FAO GLOBAL INFORMATION AND EARLY WARNING SYSTEM ON FOOD AND AGRICULTURE

SPECIAL ALERT No.299 :
BURUNDI

Date: 5 November 1999

(Circulated only for countries where foodcrops or supply situation conditions give rise to concern)

BLEAK FOOD OUTLOOK FOR BURUNDI AS HEIGHTENED INSECURITY AND ADVERSE WEATHER REDUCE FOOD PRODUCTION

The deteriorating security situation in Burundi following an escalation of violence in rural areas has resulted in large-scale population displacement and forced a suspension of virtually all humanitarian assistance. Intensified fighting between Government forces and rebels in several areas during the past two months, particularly in Bujumbura Rural province, has caused loss of civilian lives, including the death of two UN international humanitarian workers, and the displacement of an estimated 300 000 people who have been grouped into camps by the Government. The newly displaced add to an estimated 500 000 people who were already in 300 "regroupment" sites away from their homes. Living conditions in these sites are reported to be extremely poor, with no clean water, shelter and sanitary facilities. It is estimated that 821 000 people, or more than 13 percent of the total population, are at present in regroupment camps. The worst affected provinces are Bujumbura Rural with 73 percent of its population displaced, followed by Bubanza with 60 percent, Makamba with 24 percent and Bururi with 20 percent. Also, in the province of Rutana, which was relatively calm until recently, the number of displaced people has increased from around 2 000 to over 16 000 since September.

The food and health situation of the regrouped populations gives cause for serious concern. Only a limited number of people have access to their fields, at a time when the first cropping season has already started. With most of them entirely dependent on emergency food aid for their survival, the suspension of international humanitarian assistance some three weeks ago following the killing of UN staff has aggravated an already dire food and health situation. If security is not restored quickly to allow a resumption of humanitarian assistance, there is a serious threat of starvation among the regrouped population.

Notwithstanding the impact of population displacement on food production, crop prospects for the first season of 1999/2000 (September-January) are also affected by unfavourable weather. Planting, which normally starts from mid-September to mid-October, has been delayed by dry weather during October. In the most productive areas of Kirungo in the north, Mosso in the east and Imbo in the west, no significant planting has taken place because of insufficient precipitation. In areas where planting took place with the first rains in late September, such as in the highlands of the central plateau, crops are reported to be stressed by lack of soil moisture. Even if more rains are received in the coming weeks, serious reductions in plantings and yields can be expected, thus compounding the food supply difficulties further over the next year.

A reduced harvest this season will follow a below-normal harvest of the last season which ended last July. It is, therefore, expected that the already tight supply of cereals and pulses, which has resulted in high prices, is set to deteriorate in the coming months. The current dry weather could also negatively affect planting in the first season of 2000 starting next February as harvesting of the late-planted crops this season will overlap with planting next season, and a shortage of seeds could limit the planted area.

The removal of the economic embargo by the neighbouring countries in January 1999 was expected to revive Burundi's economy and lead to a recovery in food production. However, this has not happened mainly due to continuing violence. On the contrary, the economic situation has deteriorated with a steady depreciation of the national currency and attendant domestic price inflation. External financial assistance continues to be restricted to emergency operations, which have been suspended recently.

While every effort needs to be made by the international community to resolve the conflict in Burundi, there is an urgent need for the resumption of humanitarian assistance to the affected population to avoid further hardship and loss of life.

This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO Secretariat with information from official and unofficial sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact Mr. Abdur Rashid, Chief, ESCG, FAO, (Fax: 0039-06-5705-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): GIEWS1@FAO.ORG) for further information if required.

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