Located in Africa's Sahel region, Burkina Faso is currently grappling with one of the world’s fastest growing displacement crises. Notably, it holds the fourth position on the IRC's 2024 Watchlist, an analysis identifying countries most susceptible to a deteriorating humanitarian situation in 2024.

The central government’s “Security-First” approach prioritises reclaiming territory controlled by nonstate armed groups, taking precedence over funding other state functions. Consequently, basic health and education services suffer from inadequate funding while 40% of the population live under the poverty line. 

Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger announced their withdrawal from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on 28 January 2024, adding uncertainties to the political landscape.

The IRC is on the ground in Burkina Faso delivering a wide range of critical support including health, nutrition, safety, education, economic recovery and power services. 

Read on to learn what is happening in Burkina Faso.

Armed groups have besieged towns, affecting one million people

Following a 2022 coup, Burkina Faso's current central government controls roughly half of the nation's territory. The other half is controlled by armed groups that are increasingly blockading cities and towns, including major population centres that lie outside Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou.

These sieges have affected over one million people across 46 locations and are continuing to spread across the countries. The blockades severely disrupt access to critical services and have curtailed trade and farming, destroying livelihoods. In some towns, the lack of new supplies over several months has led to alarming levels of food insecurity.

A girl stirs a cauldron outside in Burkina Faso. Behind her, other women cook food.
Women and children prepare food at a camp for internally displaced people near Kaya, in northern Burkina Faso.
Photo: Giles Clarke/UNOCHA via Getty Images

Civilians at risk as violence spreads

Humanitarian needs are on the rise with no end in sight to the violence that has left more than 2 million people internally displaced across Burkina Faso. In just the first 18 months since Burkina Faso’s coup in January 2022, the number of killings by nonstate armed groups has tripled.

Civilians are becoming increasingly entangled in the escalating violence involving nonstate armed groups, the government and self-defense militias aligned with the government. These militias, known as VDPs, have faced accusations of grave human rights violations. They’re alleged to have killed at least 150 civilians in Yatenga province in April 2023, in one of the deadliest incidents since the conflict began in 2015.

Millions in Burkina Faso continue to endure the grim reality of severe violence and displacement on a daily basis.

A man sits on the floor of a home and stares in the distance while posing for a portrait.
Saouta, 40, was displaced several times before arriving at a camp for internally displaced people in Northern Burkina Faso. He was forced to flee his home and his farm when two of his family members were killed.
Photo: UNOCHA/Michele Cattani

Poor harvests set to exacerbate food insecurity and poverty

Over 40% of people in Burkina Faso live below the poverty line. The escalation of conflicts, rising insecurity and increasing climate vulnerability are significantly affecting the limited economic prospects that still exist.

Weak rainfall throughout 2023 will limit crop yields and the amount of pasture available for livestock, reducing food supplies in 2024. Meanwhile, insecurity threatens to disrupt the markets and food production that remain. Amidst rising demand, tensions may heighten over scarce resources like grazing lands, potentially leading to localised violence.

 Public services, including education and health sectors, are overwhelmed

Burkina Faso’s government continues to divert public spending towards defense, leaving public spending unable to meet the country's growing poverty and humanitarian needs. This situation has particularly impacted the education and health sectors.

At least 6,000 schools - approximately 1 in 4 - have closed, adversely affecting the education and protection of one million students who no longer attend school. Meanwhile, a major dengue outbreak is set to strain Burkina Faso’s healthcare system, which is already on the verge of collapse. Over 370 healthcare facilities are at risk of closure due to the conflict and disruptions in aid deliveries, significantly impacting healthcare services to 3.5 million individuals.

A girl poses for a portrait, staring solemnly into the camera with her arms crossed.
More than 2 million people in Burkina Faso are internally displaced.
Photo: Giles Clarke/UNOCHA via Getty Images

Access to humanitarian aid is severely restricted

Despite the immense needs, humanitarian action in Burkina Faso encounters substantial challenges. Burkina Faso’s 2023 humanitarian response plan received just 36.8% of its necessary funding.

Aid workers face several barriers related to the growing conflict, which has led ACAPS to rate humanitarian access constraints as “Extreme” (5 of 5). The killing of two aid workers in February 2023 led to the suspension of some humanitarian operations in the country and underscores the growing threat to humanitarians in Burkina Faso.

A boy rides a bike through a camp for internally displaced people in Burkina Faso.
Constraints on humanitarian access prevent supplies and services from reaching vulnerable communities in Burkina Faso.
Photo: UNOCHA/Michele Cattani

How is the IRC responding to the crisis in Burkina Faso?

Since 2019, the IRC has been actively assisting civilians in Burkina Faso, focusing on providing aid to internally displaced individuals affected by the country's security situation. Our efforts aim to support and alleviate the challenges faced by those affected by the ongoing crisis.

The IRC provides lifesaving interventions and emergency assistance in health, nutrition, safety, education, economic recovery and power. This provision is accomplished by placing a dedicated emphasis on collaborating with local partners, particularly women-led organisations.

Learn more about the IRC’s response in Burkina Faso.

A mother holds her daughter in her lap. Both of them look towards the camera.
IRC health workers diagnosed Zida’s child with malnutrition and helped her get treatment. Zida was also trained on malnutrition screening techniques and now checks her children for signs of malnutrition weekly.
Photo: Giorgio Faedo for the IRC

How can I support the people of Burkina Faso?

Donate now to support the IRC's life-changing work in Burkina Faso and worldwide. We are on the frontlines providing critical aid to crisis-affected people in more than 50 countries, including places on the 2024 Emergency Watchlist.

Read more about the top 10 crises the world can’t ignore in 2024 and download the full 2024 Emergency Watchlist report for profiles of all 20 crisis countries on the IRC's list.