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Burundi: the ICRC’s activities in 2008

26-03-2009 Operational Update

The ICRC’s support for the most vulnerable Burundians continued in 2008 in the face of endemic poverty and resumed armed hostilities which led to further displacement of the population. In particular access to drinking water has improved for more than 220,000 people and more than 150 children, who had been separated from their families by the violence in recent years, were reunited with them.


  © ICRC/B. Lamon/v-p-bi-e-00044    
  In Kirombwe, during an aid distribution to displaced people organised by the ICRC with the Burundi Red Cross.    

  © ICRC/C. Kaplun/v-p-bi-e-00071    
  A water fountain under construction in Kwanzari. ICRC projects contributed to improving access to drinking water for more than 180,000 people in rural areas.    

  ©ICRC/B. Lamon/v-p-bi-e-00061    
  More than 150 children, who had been separated from their families by the violence in recent years, were reunited with them in 2008. Their names and photographs were circulated in places where the displaced population had congregated.    
Humanitarian situation 

The upsurge of crime and the clashes in April and May 2008 between the Burundian army and the National Liberation Front (FNL), an armed opposition movement, have made living conditions difficult for Burundians. Thousands of women and children have had to leave their homes and seek temporary shelter in safer regions. Although the fighting ended on 26 May sporadic clashes have continued in several provinces, especially in Cibitoke, Bubanza and Bujumbura Rural.

Burundi, which is one of the poorest countries on earth, is also still suffering from structural poverty and stagnant development. Another worry is that huge segments of the population are faced with food insecurity caused by the sharp rise in prices. 

The ICRC’s response 

 Assisting displaced persons  


Together with the Burundi Red Cross (BRC), the ICRC assisted some 26,000 persons who were displaced by the armed violence in the spring of 2008. The aid, consisting of blankets, soap and jerry cans for carrying drinking water, went mainly to women, children, the elderly and the disabled.

The ICRC also rehabilitated several wells and fountains in order to ensure that the displaced persons and the communities sheltering t hem had enough water.

 Caring for the wounded  


The ICRC supplied surgical equipment for the operating theatres of two referral hospitals serving the capital Bujumbura – the military hospital in Kamenge and the medical and surgical centre in Kinindo. Medicines and sterilizers were handed over to the medical services of the Burundian army. Thus more than 400 victims of the conflict were treated with ICRC support in 2008. Most of them had bullet wounds.

 Improving the population’s access to drinking water  

The ICRC helped to rehabilitate, install or extend drinking water supply systems in several health centres and schools in some 20 villages. All in all, this work, which was carried out in cooperation with the local authorities, gave more than 180,000 people better access to drinking water.

Water supply projects designed to improve general hygiene and health benefited 37,000 people in the towns of Gatumba and Mabanda.


In addition, almost 40,000 people were trained in the maintenance of rural and urban water networks.


 Visiting detainees  

The ICRC had access to the 11 prisons in Burundi, as well as to places of temporary detention (lock-ups). The purpose of these visits was to ensure that conditions of detention – i.e. treatment, access to water, food and medical care – complied with international standards and that the judicial guarantees applying to persons deprived of their li berty were honoured.

Thus in 2008:

  • the CICR paid more than 340 visits to almost 100 different places of detention;

  • approximately 540 detainees (out of a total prison population of almost 12,000 persons held in temporary and permanent places of detention) were individually monitored.

Work was done to improve sanitation and drinking water supplies in places of detention where the situation was most precarious. The ICRC also supervised and financially supported the medical assistance of detainees (e.g. primary care and the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS) and in some places it supplied soap and other hygiene articles.


 Restoring family links  

The years of violence in the Great Lakes region have left thousands of people without any news of their relatives. As in previous years, the ICRC facilitated the restoration and maintenance of family links and in doing so, it paid particular attention to the needs of unaccompanied minors (who had been separated from both parents and any other member of their family) and has striven to reunite them with their family. 

Thus in 2008:

  • the ICRC and the BRC enabled more than 120 unaccompanied children who had been displaced by the fighting in April and May to find their families by circulating their names and photographs in places where the displaced population had congregated ;

  • a further 30 children who had become separated from their family were reunited with them – in three cases they were associated with armed forces and groups;

  • the ICRC processed almost 400 tracing requests from people who had lost contact with their relatives, including 140 new requests filed that year. More than 90 of them led to the restoration of contact with the missing persons;

  • more than 8,800 Red Cross messages were exchanged.

 Promoting international humanitarian law (IHL)  


 ... among members of the Burundian army (or National Defence Force)  

  • More than 2,000 officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers took part in IHL dissemination courses.

  • Thirty officers attended initial training as IHL instructors and 30 others attended a refresher course.

 ... a  mong members of the police  


  • Some 14,600 police officers were made aware of the need to respect humanitarian law and human rights in the exercise of their duties of maintaining law and order (“To Serve and To Protect” module). These sessions, which were taught by police instructors who had been trained by the ICRC, were part of a training course set up by the Belgian Technical Cooperation agency and intended to make police officers more professional.

  • More than 400 members of the prison police and the administrative staff of seven prisons took part in sessions devoted to IHL, human rights and the ICRC’s activities in Burundi.

  • For the very first time, 86 administrative officers, inspectors and officers of the national intelligence serv ice were introduced to the “To Serve and To Protect” module and to the activities and mandate of the ICRC, especially in the sphere of detention.

 … among the political authorities  


  • The ICRC, along with experts revising criminal law, took part in half a day of debates on the ratification of the relevant international conventions and their national implementation.


In March 2008, Burundi honoured its obligations under the Ottawa Convention by destroying its stock of over 660 anti-personnel landmines.


 … in secondary schools, universities and civil society  

  • In March 2008, 18 students from six Burundian universities took part in a university competition on IHL.

  • Almost 500 students attended IHL lectures organized by four academic institutions.

  • Thirty religious leaders attended a meeting to learn about IHL and the ICRC’s activities.

  • Ninety representatives of local associations attended a two-day forum on IHL and the protection of women and children.

  • About 20 journalists participated in a workshop on “The role of the media in situations of conflict and/or internal violence”.

 Cooperation with the Burundi Red Cross  


The ICRC supports the BRC’s activities to succour the most vulnerable groups of the population. It helps the BRC to improve the skills of its staff and volunteers and to build its capacity to respond to humanitarian emergencies.

In 2008:

  • five hundred volunteers received training in how to provide first aid and ensure that the population has access to drinking water and sanitation in the event of a crisis and in how to manage stocks of humanitarian aid;

  • one hundred emergency relief workers – BRC volunteers who are trained to act in situations of conflict or natural disasters – and 100 members of local committees were familiarized with the “Safer access” principles. The aim was to make them aware of the dangers they face when they go the assistance of victims and to instruct them in the measure they should take to protect themselves in emergencies;

  • blankets, sets of kitchen utensils and buckets for fetching water were distributed to 100 families who had been affected by the natural disasters which had struck various regions of the country;

  • what will ultimately be a national network for restoring family links was launched in the provinces of Bubanza, Makamba and Ruyigi.

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