OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — The humanitarian situation in Burkina Faso has become so dire that some women and children have only eaten leaves and salt for weeks, a top U.N. official said after a one-day visit to the country.
U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths said his Thursday visit to the West African nation “left a deep impression.”
“Growing insecurity and blockades in many areas have left communities cut off from the rest of the country and facing growing hunger. Aid workers are struggling to reach these people who need assistance,” he said in a statement.
A quarter of Burkina Faso’s population – nearly 5 million people – is in need of emergency assistance. That’s 40% more than at the beginning of the year, Griffiths said, yet less than a third of the needed $805 million for the country’s response plan is funded.
Burkina Faso has for years battled a jihadi insurgency linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group that has killed thousands of people and displaced some 2 million people.
Griffiths’ visit followed the country’s second military coup in less than nine months.
In September, young soldiers toppled former military leader Lt. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba, replacing him with Capt. Ibrahim Traore, 34, who said his predecessor was not doing enough to secure the country from soaring violence.
More than 3,200 people have been killed between January and September this year, more than a 100% increase from the same period last year, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.
Griffiths traveled to the besieged northern town of Djibo, which jihadis have cut off since February and where the United Nations said there are credible reports that at least eight children died of malnutrition recently.
More than 370,000 people are impacted in the town, with little access to water and rising food prices, according to an October report from ACAPS, a Geneva-based organization which provides independent humanitarian analysis. More than 32 civilians have been killed in Djibo since June, the group reported.
“We don’t have food, we don’t have anything. We only rely on the leaves,” Djibo resident Daouda Maiga told The Associated Press by phone from the town.
The few helicopters that bring assistance don’t supply enough, he said. Convoys that try to access the town by road are often ambushed. Last month, 37 people were killed, the majority of them soldiers, when a convoy from the capital, Ouagadougou, was attacked.
Swaths of Burkina Faso have become increasingly inaccessible as more towns become cut off. The U.N. estimates that more than 1 million people are unable to move freely. Aid groups say the lack of access to some areas is a major concern.
“Besieged areas have mushroomed all over the map of Burkina Faso over the past year, cutting off civilians from aid and leaving them fending for themselves,” said Hassane Hamadou, country director for the Norwegian Refugee Council.