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Burkina Faso: rains bring hope and devastation

We had wished for rains. They represented the only hope of watering the dry land, of feeding this year’s crops and alleviating the crippling food crisis caused by last year’s drought.

As the rains began to fall a month ago, we knew our hopes had been answered – however, the heavy rainfall is now having worrying consequences on the people of Burkina Faso and Save the Children’s humanitarian response.

Burkina Faso is one of the countries affected by the Sahel food crisis – over 2 million people are currently affected here. To make matters worse, over 100,000 refugees have flooded into the country in the past few months seeking relative safety from the conflict in Mali.

Our team has been responding to this double crisis since the beginning of the year and has now provided life-saving and sustaining assistance to over 100,000 vulnerable children and their families.

Hard to reach

Two weeks ago I travelled to Kaya in the centre-north of Burkina Faso with our emergency teams to identify the most vulnerable families who would be receiving cash grants to help them through the hardest months of the lean season.

The night before our trip, it poured with rain and the next morning the team knew we might not be able to access the villages. We drove four hours from the capital, Ouagadougou, and twice we crossed huge dips in the road that were so flooded, people wading through were up to their hips in water.

We were only ten miles away from our first village when we came to a third dip in the road where the water was so deep it would have flooded the car had we tried to pass. We had no choice but to drive all the way back to Ouagadougou.

Fortunately, the team were able to return a few days later and have now done the first cash distribution.

Save the Children is also working in Gandafabou refugee camp – a camp created this year to house the influx of refugees from Mali.

Our teams are finding it increasingly difficult to reach the camp, which means refugees are cut off from essential services. These families have already suffered huge hardships, fleeing their country, witnessing violence and leaving all their belongings behind.

Another impact of the rain is that mothers are unable to reach health facilities in their time of need. This means that sometimes they don’t bring their children in for malnutrition treatment and healthcare, despite the increase in malaria and waterborne diseases during the rains.

Luckily, Save the Children has managed to set up temporary learning spaces where primary school children are taking catch-up classes and will start the new school year in October.

Rains are crucial

Despite the rains bringing many challenges, they are critical to ensure the crops grow and people do not face another year of crisis. If the rains fail, even for just one week, harvests will be damaged and there’s a risk the food crisis will continue.

However, even if the rains are good, the most vulnerable families in Burkina Faso will still need support. Our teams found that many of the poorest households have already sold off this year’s harvest to pay off their debts, as they were forced to borrow cash to buy food to survive the drought over the past year.

Save the Children in Burkina Faso is appealing for $13m and is less than half funded – our teams desperately need more money to be able to reach these families affected by the rains and the ongoing food crisis.

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