On 5 December 2019, heavy rainfall triggered landslides in Cibitoke province in northwestern Burundi. Twenty-seven people were killed and almost 2,000 were forced to relocate. Along with the lives and homes lost, the school in the Nyamakarabo village was also destroyed. Today, some children in the village walk over two hours a day to attend an over-crowded school in a neighboring village. Others have yet to step back in a classroom.
Sadly, climate-induced disasters – especially floods and landslides – have become a considerable and mounting roadblock to children’s access to quality education in Burundi. This is especially true for girls and adolescent girls who already face significant challenges in accessing education.
To address the multiplying risks connected with displacement, climate change, COVID-19 and other impacts of this forgotten protracted crisis, ECW led a four-day scoping mission in March, connecting with the Government of Burundi, donors, United Nations (UN) agencies and key civil society partners. The mission was led by Graham Lang, ECW Chief of Education, and Maarten Barends, ECW Chief of Humanitarian Liaison and External Relations.
As part of its strategic priorities, ECW set a goal to support multi-year resilience programmes (MYRPs) in 26 priority countries affected by protracted crises where vulnerabilities and education needs are significantly high and underfunded. Burundi is one of these countries.
A majority of internally displaced people in Burundi – 83 per cent – have been driven from their homes by floods, landslides, and other natural disasters. With this multi-year programme, ECW and partners aim to help build resilience and mitigate the impact of climate-induced disasters in Burundi.
Through meetings with an array of international and national actors in the country, ECW’s team laid the ground for the joint understanding of the needs of crisis-affected communities in Burundi that is core to the programme’s collaborative response model.
Burundi is experiencing recurrent humanitarian crises. In 2020, about 1.7 million people – including close to 1 million children – were in urgent need of humanitarian assistance in the country. From natural disasters (such as landslides, floods and drought) to high incidences of cholera, malaria, and measles, acute malnutrition, and an ongoing socio-economic crisis, the children and youth in Burundi and their futures are in danger. Internally displaced people, returnees, and host communities are especially in need of critical education assistance.
“Children lost their access to education. This is exactly the kind of situation that ECW will support with the new multi-year resilience programme.” - Graham Lang, Chief of Education, ECW
Meeting with Education Stakeholders and Partners in Bujumbura
The mission was kicked off with an Education in Emergencies Working Group meeting. It was held at the National Education and Scientific Research Ministry in Bujumbura, Burundi with national and international NGOs. The focus of the presentation was on highlighting ECW’s core priorities around issues such as girls’ education, children and adolescents with disabilities and reaching those left furthest behind in protracted crises – such as children in Burundi.
ECW’s Graham Lang and Maarten Barends went on to brief the Delegation of the European Union in Burundi. The team on the ground also met with acting United Nations Resident Coordinator/Humanitarian Coordinator Nicole Kouassi and the UNICEF Representative John Agbor in Bujumbura.
The Minister of Education of Burundi, Gaspard Banyankimbona, met with the ECW team on the second day of the scoping trip. The team commended him on his thoughtful leadership, full engagement and strategic support for the upcoming multi-year education in emergency programme.
The team went on to meet with other government members, civil society organizations and UN agencies – including Representative Jennet Kem of the UN Women office in Burundi – to discuss coordination efforts and lay the groundwork for the MYRP. Their discussion centered on gender-responsive education in emergencies, a critical topic in the Burundian context. Besides costs associated with school, cultural and social conventions can pose additional barriers hampering girls and adolescent girls’ access to school, especially when domestic duties fall heavily on them. Climate emergencies and other protracted crises have exacerbated this vulnerability, leading to a high drop-out rate for girls in the country. The MYRP will focus on addressing this important issue.
Additionally, ECW’s team met with strategic donors – including the Embassies of France, Belgium and Germany in Burundi. Together, they discussed how the upcoming MYRP can help address the education in emergencies and protracted crisis issues related to everything from Burundi’s climate-induced disasters causing displacement to school-feeding to fight malnutrition.
Seeing First-Hand the Impact of Climate-Induced Disasters on Children and Youth's Access to Quality Education
The third day was spent conducting field visits. The ECW mission team visited a school near Mugina in Cibitoke Province, an area that has experienced a rise in landslides due to climate change. A devastating landslide in a nearby village forced their school to operate double shifts – with children now having to sit on the floor due to lack of space in their school rooms.
Entire villages have been displaced and children are losing their access to education in Burundi – an all-too-familiar occurrence that underscores the need for a multi-year resilience programme that enhances the coherence across humanitarian, development and peacebuilding interventions.
“Students continue to suffer from lack of learning materials. In this case, some children drop out of school. Another major challenge is the fact that our classrooms are severely damaged. When it rains, we must stop teaching and we are forced to send children home.”- Burikukiye Aloys, teacher at Nyamakarabo School
Graham Lang, ECW’s Chief of Education, highlights the first-hand impacts of climate change on education in Burundi:
Together with UNICEF Burundi and War Child Holland, the ECW team also visited the village of Nyamakarabo, located right on the border with Rwanda. Nyamakarabo was the location of the deadly landslide that claimed 27 lives in 2019 and forced almost 2,000 men, women and children to relocate. While many of the villagers have found shelter, the children of Nyamakarabo have yet to return to the safety and protection of school.
“As is often the case, girls and adolescent girls have been disproportionately impacted and many of them have dropped out of school. And this is where Education Cannot Wait comes in, working with the government and local partners to provide equitable access to quality education for all girls and boys.” -Graham Lang, Chief of Education, ECW
In these northwest Burundi communities, forgotten protracted crisis, climate change, and other impacts are putting internally displaced and returnee children at severe risk.
“I go to school in Nyamakarabo. It takes me more than an hour to walk there. When it rains, it takes me even longer. We really need a school closer to home.” -Nijimbere Anitha, Student at Nyamakarabo School
“The landslide destroyed the school and so those students have come here to learn instead. We’re trying our best, but we just don’t have enough classrooms to accommodate them.” - Burikukiye Aloys, teacher at Nyamakarabo School
The final day of the scoping mission in Burundi was filled with productive meetings with local partners, as well as a wrap-up with the Education in Emergencies Working Group.
“In many ways, the protracted crisis in Burundi is a forgotten one. The country does not capture the headlines very often. However, as we’ve witnessed first-hand, the situation on the ground is extremely challenging and especially for the internally displaced, the host communities, and also the returnees who are in dire need of education assistance.” - Maarten Barends, Chief, Humanitarian Liaison and External Relations, ECW
Education Cannot Wait and partners are now formulating the details of ECW’s catalytic grant for Burundi’s multi-year resilience programme. Climate emergencies infringe on children’s – and especially girls’ and adolescent girls’ – ability to access safe, quality education in the country. This grant will bring together partners to respond to this forgotten crisis. Taken together with other actions, the new programme will support Burundi in achieving its goals for low-carbon climate-resilient development, as well as targets set out in the Sustainable Development Goals, especially universal and equitable education (SDG4).
Upon traveling to Burundi, the Education Cannot Wait (ECW) delegation respected a full quarantine from 13th -20th March, with testing, per COVID-19 protocols. Following testing and quarantine, strict adherence to the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 preventative measures and the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines were followed throughout the mission, including the use of masks and social distancing.
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