A lot is at stake in today’s presidential election in Burundi.
The tiny East African country has enjoyed a period of relative stability since the civil war there came to an end in 2005.
However, President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcement that he wanted to stand for a third term in office triggered violent protests in April, a failed coup attempt in May, and more than 70 deaths.
For a population that remembers all too well the horrors of conflict, the potential for more bloodshed is a terrifying prospect.
Over 165,000 people have already fled Burundi amidst the mounting violence.
And with violence expected to peak again around today’s poll, the number is only set to increase.
Buckling under the strain
Refugee camps in neighbouring countries are struggling to cope with the influx.
Over 25,000 refugees – many of them children – have arrived in the Nyarugusu refugee camp on the Tanzanian border in the last month alone.
The majority will have faced arduous journeys to get there. But even if they make it to a camp, there is no guarantee of respite.
Juliette* fled Burundi with her four children as violence escalated. She arrived with no belongings or money, just the clothes she and her children were wearing.
“My baby girl Elise* was admitted to the therapeutic feeding clinic yesterday with acute malnutrition,” she says. “I cry when I think about the pain she is in.”
The Nyarugusu camp, which was already home to 30,000 Congolese refugees, is buckling under the strain, and malnourishment among children is reaching a critical level.
In the camp, it’s becoming a familiar story. In one day along last week, more than 30 malnourished Burundian children were admitted to the settlement’s therapeutic unit for severely malnourished children, showing secondary complications like malaria, pneumonia, worms, anaemia and diarrhoea.
At least four malnourished infants have already died.
The number of children attending emergency feeding programmes is also spiralling as more and more families flee the escalating political violence.
More must be done
We’re already working in the Nyagurusu camp with local partners to implement child protection and education programmes including three child-friendly spaces and three temporary learning spaces which are expected to reach 1,200 children.
The daily activities in these spaces allows for assessment of children’s needs and support from caregivers, while providing counseling and referral to other services such as healthcare.
The team is also working to set-up education opportunities for children who have been out of school for several months due to the unrest in the build-up to the elections.
But more needs to be done, as Lisa Parrott Acting Country Director, Save the Children Tanzania, reveals.
“If the number of malnourished children arriving continues to climb, the current medical facilities in the camp will be unable to cope,” she says.
“Refugee families arriving in Nyarugusu camp have been turning up in much worse shape than they were before, many having suffered extremely stressful journeys to reach here. More mobile clinics are desperately needed.”
* Names changed to protect identities of those involved.