SOS Children’s Villages plans to support up to 1,200 children in northern Burkina Faso, where regional unrest and displacement contribute to the worsening humanitarian situation.
Violence has uprooted more than 135,000 people in northern Burkina Faso, which also hosts 25,000 people who have fled unrest in neighbouring Mali. A new SOS Children’s Villages’ emergency response programme focuses on providing child friendly spaces (CFSs) and educational support to children who are at risk of separation, violence and abuse.
Madougou Mamoudou is the Head of Emergency for the West and Central Africa Region of SOS Children’s Villages covering 18 countries. In the following interview, he talks about the emergency response in Burkina Faso as well as ongoing responses in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Chad.
Why is it important to respond in Burkina Faso?
The number of people in need has gone up exponentially in the past few months. These are people who have been displaced and are facing all kinds of protection issues, especially women and young girls. Children in many cases have been denied access to education, which will have damaging consequences on their future – they are at risk of becoming a lost generation. Young girls have also been abused and could experience the traumatic consequences of that for years to come.
Many people do not have access to basic services – they don’t have enough food to eat and people who have been kind enough to host them have depleted their own assets. The situation has deteriorated to the extent that if we do not provide assistance, the situation will become even worse. We have a responsibility in situations like this to respond and support the most vulnerable children and families as per our mandate
What is the main cause of this emergency?
This has become a complex humanitarian emergency in the sense that we are seeing different situations developing at the same time and affecting the same people. These people are living in the midst of a conflict between ethnic groups, and sporadic attacks that are forcing them to move. This region is also facing food insecurity, and when you put all these together, it makes the situation all the more complex. The needs are very acute and it is important for us to provide the necessary assistance to the children and families who are in very vulnerable situations.
You mention the risks to girls. What are the risks to boys?
Since this is primarily a conflict setting, boys are affected by the temptation to join armed groups. They have little to do and they are attracted to these armed groups. Once they are recruited, they are indoctrinated into a system of violence and this is detrimental to them and the society as a whole for decades to come.
Burkina Faso is located in a region where instability, displacement and poverty put children at risk. What can be done to help?
Certainly SOS Children’s Villages does not have the capability to address all the needs, nor do we have the ambition to try to cover all the needs of children. Our strategy is to identify areas where our interventions can provide added value. That could be working in partnership with existing organisations or in partnership with communities. Our mandate is to prevent family separation and if there are situations where there is a need for case management to support families, we will provide the necessary support. We are not there to be a substitute for the government or to cover all the needs alone. We are there to provide assistance and support whenever we can on a very complex and dynamic humanitarian ground.
What lessons have you learnt from dealing with emergencies in other countries with similar challenges, such as Central African Republic and Chad?
The biggest challenge for our work in these conflict situations is the accessibility to the vulnerable populations. The safety and security of our staff and assets is paramount. Having said that, we need to provide assistance and it is very difficult for us to reach the people who are in need because there is no humanitarian corridor that allows us to get access to the people, and in many cases there are not enough partners working in these communities because of security concerns.
In the Central African Republic, for example, the government does not have the capacity to ensure the security of humanitarian workers. It is a very difficult situation, but it is important for us to make sure that partnership and coordination are part of our strategy so we can reach the children and families we need to help. By working together through cooperation and partnerships, we can bypass some of the challenges.
Regionally, what are the main risks for children?
The biggest risk is protection. Girls are exposed to sexual exploitation, child marriage and gender-based violence. Young boys are subject to recruitment into armed groups. These are the very specific issues that children in these areas are exposed to at the moment, whether it is in Chad, the Central African Republic and Burkina Faso, as well as Cameroon.
These are sometimes called ‘forgotten emergencies’ despite the mass displacement and instability that they create. Why is this?
These are emergencies that have emerged on a slow onset path, but the impact on the population is extreme. The humanitarian community needs to be more involved in advocating and campaigning to bring this situation to light. There has not been enough communication on the real situation and there has not been enough funding. We must not forget that children are often the most vulnerable in these situations. Besides the lack of food, water, health and shelter, there is a high risk of family separation, exploitation, abuse and lack of educational opportunity.
What is important about SOS Children’s Villages and its work in Burkina Faso, Central African Republic and Chad?
SOS Children’s Villages is one of the first responders when it comes to providing psychosocial support for children affected by trauma, and in providing child-friendly space (CFS) programming. We are recognised for our CFSs because we offer integrated activities, mental health and psychological support, food and nutritional support, and training for caretakers.
Our CFSs are safe areas where children can feel protected, and this adds value to the way we care for children. We screen children who have special needs and we refer them to the most professional care. Our work has been valued and this is something we must continue doing.
The SOS Children’s Villages emergency response in Burkina Faso will provide support for as many as 1,200 children in the northern commune of Barsalogho, located in an area affected by conflict, displacement and insecurity. The project focuses on: