Since 2021, Concern has been responding to a multifaceted humanitarian crisis in the western African country of Burkina Faso. Learn more about what’s going on.

A landlocked country in western Africa that’s home to 21.5 million, Burkina Faso is the site of a growing crisis that has gone largely underreported in our media. Political marginalization, the effects of the climate crisis, and conflict have combined to form an unprecedented humanitarian emergency in a country that, until recently, was most concerned with chronic hunger and malnutrition.

What led to conditions becoming so severe? Read on for five key points about Burkina Faso’s humanitarian crisis — and to learn about how Concern is working with communities to offset the scope and impact of this humanitarian emergency.

The Burkina Faso crisis by the numbers:

  • 3.5 million people in Burkina Faso require humanitarian aid, representing a 60% increase in the last year.
  • Over 1.9 million Burkinabè have been displaced by conflict, making Burkina Faso the fastest-growing displacement crisis in recent times.
  • 80% of all internally-displaced Burkinabè are women and children.
  • At 8.8%, Burkina Faso has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world
  • Over 14% of Burkinabè are undernourished.
  • Among children under 5, 8.1% of Burkinabè suffer from acute malnutrition, while 23.8% are stunted
  • UN estimates suggest that harvests have, on average, decreased by 50% in northern Burkina Faso due to climate events. In some areas, that figure is as high as 80%.

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1. Conflict in Burkina Faso has escalated sharply since 2019

Burkina Faso has faced conflict and insecurity since 2015, but the situation began to take a turn for the worse beginning in 2018. Since 2019, the security situation in the country’s northern and eastern regions has swiftly deteriorated: Increasing numbers of non-state armed groups caused the country to experience the greatest decline in peace from 2020 to 2021, according to this year’s Global Peace Index. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of incidents related to insecurity has more than tripled, rising from 211 in 2019 to 720 in just the first eight months of 2021.

Conflict has displaced more than 1.2 million people in just two years, making Burkina Faso the fastest-growing displacement crisis in recent times. More broadly, one-fifth of the country’s population, or 3.5 million Burkinabè, require humanitarian assistance. This represents a 60% increase in humanitarian need between January 2020 and January 2021. Unfortunately, the violence shows no sign of stopping, which means that displacement and need are only expected to increase in 2022.

Puebla* with her two children at an unofficial IDP site in the Centre North region of Burkina Faso where community leaders say food shortages are a constant worry with no state or NGO support.
Puebla* with her two children at an unofficial IDP site in the Centre North region of Burkina Faso where community leaders say food shortages are a constant worry with no state or NGO support. (Photo: Henry Wilkins; names changed to protect the identity of individuals)

2. Conflict-driven displacement has created a knock-on effect

The increase in internally-displaced Burkinabè has impacted neighboring areas. Some host communities have nearly doubled in population as they accommodate their compatriots driven from home by conflict. Most of those who have been forced to flee lost their incomes in the process, abandoning farms and livestock. Displacements have an especially harsh effect on women, children, the elderly, people living with disabilities, and other marginalized groups. Women and children represent 80% of those internally-displaced in Burkina Faso, and they are especially vulnerable to violence at this time.

Host communities also feel the impacts of these population increases, which could be temporary or, depending on the nature of this conflict in the long run, more protracted. Currently, local infrastructure is struggling to keep up with demands for healthcare, clean water, and adequate sanitation services. In some instances, conflict has caused host community health centers to shut down due to a lack of resources, which is especially challenging during a global pandemic.

Concern staff visit and meet with IDPs in Pouytenga Centre East
Concern staff visit and meet with IDPs in Pouytenga Centre East. (Photo: Anne Mimault / Concern Worldwide)

3. Up to 90% of Burkinabè rely on agriculture, meaning that they are especially vulnerable to the climate crisis

Approximately 80 to 90% of Burkinabè make their livelihoods on rain-fed agriculture, meaning that the country is especially vulnerable to the impact of climate shocks. An increasing average temperature and decreasing periods of rain are testing the resilience of the majority of the country’s population, particularly in the northern Sahelian area. By 2050, the United Nations predicts a 10% decrease in already-precious rainfall, and a median temperature increase of 1.4 to 1.6 degrees celsius. This could be a potentially deadly combination, resulting not only in more frequent droughts, but also bush and forest fires.

In 2021, inconsistent rainfall and drought combined with Burkina Faso’s security crisis to reduce harvest yields and limit access to clean water and adequate sanitation and hygiene facilities, both of which threaten the health and nutrition of millions.

People signing for and receiving kits from the Concern team at Ramesim site.
People signing for and receiving kits from the Concern team at Ramesim site. (Photo: Jean-Paul Ouedraogo / Concern Worldwide)

4. Clean water is also a chief concern, and affected by this crisis

Conflict, displacement, and poor rainfall have all combined to make water, sanitation, and hygiene all key concerns for Burkina Faso in 2022. Oxfam estimates that water access has dropped by 40% in some areas of the country.

A lack of infrastructure to support current demands in many areas has led to an increase in water-borne illnesses, as well as increased vulnerability for women and girls — who are often tasked with collecting water and face the threats of attacks and violence along the way.


5 All of these combined have led to a growing food crisis in Burkina Faso

Increasing violence, displacement, and climate events (alongside health crises like COVID-19) have resulted in rising hunger rates in Burkina Faso, with 3.3 million people facing a food crisis. As a response to this growing food insecurity, many Burkinabè have turned to negative coping mechanisms, like reducing the number of meals they consume each day and moving towards less nutrient-rich food. 24.9% of children under 5 years old in Burkina Faso are currently stunted (low height for weight).

In the 2021 Global Hunger Index, Burkina Faso ranks 91st out of the 116 countries with sufficient data to calculate 2021 GHI scores, making it the 25th hungriest country in the world. Four provinces are facing critical conditions that, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) are one step away from famine-like conditions.

Concern in Burkina Faso: Our first year

Following an assessment in 2020, Concern entered Burkina Faso in January 2021. Our initial response is to the rapidly-evolving humanitarian crisis in the country, as well as the largest-growing displacement crisis in Africa. Our Emergency Response programme, in partnership with Alliance2015 members, is designed to improve access to essential, quality health and nutrition services that are able to adapt to the evolving nature of this crisis.

In our first year, we have provided 500 families, both members of the internally-displaced and host communities, with unconditional, multi-purpose cash transfers combined with hygiene campaigns. We’ve also worked with 200 additional families on a cash-for-work program that improves livelihoods as well as local sanitation infrastructure.

In terms of water, sanitation, and hygiene, we’ve also distributed hygiene and dignity kits to recently-displaced IDPs and both rehabilitated infrastructure within and provided key medical supplies to local health centers. Nutrition is another key element of our work in Burkina Faso, with a focus on tailoring services to work in insecure and hard-to-reach areas. We remain dedicated to ensuring that infants, young children, and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers all have the support they need to remain healthy and secure.

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