Update No. 1 on ICRC activities in Burundi
29-03-1996 Operational Update
For the first time since it suspended its activities in December 1995 as a result of serious security problems, the ICRC has gradually resumed working in Burundi. Delegates began their traditional tasks as from 22 January, once discussions with all the parties involved had resulted in the necessary security guarantees. However, the situation in the country remains tense: clashes have been reported between armed opposition groups and the Burundian army, as have many deaths amongst civilians.
The ICRC has assessed the humanitarian situation of the affected populations in terms of their need for non-food assistance and their access to food in the provinces of Cibitoke, Kayanza, Bubanza, Ngozi and, in part, in urban and rural Bujumbura. The beginning of food shortages was detected in some areas and an agricultural rehabilitation programme was set up for February 21. The ICRC has now completed the distribution of seeds and tools to over 25,000 families (125,000 people) in these provinces. Some 220 tonnes of bean seed and 23,000 hoes were handed out in 28 localities to displaced people and recent returnees. In cooperation with the World Food Programme, the ICRC coordinated follow-up distributions of food in Bubanza and Cibitoke provinces.
Non-food distributions (blankets, jerricans, plastic sheeting, cooking pots and soap) were made to 15,000 people in and around Bujumbura and Bubanza. This programme will continue to cover the needs of recently displaced people throughout the country.
Delegates have evaluated the needs of a large number of health facilities in the provinces most affected by the conflict. In order to supplement supplies from the Ministry of Public Health, the ICRC has provided assistance in the form of medicines and medical equipment to 33 health centres in the provinces of Bubanza, Cibitoke and Kayanza and in rural and urban Bujumbura. Regular assistance in the form of medicines and surgical materials is also being given to the three major hospitals in Bujumbara which are treating war-wounded.
Water and sanitation
The ICRC has rehabilitated the water tank which supplies the Randa farm, as well as two wells in the commune of Gihanga. It has also improved access to water in Bubanza town, in cooperation with the commune authorities, and has constructed latrines in the two Bubanza camps.
The institution is delivering 180,000 litres of water three times a week to Maramvya for the health centre, schools and the local and displaced population. Water is also supplied by a treatment unit in Mutimbuzi which produces 30,000 litres of clean water a day.
Protection of detainees
ICRC delegates have carried out 13 visits in various places of detention (prisons, brigades de gendarmerie and police stations). Between 22 January and 29 February they registered 42 detainees, which brought the total number of security detainees to 2,086. In accordance with its mandate, the ICRC registers detainees, talks to them in private, and follows up on their cases while they are in detention with the aim of avoiding ill-treatment or disappearances. The institution has provided material assistance to several places of detention, in particular with a view to improvi ng sanitary conditions.
A typhus epidemic, which cost the lives of dozens of detainees in Ngozi prison, required direct, emergency action by the ICRC. In close cooperation with the prison authorities, the institution carried out a major pest control and clean-up programme on the premises, at a cost of some US$ 50,000. The epidemic has since been eradicated from the prison. In addition, since 21 February, the ICRC has been making a daily delivery of 15,000 litres of water to the Mpimba prison, which is suffering a lack of water.
The ICRC has reopened tracing offices in the Kibezi, Magara, Ruvumu and Rukuramigabo camps. Some 5,400 Red Cross messages were distributed and 2,500 collected during the first week that activities resumed. Family reunifications between children and their parents are a priority for the ICRC office in Ngozi. More than 80 cases are pending, mostly between Burundi and Rwanda.
Over a ten-day period the ICRC broadcast radio and TV spots on RTNB, the national network, highlighting the resumption of its activities and explaining its standard working procedures (assistance to all victims of the crisis without discrimination as to race, religion or ethnic background) in order to make the public aware of the need to respect the institution so that it can come to the aid of the most needy. At the same time, dissemination sessions were held for various target audiences to present the ICRC's work and the Fundamental Red Cross and Red Crescent Principles (including impartiality, neutrality, independence) which guide its action. In all, some 1,000 people (students, pupils at technical colleges, policemen, soldiers, medical personnel and officials) took part in these meetings, which were organized in B ujumbura and the provinces where the ICRC is present.
The ICRC has four offices in Bujumbura, Ngozi, Gitega and Kayanza, where 33 expatriates and 100 locally hired employees are working on the Burundi operation.