As of September 2020, Burkina Faso is battling multiple challenges: COVID-19, continuing violence, and low rainfall. Each crisis has compounded the dangers of the others and Burkina Faso has seen persistent displacement and food insecurity. Although the government already relaxed some COVID restrictions in May as cases remained low, the fallout from the shutdowns continue to impact its humanitarian crisis.
Thus far, Burkina Faso has had 1,370 confirmed COVID cases and 55 deaths, a relatively low figure globally. The government’s response to the pandemic was varied, sometimes strict and violent, other times flexible and accommodating. It first took steps in late March to combat the spread of the virus by shutting down many public spaces, including corner bars known as maquis. The government now requires citizens wear masks, although compliance with this mandate was low and authorities set a curfew.
Violence soon started after security forces attacked violators of the curfew. Videos emerged of these abuses and the government relaxed its restrictions. The government has similarly taken back its restrictions after religious groups pressured the government for places of worship to reopen. Controversy over Burkina Faso’s response also arose when the coordinator of the response unit was dismissed due to falsely reporting the first death of COVID-19 in Africa. Inconsistencies in the government’s response may have also furthered the myth that the pandemic is a conspiracy by the government or former colonial powers.
Dr. Manenji Mangundu, the country director at the Norwegian Refugees Council (NRC), commented on the government’s response from the perspective of humanitarian groups, saying, “The government was flexible. Humanitarian groups were able to get exemptions for life-saving activities, such as providing shelter which helps decongest these areas.” The government was responsive in the capital where the bulk of cases came from travelers, church groups, and government ministers but allowed for humanitarian efforts to continue in more remote regions.
Although the virus has been mostly under control in the small African country thus far, humanitarian groups fear a possible spread to vulnerable populations. There are 700,000 new internally displaces persons who are fleeing jihadist violence. This follows a trend that started with the resignation of the former prime minister and cabinet in 2019 and the difficult transition for the following government. The threat of violence is unyielding to the pandemic. Dr. Mangundu said, “There has been no slowdown in conflict due to COVID. Burkina Faso is on fire and the deadliest epidemic right now is the widespread violence perpetrated against civilians."
This crisis has led to an increase in the number of displaced people in Burkina Faso, ranging from 180% to 220%. Many attacks by armed groups have targeted healthcare facilities or disrupted supply routes.
The displaced peoples, and the population at large, is also facing a food security crisis caused by the economic shutdowns due to COVID, the disruptions in the supply chain from the violence, and low rainfall. Border restrictions with Ghana and the Ivory Coast have decreased food supplies and raised prices The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) assessed a 50% increase in acute food security in the period of March to August 2020 alone.
The coalition to support Burkina Faso’s COVID response has been successful thus far, however, Burkina Faso will continue to be at risk as violence and food insecurity increases the threat to vulnerable populations.
Photo: EU Civil Protection/Flickr