The UN World Food Programme has warned that rapidly degenerating security and a worsening humanitarian crisis in Burkina Faso could see it become "another Syria". It comes as France issued a travel warning for the West African country due to hightened risk of terrorism.
Warnings of an “escalating humanitarian crisis” in Burkina Faso were issued by the UN and its food assistance branch the World Food Programme (WFP).
“Burkina Faso is one of the three countries that constitutes the central Sahel in West Africa and it's facing a toxic combination of rapidly escalating armed conflict, which is leading to population displacement in very large numbers,” says Marwa Awad, WFP spokesperson who spoke to RFI after just her recent visit to the country.
"We don't want another Syria. I covered Syria for three years and people were more well-versed in the layers of uprising and extremism," Awad told The Guardian newspaper. "But people here have told us they are seeing the exploitation of inequality, with young people joining armed groups.”
According to WFP figures, close to half a million people have been forced from their homes and a third of the country is now a conflict zone.
Awad says neighbouring Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali have been declared a level three emergency, meaning: “These countries in the foreseeable future will likely deteriorate in terms of security and humanitarian access unless we do something.”
Groups with links to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State armed group, which had been operating in lawless northern Mali, have in recent years spread across the Sahel to into Burkina Faso and Niger, according to Patrick Youssef, deputy director of the International Committee of the Red Cross for Africa, speaking at the Sixth Dakar Forum on Security in Africa.
Burkina Faso, once a major tourist hub, has fallen victim to numerous jihadist attacks since 2015.
The WFP added that one third of Burkina Faso is now a conflict zone, with 480,000 displaced persons at the end of 2018.
That number is expected to rise to 650,000 by the end of this year.
The weakening security situation across the Sahel has become increasingly worrisome, with France issuing a recent warning to those travelling to the area.
Climate change also driving displacement
Coupled with the escalating violence is climate change.
“During my visit to Burkina Faso last year, I saw the effects of climate change as a disruptor in the Sahara region, interfering with the regional weather patterns that people there are used to. . .with climate change, a lot of these areas are drying up,” noted Awad.
She stressed that what is needed now not just military intervention, but “humanitarian investments to counter the tide of radicalisation that is gripping the young population of Burkina Faso and the Sahel region".