Violence, displacement and mass exodus: Burundi's forgotten crisis, one year on

A year ago this week, Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his intention to run for a contentious third term. That was the moment everything changed.

The president's announcement on April 25, 2015, triggered protests, violence and a failed coup, followed by delays in elections and the withdrawal of opposition parties.

The fallout didn't stop there. In the past 12 months, over 250,000 refugees have fled the east African nation to neighbouring Tanzania, Rwanda and the DRC: this figure rises daily.

A quarter of a million refugees is no small thing. Equally, we must be mindful that the majority of Burundians remain in the country – this includes over 25,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in just three districts, who have limited access to humanitarian assistance, according to the International Organization for Migration. It's likely that there are even more displaced people in harder to reach areas.

A year on, the crisis appears to be going nowhere fast. Granted, there are no huge IDP camps or long queues of people waiting to register as hosts for displaced families. However the security situation remains volatile, with shootings and grenade attacks becoming part of everyday life, particularly in the capital, Bujumbura, where I live.

While things can appear normal, there has been a distinct change in mind-set: these incidents affect you. Some people feel the need to be prepared and on edge. They are wary of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The fear of stray bullets, or a grenade attack, casts a shadow.

At the same time, there have been reports of human rights abuses that seem to increase in frequency. There is now a huge amount of work needed to create an environment where people stop leaving and can feel safe and happy in their homes. As part of this we must support Burundians to tackle the important development issues that are being exacerbated by the crisis.

The economic and health implications of the crisis are indisputable, and could deepen. We have already seen an increase in malaria, with over 1 million cases and 520 deaths reported in the last year. There have been reports of cholera, which is also endemic, along the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika and the Tanzania border.

In the communities where Christian Aid works, people are struggling to access essential medicines such as anti-retrovirals for HIV. Access to sexual and reproductive health services has also dipped, according to our monitoring results and other reports. This will have a severe impact on the wellbeing of some of Burundi's poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

Difficulties in accessing essential services, coupled with worrying predictions for harvests – due to El Niño weather patterns and conflict-related issues – represent an on-going struggle.

Downpour at a coffee washing station in Ngozi. A particularly strong El Niño effect has resulted in unusual weather patterns and has exacerbated food shortages.Christian Aid / Sarah Rowe

The turmoil has disrupted farming activities in Burundi: recent surveys show that national agricultural production is 10 per cent below average during the current season. Staple food prices in these areas are higher than both the 2014 and five-year averages. With the vast majority of the population dependent on agriculture, the ramifications are huge.

And yet, there is a distinct lack of funding available to support Burundians. An EU suspension of direct aid to the government and a general reduction in economic activity has left the state with even less money for essential services, infrastructure repairs and other necessities.

Things are only set to worsen as funds potentially dry up throughout the year. For a country that was already one of the poorest in the world, Burundi's ability to cope has been severely threatened.

The UN recently launched a Humanitarian Preparedness Plan in light of the financial need, but current pledges fall far below what is required. It isn't easy to generate funds for a slow-onset crisis that is aggravating existing problems; particularly since many donors are primarily interested in the number of internally displaced people.

Things might get worse before they get better. So Christian Aid has pledged to keep doing what we can to raise funds. We will also continue supporting local partners that are working with communities to establish 'Humanitarian Disaster Committees' which can manage a crisis from the ground up. Extra investment would mean these committees are better placed to address other local problems such as gender-based violence, which has reportedly risen in the last year.

Burundi is a beautiful country full of potential, with many success stories – including Christian Aid's work to help smallholder farmers reach international coffee markets.

Francine Ndayikengurukiye received free medicine from Christian Aid partner RCRSS, for her five children and the two orphans she also cares for. The money she's saved on medicine costs enables her to buy nutritious food and ensure the children attend school.Christian Aid / Sarah Rowe

With the right support, I am confident that Burundians can, and will, find a way to improve their situation. However there is a long road ahead and much work needed at the 'higher levels', particularly around reconciliation, peace-building and fostering mutual respect.

Coffee farmers in Burundi's Ngozi province. Around 90% of Burundians rely on agriculture, and coffee accounts for approximately three quarters of the country's income.Christian Aid / Sarah Rowe

One year on, it's vital that we keep Burundi on the international agenda: let's not turn our backs on this forgotten crisis.

James Robinson is the Burundi Country Manager for the overseas development charity Christian Aid, which works with churches, faith-based organisations and other partners to bring about change in Burundi's communities.