told him that we need roads to reopen so that humanitarians can move cargo by road without military escorts.
I renewed the commitment by the UN and our NGO partners to stay in Burkina Faso and carry on our work.
I stressed the need to work in partnership with the humanitarian partners in addressing the access issues, and why it is crucial to respect the principles of humanitarian action.
I also raised the need to protect civilians.
I believe in what the humanitarian system can achieve, but I am very aware that access alone is not enough. We also need more money so that we have more supplies and capacity to deliver.
With the funding we have received so far this year, we brought food aid to 1.8 million people. We helped 740,000 people access health care in areas where medical facilities have shut down. And we provided access to water, hygiene and sanitation to 550,000 people and nutritional support to 421,000 children and new and expecting mothers.
However, we have much, much more to do.
Nearly 4.9 million men, women and children in Burkina Faso – that’s more than one in five of the country’s people – need urgent assistance. In addition, nearly one in 10 people has been forced to flee their homes. And Burkina Faso is facing one of the world’s fastest growing displacement crises, along with Mozambique and Ukraine.
We are grateful for the funds we have received. But the $805 million response plan for Burkina Faso is only one-third funded, while people’s needs have soared 40 per cent since the start of this year.
Before I take your questions, let me zoom out a bit: The situation in Burkina Faso is illustrative of what’s going on in the wider Sahel region, including in Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Nigeria.
In communities in Burkina Faso battered by the crisis, I saw how dialogue has created pathways to gain access to basic necessities. I hope this shining example of non-violent methods can be replicated across the Sahel to make a real difference in the lives of millions of people caught up in the crossfires of conflict.
These people have shown tremendous resilience, bravery and dignity, but they face an increasingly uphill battle wrought by violence, the climate crisis, political turmoil, hunger and loss of opportunity for young people.
They, too, deserve our support and your attention.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA’s activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.