African leaders gathered on Friday for a summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, to address growing humanitarian needs in the continent, which also faces increased violent activity, climate change challenges and a series of military coups.
Leaders called for increased mobilization to resolve a humanitarian crisis that left millions displaced and more than 280 million suffering from malnutrition.
For people in Djibo, a city in northern Burkina Faso near the border with Mali, all the help can’t come soon enough.
The city in the Sahel region – the vast area below the Sahara – has been under siege since February by fighters who are preventing people and goods from entering or leaving and cutting off the water supply. Few truck drivers want to take up the gauntlet of armed groups. Residents are suffering without food or water, animals are dying and the price of grain has risen.
“The goods don’t arrive here anymore. Animal and agricultural production is not possible because the people cannot go back to their villages,” UN resident and humanitarian coordinator Barbara Manzi told The Associated Press this week from Djibo. “Unless (a solution) is found, it’s going to be a real tragedy for the whole group of people that’s here.”
Djibo has been the epicenter of the violence linked to al-Qaeda and the ISIL (ISIS) group that has killed thousands and displaced nearly two million people. While Djibo — and the province of Soum where the city is located — went through periods of calm, such as during an impromptu ceasefire between fighters and the government around the 2020 presidential election, the truce failed to last.
Since November, insecurity in the region has increased. Armed groups destroyed the city’s water infrastructure and lined much of Djibo’s perimeter with explosives, blocking the city, locals say.
The city’s population has grown from 60,000 to 300,000 in recent years as people flee the countryside to escape the violence.
Blocking cities is a tactic used by armed groups to assert dominance and could also be an attempt to make Burkina Faso’s new military government, which took power in January, backtrack on promises to fighters, said Laith Alkhouri, CEO of Intelonyx Intelligence Advisory. , a group that provides intelligence analysis.
“Militants resort to blockades when they see an opportunity to gain incentives when negotiating with the government while also sending a message to their base that they are in control. It’s a bargaining card and a winning one,” he said.
A UN team stopped by to assess the situation. The AP wire service was the first foreign media outlet to visit the city in more than a year.
“Nowadays, nothing is for sale here. Even if you have cash, there is nothing to buy. We came here with four donkeys and goats and some of them died of starvation. We were forced to sell the rest of the animals and unfortunately the prices of animals have fallen,” says livestock farmer Mamoudou Oumarou.
The 53-year-old father of 13 fled his village in February and said the blockade in Djibo has prevented people from coming to the market to buy and sell livestock, decreasing demand and cutting prices for the animals in half.
Before the violence, Djibo had one of the largest and most vital cattle markets in the Sahel and was a bustling economic center. In the past, about 600 trucks came into Djibo every month, now there are fewer than 70, says Alpha Ousmane Dao, director of Seracom, a local aid organization in Djibo.
Burkina Faso is facing the worst hunger crisis in six years, with more than 630,000 people at risk of starvation, according to the UN.
Due to the blockade of Djibo, the World Food Program has been unable to supply food to the city since December and supplies are running out, says Antoine Renard, country director of the World Food Program in Burkina Faso.
Attempts to end the blockade through dialogue have had mixed results. In late April, the Emir of Djibo met one of the leaders of an armed group in Burkina Faso, Jafar Dicko, to negotiate the lifting of the siege. However, little progress has been made since then.
Locals say the armed groups have eased restrictions in some areas, allowing freer movement, but the military is now blocking people from bringing food from Djibo to surrounding villages for fear it will go to the fighters.
The military denied the allegations.
Meanwhile, residents of Djibo say they are risking their lives trying to survive.
Dadou Sadou searches outside Djibo in the middle of the night for wood and water, when she says the fighters are not there.
“We have no more animals, we have no more food to buy in the market… If you have children, you have no choice,” she said.