Making the needs of Burundi known to the world

Camille Marquis is a UN Volunteer with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Burundi, serving as Public Information Officer. 

Sometimes, a short sentence and a few photos can make a big difference. Camille documents the interviews and photos of vulnerable people in the field, and puts them together as a publication, a photo article or a social media post, thus raising public awareness on the country's humanitarian situation. 

Here, Camille gives a first-hand account of her experience.

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Camille Marquis during mission

Burundi is among 20 countries in the world most susceptible to climate change. Most of its humanitarian needs are caused by recurring climate-related disasters. Since 2018, 445 natural disasters in Burundi have affected nearly 270,000 people, 100,000 of whom were displaced.

In April and May this year, at the height of Burundi’s rainy season, the lake and river’s rising waters affected about 100,000 people, 40,000 of whom were displaced, according to the Government’s preliminary estimates. 

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Flooded area in Kigaramango, where displaced persons were living following the April 2020 floods in Gatumba. In May 2021, the whole area was flooded.

Gatumba, near Bujumbura, was one of the most affected areas. Houses, schools and health centres were destroyed, and crops ruined.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the floods have affected some 40,000 people, 13,000 of whom had to leave their homes to either settle in camps or stay with host families.

Following the floods, OCHA coordinated a multi-sectoral assessment to identify the needs of affected people in Gatumba and plan the response.

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Kinyinya displacement site, where 2,855 people have been living since the 2020 floods. People newly displaced by the May 2021 floods have been arriving at this camp.

As soon as we drove out of Bujumbura, we saw the destruction. One particular house caught our attention, and we stopped to talk with the family. Four households were sharing the house — they have 37 children in total.

Their house was flooded in early May, and since then they have slept in front of the house under a plastic tarp, and just a few centimetres from the main road that leads to the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

They no longer have access to drinking water and are forced to drink dirty water. We saw a man drink the muddy and stagnant water in front of the house. This puts him at high risk of waterborne diseases such as cholera, especially since latrines have been overflowing due to rising waters.

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house

The husband of one woman had died just a couple of days before, swept away by the water. She could not talk to us about it, her eyes were filled with tears.

Since the flooding, nobody has come to help. Our greatest needs are getting shelter, kitchen utensils, food. Our crops are flooded, we have nothing left to live on," a local woman told us.

Children sleep only a few centimetres from the main road, under a small tarp, despite the risk of being hit by a passing car or truck. Despite the situation, they smiled at me and insisted that I take a picture of their small tent.

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Children sleep under a plastic tarp by the road, since their house was flooded on 10 May 2021. They have not gone to school for a week because it is also flooded.

The children had not attended school for a week, as their school was flooded as well. Recurring floods have a significant impact on their education.

Currently, over 5,000 children no longer attend school in Gatumba and neighbouring Rukaramu, which is also under water.

It is crucial that these children validate their school year in order to continue with their education. If they drop out of school, they may be forced into child labour or even trafficking. 

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Flooded area in Kigaramango, where displaced persons were living following the April 2020 floods in Gatumba, until May 2021, when this area was flooded as well.

Despite recent efforts by humanitarian actors and the Government to relocate people displaced by last year’s floods, thousands of families still cannot return home because of flooding, or because relocation to another neighbourhood is not possible due to lack of resources.

More funding is urgently needed to respond to the most pressing needs for shelter, non-food items, food, livelihoods, water, sanitation and hygiene, as well as protection. 

Many times, Burundi is somewhat forgotten by people, despite its high need for humanitarian assistance. As a UN Volunteer, making Burundi known to the world is a great honour and satisfaction. Vulnerable people in Burundi deserve attention and support.


This article was initially published by UNOCHA.

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Kinyinya displacement site, where 2,855 people have been living since the 2020 floods. People newly displaced by the May 2021 floods have been arriving at this camp.