Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Burkina Faso - Misery Prevails

The Sahel region, an arid expanse below the Sahara Desert where Burkina Faso is located, is one of the hardest-hit areas in the world by climate change. About 80 percent of the Sahel's farmland is degraded with temperatures rising 1.5 times faster than the global average, according to the World Economic Forum. Years of climate change and violence have triggered a dire humanitarian crisis in the Sahel. In April, the World Food Programme warned that the situation was "spiralling out of control", with more than five million people facing severe food insecurity across the Central Sahel region.
Burkina Faso has been affected by an increase in the scale and intensity of droughts, rain, heat waves, strong winds and dust storms, according to a government report. The country is the 20th most vulnerable to climate change and the 35th least ready in the world, said Richard Munang, the Africa regional climate change coordinator for the United Nations Environmental Programme. More than one-third of Burkina Faso's land is degraded with degradation expanding at a rate of 360,000 hectares (889,579 acres) a year, he explained. In Burkina Faso there are more than two million severely food insecure people - from more than 680,000 at the same time last year - a greater number than in neighbouring Mali and Niger. 
Climate change has played a part in the "genesis of the crisis affecting the Central Sahel" according to the International Crisis Group. Droughts in the 1970s and 1980s changed agro-pastoral dynamics in favour of the grain and vegetable farmers who were less harshly affected than the marginalised herder communities.
Years of drought devastated the cattle of herdsmen, who depended on moving their livestock from one grazing ground to another. While farmers were also hit hard, they continued producing food and with the surplus money, they invested in livestock and employed the now impoverished herdsmen. According to the International Crisis Group, this period was the origin of the marginalisation of pastoral communities.
The climatic and economic devastation in Burkina Faso has been compounded by armed conflict in the region. Following the 2012 military coup in neighbouring Mali, armed groups capitalised on the instability and captured parts of that country's north. Since then, regional violence has reached unprecedented levels and sparked   a dire humanitarian crisis in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. More than one million people are internally displaced across  all three countries, according to the UN.
Attacks linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL have recently made Burkina Faso the epicentre of the crisis. For years, the once peaceful nation largely stayed out of the conflict inflicted on its neighbours. But in 2014, the overthrow of the country's longtime president, Blaise Compaore, which also saw the dismantling of the special forces unit, created a path for attacks. Violence that began in the Sahel and northern regions has since spread across the country to the east and west displacing almost one million people and killing almost 2,000 last year. Armed groups exacerbate existing grievances over land, resources and ethnicity, perpetrating violence and driving communities into desperation.
Growing up in a community of farmers in northern Burkina Faso, KI,  never wanted for much. His family ate what they sowed and bred enough cattle to feel financially secure. In the early 1960s, little effort on small plots yielded immense results, he recalled. One harvest could produce food for a year, even providing enough crops to give as gifts to less well-off neighbours.
"We didn't use any pesticides, no special techniques or even donkeys or oxen, we'd do it by hand," KI said.
Smiling nostalgically, he remembered the harvests, where 30 to 40 extra staff were needed to carry overflowing baskets of fruit and vegetables on their heads and into the house from the farm. There was so much yield that each person had to walk the approximately 5km (3 miles) several times in order to transport everything, he said. Back then, people rarely needed money, they just lived off the land. The farm produced more than enough for him and his 10 siblings to eat, and sufficient cotton for the women to sew clothes.  Even when money was needed, it did not exist like it does today. Until just after KI was born, people paid for goods in seashells rather than paper money, he said.
But spotting an old shell today is rare. Most have been bartered for goods, although some can still be found in store windows - a reminder of easier, simpler times.
"When I think about that period compared to now, people weren't suffering the way they are suffering now," KI said.
But now, for the first time in his life, the 65-year-old does not know how he is going to survive the months ahead.
Decades of climate change and years of increasing violence by armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and the ISIL (ISIS) armed group as well as local defence forces - a combination of community volunteers armed by the government and groups who have taken up arms on their own - have pushed KI's once comfortable family into poverty. Chased from his farm by armed men in November, he has been unable to cultivate. Meanwhile, his herd of 30 cows, most of which scattered and got lost during the attack, has been reduced to just two.
In Burkina Faso one in five young children is chronically malnourished. Food prices have spiked, and 12 million of the country’s 20 million residents don’t get enough to eat. Lanizou’s husband, Yakouaran Boue, used to sell onions to buy seeds and fertilizer, but then the markets closed. Even now, a 50-kilogram bag of onions sells for a dollar less, which means less seed to plant for next year.
“I’m worried that this year we won’t have enough food to feed her,” he said, staring down at his daughter over his wife’s shoulder. “I’m afraid she’s going to die.”
“Before the disease we didn’t have anything,” said Aminata Mande. “Now with the disease we don’t have anything also.”
Burkina Faso was already facing a growing food crisis, with rising violence linked to militants cutting families off from their farms. With the advent of the coronavirus, the government closed markets, restricted movement and shut down public transport, making it much harder for traders to buy and sell food. While malnutrition deaths routinely rise during the four-month wait for the next harvest in October, this year is worse than anyone can remember, according to physicians and aid workers. On the World Food Program’s hunger map, nearly all of Burkina Faso is a red zone of need. Even though the Tuy province produces the most corn in the country, food there is not reaching those who need it most. In Tuy between March and April, the number of underweight newborns increased by 40%, signifying that the mothers were most likely malnourished during pregnancy. Child deaths due to malnutrition are also escalating.
Mamoudou Ouedraogo, founder of the Association for Education and Environment, a local aid group has noticed a direct correlation between climate change and people being recruited into armed groups.
"When you have lost everything, even food, you are on the edge of despair and as a consequence people will be ready to find a solution wherever possible, including terrorists," he said.
Violence in the Sahel has been largely linked to competition over natural resources, yet international observers warn that when the government and aid groups provide communities with climate change solutions, they need to come at it from a different perspective.
"It is essential to fight climate change and its effects, which include increased land pressure, particularly in rural areas. But resource scarcity is neither the only nor the determining factor behind rising insecurity," said International Crisis Group in a report in April.
There are often plenty of resources but authorities lack the ability or the legitimacy to mediate conflicts over access to them, said the report. Climate policies should focus more on adaptation rather than on the premise that resources are not plentiful enough. In the past 10 years, pollution has had a devastating impact, particularly for cattle breeders. Thirty percent of cattle die from ingesting plastic.

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