This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has warned more lives are at a risk in Burkina Fasos Centre Nord and Sahel regions where hundreds of thousands of displaced people, including small children, are being forced to sleep out in the open at the mercy of the elements.
An estimated 350,000 people now need urgent access to adequate shelter and water to help them cope with desert-like conditions in remote parts of Burkina Faso. Fresh insecurity is driving more people from their homes every day. UNHCR was already alarmed that a chronic lack of resources was threatening a major humanitarian disaster. The COVID-19 pandemic is now further aggravating what is already a complex mix of crises.
We are in a race against time to prevent more human suffering. People are in desperate need of shelter in remote locations and facing harsh weather conditions. We are calling on all humanitarian actors to increase resources. Burkina Faso is currently the worlds fastest-growing displacement crisis with close to 840,000 people have been displaced by conflict and drought in the last 16 months. Nearly 60,000 were forced out of their homes in the month of March alone.
Despite the increased deployment of security forces, armed groups continue to wreak havoc in the countrys Centre Nord and Sahel regions, attacking police and military, civilians, schools, health centres, teachers and health workers alike.
UNHCR staff are regularly hearing harrowing accounts from survivors on the run. People speak in horrifying details of attacks on their villages, where men and boys are killed, women raped, homes pillaged and schools along with other infrastructure are destroyed.
UNHCR is working with the local authorities and its other humanitarian partners to rush additional shelter and relief supplies to the displaced, but with increasing insecurity and limited resources, it is going to be hard to reach all of those in need. Many displaced are living in dire conditions in overcrowded locations. Many are sleeping and living under trees. Rampant insecurity is having an adverse impact on the humanitarian response as it severely hinders access by humanitarian actors to reach people in need – those forced to flee and the communities hosting them all desperately need shelter, food, water, protection, health, education.
The health system of Burkina Faso has been dramatically affected, at the time when the country is also facing the COVID-19. Borders have been closed since last week, and movement has been restricted to and from towns and cities with confirmed coronavirus cases.
While stepping up our efforts in the Sahel to ensure the protection of those fleeing violence, UNHCR is also adapting its operations on the ground to support the national response to the public health emergency to include refugees and IDPs and host communities.
So far, we have provided shelter to some 50,000 displaced people and work continues round the clock to cover all in need.
The lack of water in the Sahel region is also a significant challenge. UNHCR is building facilities to store some 15,000 litres of water near the town of Dori in the Sahel region as work continues with the local authorities to allow connecting displacement sites to the national water supply network.
In coordination with Burkinabé authorities, we are also exploring relocating displaced people to Goudoubo refugee camp in Dori in the Sahel region – as some of the displaced are living in and around the city, a few kilometres away. The camp emptied less than a couple of weeks ago, after Malian refugees rushed back to Mali following attacks and ultimatum. At the camp, water, sanitation and health facilities are already available.
Relevant broadcast-quality footage is available for download on UNHCR’s content platform Refugees Media