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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 January 2005, 13:16 GMT
Burundi battles with food shortages
Woman holding a child
Woman and children are the most vulnerable to malnutrition
As the United Nations steps up the distribution of food to some 520,000 people in north-eastern Burundi where famine has reportedly led to the deaths of more than 100 people since November, the BBC's Prime Ndikumagenge visited one of the worst hit areas.

Muzeyimana told me that her young daughter had hardly eaten anything for the whole day.

Across the entire district of Busoni in Kirundo Province there are no crops - and there have not been any since April last year.

Since then, there have been no rains and the people have missed three potential harvests.

And disease has destroyed the drought-resistant cassava plants.

Fleeing home

At the market in Marembo, very few goods were on sale.

I met one woman there in her 70s, who said she feared she would die on her way back home.

"Many people have migrated to Rwanda or to other parts of Burundi," says Evariste Kagimbangabo, head of the Busoni commune.

Those who have stayed are coping by crossing into Rwanda where they get work in the fields.

They call it "gupagasa", meaning doing hard work for little money.

With less than the 50 US cents they are paid a day, they buy food and bring it home for those desperately waiting back home.

Muheto, an eight-year-old boy says his parents set off early in the morning for Rwanda.

He does not know if they will be back with food because sometimes, they do not find a job and return home empty-handed.

He says they then just drink water and wait for the next day to come hoping it will be much better.

The next morning, they return to Rwanda.

Famine tax

Kirundo provincial governor Philippe Njoni says that over 250,000 people - half the population - need urgent food assistance for at least the next four months.

The government says that nationwide, close to one million people need aid.

Old woman
This woman in her 70s feared she would die on her way home from the market.
The UN's food agency, the World Food Programme, was already distributing food to the most vulnerable, but more food aid has been arriving since the reports of widespread famine began to emerge two weeks ago.

But not all the people in need have received rations.

The people are aware that they cannot rely on food assistance and are calling on the government to help them find drought-resistant crops.

The government has introduced a special tax in order to cope with the situation.

But it may not be enough - one government minister said they needed more than $50m to cope with the situation.


SEE ALSO:
Burundi approves new famine tax
13 Jan 05 |  Africa
Country profile: Burundi
26 Feb 04 |  Country profiles


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