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Burundi : Large-scale operation to fight malnutrition

26-04-2001 News Release 01/16

On 17 April, the ICRC, backed by the Burundi Red Cross, launched an extensive emergency relief operation in Ngozi and Kayanza provinces, in north-eastern Burundi. Over 60,000 households (about 300,000 residents and displaced persons) are to receive 3,000 tonnes of maize, beans, oil and salt every month, enabling them to bridge food shortages until the next harvest, in June. The operation was organized in coordination with the World Food Programme (WFP) and with the agreement of the Burundian authorities.

Following years of conflict, Burundi’s precarious humanitarian and health situation is presently being exacerbated by an acute nutritional crisis brought about mainly by weather conditions (periods of drought several years in a row and hail storms) and malaria. In addition, the direct consequences of the conflict and the embargo imposed on Burundi until 1999 have made it difficult for the people to work the land, resulting in their impoverishment (in some cases also for lack of family support) and in soil depletion, and forcing them to move.

Several international organizations have reported alarmingly high rates of malnutrition (close to one million people are affected), prompting a swift reaction from the ICRC. Since humanitarian aid and nutritional centres were unable to provide a lasting solution to the crisis, the ICRC conducted a survey at the beginning of the year and concluded that general food distributions were needed in some of the country’s provinces.

An ICRC team continues to assess the vulnerability and specific needs of the population in Ngozi and Kayanza provinces. The organization plans to provide additional food aid and agricultural assistance at a later stage.

This large-scale operation constitutes an operational challenge for the ICRC, compelling it for reasons of security to use aircraft, even over short distances. Moreover, the political situation and security conditions can deteriorate very quickly, and the operation’s impact must be considered from all angles.

The operation is a logistical challenge, too, for it implies an increase in delegation staff and material resources. The entire logistic chain was set up in record time, and relief teams put together overnight. The teams are supervised by five delegates mobilized for that purpose on short notice. Since the launch of the operation, the delegation has stepped up its contacts with the Burundian authorities and humanitarian agencies concerned, keeping them informed and obtaining guarantees of their support.