Hunger grips Burkina Faso as jihadist violence escalates – Reuters

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OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso – Martine Roamba’s 10-month-old daughter weakly pulls her mother’s breasts in search of milk.

The malnourished child has struggled to eat since birth because his mother hasn’t eaten enough to produce enough breast milk since she fled her village in northern Burkina Faso last year when jihadists started killing people.

Sitting on a hospital bed with other severely malnourished children and their parents on the outskirts of Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, 30-year-old Roamba tries to calm her crying daughter.

“It is very worrying and we pray to God that the child does not deteriorate in an even worse situation,” she said.

Hunger is skyrocketing in conflict-plagued Burkina Faso due to growing violence linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group, which has killed thousands and displaced millions, preventing people from farming. According to the latest food security report from the United Nations government and agencies, an estimated 3.5 million people are food insecure, with nearly 630,000 expected to be on the verge of starvation. This is an 82% increase over last year in the number of people facing emergency hunger.

“The nutritional situation in (the country) is getting worse and worse, there are more and more people in need,” said Claudine Konaté, nutrition specialist at the United Nations Children’s Agency., UNICEF. The country must prepare for a growing crisis, she said.

At Ouagadougou hospital, the number of severely malnourished children arriving has doubled in the past two years and there is not enough space or staff to care for them, said Clarisse Nikiema, the hospital’s nutrition manager.

“Because they have been displaced, they are deeply impoverished and cannot feed their families, so the children are malnourished,” she said. Sometimes, after recovery, families refuse to leave because they don’t want their children to go hungry at home where there is no food, she said.

In January, rebel soldiers overthrew the democratically elected president of Burkina Faso and the junta in power says restoring security is its top priority. However, since then, attacks have increased with an 11% increase in incidents in February, according to the United Nations. Violence is driving more and more people to hunger, experts say.

The situation is more serious in the northern Sahel region, where cities like Djibo have until recently been besieged by jihadist rebels for months, limiting the delivery of food aid. Other cities like Gorom Gorom have almost no functioning health centers. Only two out of 27 in the district are fully functional, said Jean Paul Ouedraogo, representative of the Italian humanitarian group Lay Volunteers International Association.

Jihadist rebels are also spreading and pushing south and west into Burkina Faso’s granary, stealing crops and livestock and bringing people from their rural farms to cities.

Falling supply and increasing demand lead to higher prices. A 100-kilogram sack of corn nearly doubled from last year, from $ 30 to $ 50, locals say. Aid organizations are preparing for further price hikes due to the war in Ukraine. Burkina Faso buys more than a third of its wheat from Russia, according to the United Nations, and although the impact is not yet visible, humanitarians say it is a concern.

“The crisis in Ukraine is also likely to have an impact on soaring grain prices, worsening an already bad situation,” said Grégoire Brou, National Director of Action Against Hunger in Burkina Faso. Aid to the country is already underfunded – last year’s humanitarian response plan received less than half of the $ 607 million requested, according to the United Nations – and now agencies say donors have indicated there may be a cut in the 70% of the funds to support operations in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, hunger affects virtually everyone in the country, even those who try to defend it. During a trip to the northern city of Ouahigouya, civilians who volunteered to fight alongside the army told The Associated Press that they were fighting the jihadists on an empty stomach.

“Volunteers are fighting for the country, but they are fighting with hunger,” said one volunteer who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media. The lack of agriculture and the minimum wage as a volunteer – $ 8 a month – aren’t enough to survive, he said.

Malnourished people arrive at Ouahigouya health centers in serious condition and take longer to recover, said Dr. Gerard Koudougou Kombassere, who works in a hospital in the city. Displaced people are the hardest hit, and malnutrition rates among them are on the rise, he said. In a makeshift camp for displaced people in Ouahigouya, where some 2,300 people have sought refuge, residents told AP they have only received food aid once in the past 10 months.

In one of the shelters, Salamata Nacanabo said her family ate five times a day when they lived in their village, but now they only eat once. Imitating the sound of gunfire, the 31-year-old tells the day when jihadists stormed her village, killing eight people, seizing everything she owned and forcing her family to flee.

“They stole everything, livestock, food and took my goats,” he said. “Now it is very difficult to take care of the children.”

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