UN warns of humanitarian crisis in Burundi - Daily Nation

West's aid cuts to Burundi worsen crisis as govt suspends free health care

Thursday December 17 2015

Police officers respond to protesters during a demonstration against Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza's third term in Musaga, Bujumbura, on May 20, 2015. AFP PHOTO | CARL DE SOUZA

Police officers respond to protesters during a demonstration against Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza's third term in Musaga, Bujumbura, on May 20, 2015. AFP PHOTO | CARL DE SOUZA 

By KEVIN J. KELLEY
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NEW YORK

Cuts in budgetary aid to Burundi by donor nations are worsening already dire conditions in one of the world's poorest countries, two United Nations officials warned on Tuesday.

They urged donors to rethink the strategy of squeezing Burundi's government financially to force it to respond politically, not militarily, to turmoil that threatens to become an "inter-ethnic conflict".

Foreign sources account for 51 per cent of Burundi's total budget, said John Ging, emergency director of the UN's humanitarian agency.

He noted the proportion is even higher for the health and agriculture ministries, which depend on donors for 60 per cent and 80 per cent of their respective budgets.

"Bilateral donors who have suspended bilateral assistance to the government have to also reflect on how that is impacting on the delivery of public services," Mr Ging said at a press briefing.

He pointed out that Burundi ranks near the bottom of the UN's Human Development Index — 184th out of 187 countries.

GRINDING POVERTY

Four out of five Burundians live below the poverty line, and 58 per cent of the country's 10 million people are chronically malnourished.

In response to aid cuts, the government recently suspended free health care to young children and their mothers.

That will likely have severely negative effects on public health, said Afshan Khan, director of emergency programmes at Unicef.

Burundian security officials say they have had to suspend human rights training for military and police personnel that had been funded by donors, Mr Ging reported.

"I would suggest this is the time to redouble those programmes," he said.

Burundi forecasts that it will receive next year only about half of the annual financial support donors currently provide.

Belgium has already suspended its budgetary assistance to Burundi, and the 28-nation European Union is poised to slash aid outlays projected to total about $400 million over the next five years.

Asked by reporters to suggest alternate ways of pressurising the Burundian government, Mr Ging said he could not offer a specific option.

"What’s being done is not working," he declared, "so something different needs to be done."

He warned that the country is "on the cusp of a very dangerous situation in terms of the prospects of descending into inter-ethnic conflict".

Mr Ging and Ms Khan recently returned from a fact-finding mission to Burundi.

Government officials' "openness to dialogue was quite impressive," Mr Ging told reporters.