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Families face hunger in Burundi

In the East African country, one of the ten poorest countries in the world, at least 35,710 families, or about 180,000 people, need food aid, said government officials and the United Nations.

Rains stopped in Burundi after crops were planted and did not return until now, leaving many farmers with no harvests. Prices, for the little food on sale in local markets have shot up, making it out of reach for most normal families.  Thousands of people in the worst-hit Kirundo province have been forced to commute to neighbouring Rwanda in search of food or work. “How can I tell my children there is nothing to eat for a day or two,” asked Jacqueline Kabagirwa. The 35 year-old lives in the northern commune of Busoni but because of the drought and failed harvests, she now commutes to Rwanda, where she earns just enough to feed her children for a day’s work in the fields.  “My husband often goes to Rwanda and stays there a week or more but his pay is not enough to sustain the whole family,” she told The United Nations news service, IRIN. “As I have nothing here, I cannot wait for his return. One of my children is lucky because he gets food at school but how can I tell the others there is nothing to eat for a day or two? “I leave early in the morning and go to Rwanda to work in the fields. But sometimes I am so tired I cannot wake up early enough. In Rwanda, we go from one house to another asking if they need a hand. If you are lucky, you get work immediately but some have to cover long distances, some even come back without a job. Sometimes, I go with my older child, who is 12.”

With so many Burundians looking to work in Rwanda’s fields, Jacqueline says her pay has dropped to a third of what it was before the crisis. “Now that the rains are back, I will go once a week, that way I can work in my own field. It is now time for planting sorghum and beans, but we have no seeds.” Food aid will first be sent to Burundi’s most vulnerable people, such as children under five, the sick, elderly and pregnant and nursing mothers, said Charles Dei, Burundi director of the World Food Programme said. “We will also identify food-for-work activities whereby we can inject more food to deter people from moving,” he added.

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children