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Burundi: October 2002

01-11-2002 Operational Update


  Contents:   Water and habitat    |      Detainees    |      Family ties    |      Health    |      International humanitarian law    
Water and habitat 

In Burundi, the ICRC Water & Habitation Unit is renovating hospitals, health centres and places of detention, and is improving drinking water and sewerage systems for civilians in the towns to which the ICRC has access. Over the last two years, the ICRC has repaired four hospitals, two health centres and six prisons, and work is currently underway in Ruyigi hospital. Since 1999, the ICRC has been assisting the national water authority, Regideso, with water and electricity projects in towns.

Water systems in Ngozi and Kirundo 
 On 10 and 11 June 2002, the drinking water systems of Kirundo and Ngozi officially came back on line, following renovation by the ICRC in conjunction with the Regideso.

In Kirundo, the ICRC helped to:

  • build a new pumping station;

  • lay pipes;

  • renovate ten tapstands

This has doubled the amount of water available per person to almost 100 litres a day.

In Ngozi, the ICRC has:

  • installed six new spring-catchment devices;

  • built a new pumping station;

  • repaired an existing pumping station;

  • repaired a storage tank;

  • repaired 13 tapstands.

Nearly two years after work started, drinking water production is up by over 40%. The ICRC is currently working to improve the electricity system in the town of Ngozi. This will provide a reliable power source for the water pumps and generally make life in the town more pleasant.

Cholera epidemic 

A cholera epidemic hit northern districts of Bujumbura in June – the number of cases shot up from one a week to 20 a day. On the initiative of MSF Belgium, several agencies joined forces to contain the spread of the disease, and the ICRC set up a mobile team that disinfected 1,500 homes. In addition, the ICRC and other organizations installed two water tanks, each with a capacity of 15 cubic metres. An ICRC tanker truck kept them filled, and the tanks provided 10,000 people with water for two months.

Cholera flourishes in unhygienic conditions, so in Gihosha the ICRC organized the installation of a safe water supply, connected to the Regideso system. A local committee is operating the water point, and it has been in service since September 2002.

Bujumbura water treatment facility 

Work is almost complete on a new slow sand filter and improvements to the pumping stations. This project will gradually raise the amount of drinking water available by 40%, with the poorest areas benefiting the most.

  Repairs to Muyinga hospital 

The ICRC has:

  • built and repaired septic tanks;

  • installed a new water circuit with eight take-off points to the maternity, intensive care and operating theatre buildings;

  • renovated three sets of sanitary facilities;

  • renovated the laundry,

  • repaired the lights;

  • installed a new shower and toilet.

The ICRC’s work on the hospital is now complete.

  Maintenance teams in prisons 

Since October 2001, the ICRC and the prison service have been setting up teams of prisoners to maintain renovated and pre-existing facilities. The Water and Habitat Unit is training and supervising the teams.


The ICRC has continued visiting the following establishments:

  • six of Burundi’s eleven civilian prisons (Bujumbura, Ngozi (male), Ngozi (female), Gitega, Muyinga and Ruyigi);

  • temporary places of detention under the responsibility of the gendarmerie , the Public Security Police and the Judicial and Prosecution Service Police, both in Bujumbura and in the provincial capitals of Ngozi, Gitega, Muyinga, Ruyigi, Karuzi and Kirundo.

The ICRC carried out the visits in accordance with its standard conditions. For purely humanitarian purposes, the ICRC assesses physical conditions of detention and the way the detainees are being treated. Its conclusions remain confidential, and it submits them only to the authori ties responsible.

In August 2002, the ICRC carried out an annual disinfection and pest control programme in all rooms of the six prisons, working in conjunction with the prison service. The aim was to reduce the number of germs, insects and parasites, which are potential carriers of disease.

In September 2002, the ICRC gave a blanket and a mess tin to each person held in the six prisons visited. Each detainee receives soap once a month.

Family ties 

Keeping families together is a universal principle, enshrined in international humanitarian law. In working to restore contact between members of families, and to reunite them, the ICRC attaches particular importance to the situation of unaccompanied children.

Between May and August, three Rwandan children living in Burundi contacted relatives in their home country via Red Cross messages. The ICRC was able to help two of them rejoin their families, accompanying them from Ngozi to the Rwandan border, where an ICRC team based in Rwanda picked them up and took them to the villages of their families.

In addition, 22 Burundian unaccompanied children in Tanzanian refugee camps were able to contact their families in northern Burundi and the Bujumbura area.


The ICRC is continuing to provide medicines and medical supplies to hospitals (Prince Régent Charles, Gitega, Kirundo, Muyinga, Ngozi and Ruyigi) and health centres (Bujumbura, Gitega, Muyinga, Ngozi and Ruyigi). A truck taking peop le back to their home country was involved in an accident on 11 June; the ICRC gave Gitega hospital extra supplies to help treat the injured.

On 11 and 12 July, the ICRC organized a seminar on war surgery, in conjunction with Prince Régent Charles Hospital and the Ministry of Public Health. An experienced ICRC surgeon exchanged experiences about the care of war wounded with Burundian and expatriate specialists and GPs. The seminar started with a presentation on what international humanitarian law says about the rights and duties of medical personnel.

The ICRC has continued its AIDS programme in Bujumbura, Gitega and Ngozi. In each town, the organization is providing one hospital and one health centre with medicines for treating illnesses related to AIDS. Working jointly with the Society for Women and Aids in Africa, it is raising AIDS awareness among the inmates of the central prisons and is offering counselling, together with voluntary, anonymous screening.

A meningitis epidemic broke out on 6 July. Since then, the ICRC has been investigating the epidemic jointly with the health authorities and MSF. The ICRC has provided medicines in the provinces of Kirundo, Muyinga and Ngozi, and has been transporting vaccine by air. In addition, the ICRC has been helping with polio vaccination programmes in Bujumbura and Gitega.

  International humanitarian law 

Four secondary schools have been trying out Exploring Humanitarian Law (EHL), an ICRC programme to teach teenagers about the rules and basic principles of international humanitarian law. During the final term of the 2001-2002 school year, some 350 scho olchildren in Bujumbura, Ngozi, Gitega and Buta (Bururi) took part in this pilot programme, run by civics teachers. Another seven schools will be joining the programme during the first term of the 2002-2003 school year, the ultimate aim being to include EHL in the Burundian secondary school curriculum.

Other ICRC activities to promote international humanitarian law in Burundi:

  • a discussion on international humanitarian law with Burundian journalists on 8 May, which is World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day;

  • a presentation on the history of international humanitarian law for personnel from humanitarian organizations in Burundi, given during a meeting organized by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs;

  • a presentation for a group of personnel from the judicial and prison services in Ngozi on the ICRC’s mandate and international humanitarian law, especially as they apply to the protection of people deprived of freedom.