At the end of a joint United Nations-Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) mission to Benin, a senior UN humanitarian official highlighted the need for new ways to help people in the West African country cope with recurrent humanitarian emergencies.
"This mission comes at a crucial time," said the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Burkina Faso, Pascal Karorero, said on Sunday, at the end of a three-day visit to Benin, which has been dealing with the impact of floods and nutrition crises since 2005.
He added, "We need to find a new paradigm to reinforce the capacity of the most vulnerable households to absorb recurrent shocks. This is the only way to make a sustainable change in the life of millions in the Sahel region, and particularly in Burkina Faso."
According to the UN Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Benin is facing a humanitarian emergency, in the wake of flooding and nutrition crises. Some three million people have been affected by hunger this year, including 100,000 children who are at risk of severe acute malnutrition.
The situation has been exacerbated by the arrival of some 35,000 refugees fleeing insecurity in northern Mali, OCHA noted in a news release, adding that the refugees have found refuge in host communities whose resources are already stretched.
Fighting between Malian Government forces and Tuareg rebels broke out in the country's north in January. The instability and insecurity resulting from the renewed clashes, as well as the proliferation of armed groups in the region, drought and political instability in the wake of a military coup d'état in March, have driven some 500,000 Malians from their homes, 270,000 of them to neighbouring countries. In addition, Islamist militants currently control the country's north and have imposed strict Sharia law, including amputation of limbs as punishment.
The UN-OIC mission also spent time in neighbouring Mali and Niger, as well as Burkina Faso, where the delegation met members of the Government and the humanitarian community, in addition to visiting Mentao North camp, which hosts Malian refugees.
Delegation members held talks with regional authorities and met refugees, who expressed gratitude to Burkina Faso for its solidarity and protection, according to OCHA.
"Thanks to the Government, and with the support of the humanitarian community, we have so far been able to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in Burkina Faso," said the Director of the OIC's African Department, Ambassador Yehia Lawal, who jointly led the mission with Mr. Karorero.
"However, we should not underestimate the severity of the crisis in this country, and in the Sahel region, which calls for a collective response," he added in the OCHA news release. "No single country or organisation acting alone can stop the vicious cycle of hunger, which costs hundreds of thousands of lives even when there is no acute crisis."
Currently, there are 56 humanitarian organisations working in Burkina Faso. More than 800,000 people have received food aid and 200,000 have received nutrition assistance from the United Nations and its partners. Some 600,000 people have benefited from agricultural aid.
However, OCHA notes, even when there is no crisis, one million Burkinabé are vulnerable to chronic food insecurity.
Earlier this month, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and head of OCHA, Valerie Amos, visited Benin at the invitation of President Boni Yayi, in the wake of severe flooding there.
While on the ground, she called for a change in the way the international community deals with humanitarian crises and supports governments in improving preparedness and increasing the capacities and coping mechanisms of communities and households faced with floods.