GENEVA - United Nations aid agencies warn the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Burkina Faso is devastating the country's agriculture and economy, destabilizing communities, and putting the lives of severely malnourished children at risk.
The findings are a result of an assessment mission by 11 U.N. aid agencies and NGOs to the country.
Of the 486,000 people displaced since Jan. 1, more than half have been forced to flee their homes in the last three months. As armed violence continues to escalate, the U.N. refugee agency's principle emergency coordinator, Andrew Mbogori, tells VOA he fears worse is yet to come.
"This situation in Burkina Faso is evolving to be a very serious one and actually ... we expect this number to double in the next four months and we should be hitting the number of a million maybe displaced in a couple of months to come," Mbogori said. "So, the situation is really very dire."
Armed conflict in the Sahel is causing an unprecedented humanitarian emergency in the region. The violence, which has been raging in Mali and Niger for years, finally spilled over into Burkina Faso this year. Mbogori said this is having a devastating impact on the population.
"Thousands of people are on the move, exhausted and trying to find safety among host families and other transit sites," Mbogori said. "Many have been repeatedly displaced. The prospect of their immediate return is not there. As a result, their needs and those of host families, already vulnerable by food and nutrition in the region, are growing."
Meritxell Relano, the U.N. children's fund deputy director for emergency operations, says children are among the most vulnerable. She says serious concerns about armed attacks have forced more than 2,000 schools to close, keeping 330,000 children out of the classroom.
"So, this insecurity that is forcing the schools to close is causing that many children are at risk of abuse and exploitation," Relano said. "Many of the girls are at risk of getting married early, early pregnancies and some of the children also are at high risk of being recruited by armed groups."
Relano said 68 health facilities have shut down, and more than 800,000 people no longer have access to medical care.
This, she says, is particularly unfortunate in a country where one million children are malnourished. Of those, she notes 145,000 are suffering from severe acute malnutrition, putting them at high risk of death.