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Burundi’s instability drives hunger crisis

Screening of 170,000 children reveals need for monitoring and action in worst-hit communities.

Measuring child malnutrition in Burundi. Credit: Irenee Nduwayezu/Concern Worldwide

In the last two years, the people of Burundi have been badly hurt by political and social unrest. Since April 2015, over 300,000 Burundians have fled to neighbouring countries. High inflation is making life much worse for those left behind.

Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world. Four in every five people there live below the poverty line, and nine in 10 must grow their own food to survive. At the turn of the year the El Niño weather system brought heavy rainfall. This hit harvests, left people with less food and raised the risk of waterborne disease outbreaks.

A report published this May revealed an alarming level of food insecurity – the technical term for a situation where people are struggling for enough to eat. Some reports say that 2.3 million people, out of a population of 11 million, do not have enough food. Now, aid organisations are working together to see how the crisis is affecting levels of malnutrition in Burundi.

A health check for 170,000 children

Concern Worldwide has been supporting people in Burundi since 1998, and recently we carried out mass child malnutrition screenings in two provinces - Cibitoke and Kirundo. These screenings allowed us to refer the worst cases to health centres for treatment, show mothers how to improve the nutrition of their children, and collect information on just how bad the problem is. Trained staff used special bands to measure the circumference of children’s upper arms – a low score is a clear sign of malnutrition.

Concern joined UNICEF, Burundi’s Ministry of Health and local officials to carry out the work. Concern’s role included training the health workers who carried out the screenings. 740 of them went door-to-door and screened more than 170,000 children in just one week. Measuring child malnutrition in Burundi. Credit: Irenee Nduwayezu/Concern Worldwide

Worrying results

The results showed that in Cibitoke 4.3 per cent of children had either ‘moderate’ malnutrition or the more serious ‘severe acute’ malnutrition. In Kirundo, the figure was 7.2 per cent. These are very worrying numbers, particularly as the screening was done during harvest time – when you would expect these figures to at their lowest. Given the ongoing instability in the country, the situation has probably already gotten worse.

Aid organisations are working hard to try and help people in Burundi. More funding is urgently needed, to pay for activities in affected communities that will tackle the food crisis.

How much of the world is going hungry in 2016? Get the answer in our Global Hunger Index