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Press Release

As displacement spikes in Burkina Faso, IRC assessment finds risk of growing health crisis

  • Renewed violence in Burkina Faso since July 2019 has brought the total number of displaced people to almost half a million, including over 200,000 children
  • An IRC assessment found evidence of reduced access to healthcare, coupled with increased risk of disease outbreak and malnutrition crisis.
  • An estimated 133,000 children under the age of five are already suffering from severe acute malnutrition, which will likely rise in 2020
  • The assessment found 70% of the households surveyed in the north of Burkina Faso are feeding their children twice a day, a drop from an average of 3-4 meals per day

Heightened insecurity in Burkina Faso could trigger a health crisis including an increase in the rates of malnutrition among internally displaced children, according to a new assessment conducted by the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

The assessment found that in the 622 displaced households surveyed, 70% of children are eating twice a day, a drop from an average of three or four meals per day prior to displacement. This nutrition crisis is especially worrying in the country where increased violence has led to the closure of health facilities that serve 800,000 people.

Rowan Cody, IRC’s Head of Mission in Burkina Faso said, “Increased violence in Burkina Faso has led to an unprecedented level of displacement, driving already vulnerable people from their homes. Prior to this crisis, areas of the country were already teetering on the edge of a health crisis and for many who have been displaced this has been the final straw. 

“IRC teams spoke to families struggling to access food who were now only able to feed their children half as many times a day as they usually would. This means the children are not getting proper nutrition and their health is at risk. When children do fall ill, the forced closure of health facilities due to violence and crisis means it’s often difficult for them to find and access treatment, further deepening the likelihood of them becoming severely malnourished or worse.”

Almost half a million people, 40% of whom are children, have been displaced by the ongoing ethnic and religious conflict, primarily in the north of the country. The vast majority of displaced are being supported by host communities, who themselves are already struggling.

According to UNICEF in 2019, an estimated 590,000 people in Burkina Faso are in need of nutritional assistance, including more than 133,000 children under the age of five who are suffering from severe acute malnutrition. These numbers are likely to rise in 2020 as this crisis compounds needs across great swathes of the country.

The IRC needs assessment also exposed the urgency to address the high rates of open defecation and lack of access to hygienic latrines in order to prevent serious public health risks. Almost half of those surveyed use unhygienic latrines (while 12% use hygienic latrines); 30% practiced open defecation; and just 10% have access to showers. This lack of sanitation brings increases the risk of disease outbreaks, particularly diarrheal diseases which for young children can also increase the likelihood of becoming malnourished.

Despite unprecedented insecurity, Burkina Faso is facing a large gap in terms of funding to meet humanitarian needs, with only a third of the $187 million needed to assist 1.3 million people in critical need being covered.

The IRC is working in Burkina Faso to support displaced families, and the communities hosting them, with access to clean water and sanitation services. We have already provided access to water to some 19,000 people by drilling boreholes, upgrading existing water points, and rehabilitating and hand pumps. As needs grow, the IRC is expanding its work to include community health support and nutrition work, alongside deepening its work to provide uprooted families with access to clean water and sanitation.

To learn more about the IRC’s response click here.

The rising hunger in Burkina Faso demonstrates the need for better solutions to malnutrition.  The IRC is working on innovative solutions to expand access to treatment. Learn more here.

Notes to editor:

Read the full assessment here

The assessment included a total of 622 household surveys; 73 Key Informant Interviews; and 53 focus groups. The Key Informant Interviews included mayors, local leaders, teachers, health facility workers, and market actors, such as vendors.

This assessment used a convenience sample, increased from 500 (standard in multi-sector emergency needs assessments to be considered representative) to 622 households The 622 was to account for multiple locations, and if any errors were made during data collection, that the number of surveys would still be sufficient. The main limitation was that HH surveys were targeted to only IDPs, which is one population of interest.


About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 26 offices across the U.S. helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.