Burundi: “Forgotten and unseen” on the edges of the city
BUJUMBURA, 10 April 2009 (IRIN) – At least 3,000 people, many of then returnees, have lived for years in an informal settlement on the outskirts of the capital, Bujumbura, with only two pit latrines between them, no clean water and no medical cards to help them access medical care.
That they have survived for as long as 15 years in difficult conditions without help from the government or any aid agency attests to the fact that thousands of people can fall through the cracks in a country like Burundi, emerging from decades of civil war.
Hidden behind villas and commercial buildings in a Bujumbura suburb is Sabe, home to 500 families.
“Some of us returned from Rwanda in 1993 after the election of Melchior Ndadaye [Burundi’s first democratically elected president], others from Tanzania and [Democratic Republic of] Congo,” Olive Bararusesa, one of the site leaders, told IRIN.
She said others were internally displaced from various provinces of Burundi.
Marc Ngendakumana, an internally displaced person (IDP) from northern Kanyanza province and living at Sabe site, said: “Living in a residential area as a destitute is like [living with] a pin in the foot, it is a painful experience.”
Most of the huts in Sabe are grass-thatched, mud-walled structures, with patches of iron sheets.
“When it rains, we spend sleepless nights with our children because of the leaks,” Bararusesa said.
With the March-April rainy season, several houses have collapsed, leaving residents homeless. Most of the homes are tiny, about 4 sqm, and often get flooded because they are in a swampy area.
As the site has only two latrines, many residents relieve themselves in the bush during the day.
“At night, we use plastic bags to dispose of our waste and in the morning, we throw them into the nearby bush,” Marc Ngendankumana, a Sabe resident said.
Lack of clean water aggravates the situation, with residents using muddy and stagnant water for domestic purposes and even for drinking. Some of the residents hang around the roads with jerry cans, hoping to get water from passing motorists. Others struggle to fetch water from a nearby well used to water tree nurseries.
As a result, residents are at risk of waterborne diseases.
“Round worms and cholera are among the diseases threatening us,” Bararusesa said.
Immaculée Nahayo, Minister for National Solidarity, said on 4 April the ministry was willing to supply the Sabe residents with water but lacked water tanks.
Regarding access to healthcare, Ngendakumana said only children under five and pregnant women benefited from free medical care.
“As we have been abandoned for years, we do not have cards entitling us to get medical care,” he said.