By Melanie Gallant, Oxfam Canada’s Media Relations Officer
Whether through civil war or other forms of conflict, natural disasters or climate related disasters such as drought, the global scale of displaced people is unprecedented. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates there are now over 60 million forcibly displaced people around the world including 19.5 million refugees – the highest number on record!
Last year I travelled to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, where I saw firsthand how Syrian families living as refugees in cold and muddy tents were struggling to cope under difficult winter conditions. I remember one Syrian mom, Nahla*, tell me “We can’t sleep most nights because water leaks in (our tent) and makes everything wet. I am very worried for my children. I think of going back to Syria every day.” Millions of displaced people share that same dream – they are living in makeshift dwellings, in urgent need of safe drinking water, sanitation services, food, shelter, medicine, education and security, wanting desperately to return home. Many are from Syria, like Nahla*, but countless others are from dozens of crisis affected countries across the world.
Burundi is one of those countries, but one that seldom makes the headlines.
Already one of the poorest places on the planet, more than a decade of wars has left Burundi in an extremely difficult situation. Fear of violence and intimidation is forcing thousands of people to flee their homes. Over 250,000 people have fled, the majority to Tanzania, overstretching the capacity of the local government and aid agencies to respond.
The numbers are so shockingly high and hard to imagine, we can forget that each and every person forced to flee their home has a face, a story, a family, and dreams for the future.
Like many Burundian refugee women, Godeberite* now lives in a makeshift shelter in a crowded Tanzanian refugee camp, trying to nurture a young family in extremely difficult conditions. Having run out of options and forced to flee her home in Burundi, she arrived in the Nduta refugee camp in March. She was heavily pregnant with her first child Victor*, who is now 1 month old. Before an Oxfam water station was added, she used to have to walk for over an hour to fetch water.
Women and children account for more than 75% of displaced persons globally, and are particularly affected by crises and during displacement. For example, in addition to facing an increased risk of violence and sexual violence, women often become the primary caretakers for children, the injured, the sick and the elderly, which substantially increases their workload and emotional burden. Godeberite spoke to Oxfam, giving us a glimpse of how challenging life was for her in Nduta.
“There are more sicknesses here than back home in Burundi because of the large population living together. They did give pregnant women milk but as everything was open people would come and steal it from me. Right now I have access to clean water and that’s why I am healthy. If I did not have this it would have been very easy to get infections.”
Oxfam’s work in the Nduta camp includes the provision of water and sanitation facilities, emergency food, and most recently, livelihoods programs. These include income generation activities developed to make use of people’s existing skills and knowledge, like bee keeping and farming, but also paid work projects to improve the camp infrastructure and protect the environment, like drainage facilities, better roads, and planting trees. In fact, we are even working towards implementing solar pumping stations for water and installing semi-permanent latrines for families.
On June 20th, World Refugee Day, I will be joining Oxfam Canada and our Humanitarian Coalition partners in Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square where we will be calling particular attention to the plight of Burundian refugees, and how access to water and sanitation are essential for Godeberite and all other women struggling to keep themselves and their families safe and healthy in times of crisis. Join us to #helpthemdreamagain.
*names have been changed to protect identity.
Oxfam Canada and other members of the Humanitarian Coalition have launched a national campaign in the lead up to World Refugee Day, on June 20th, to raise awareness and funds for the 60 million people displaced around the world. The Humanitarian Coalition is Canada’s only joint appeal mechanism. It is comprised of CARE Canada, Oxfam Canada, Oxfam-Québec, Plan International Canada and Save the Children Canada.