Thousands of people from Ruyigi commune in eastern Burundi are surviving in critical conditions, sleeping rough in order to escape repeated attacks by Forces pour la defense de la democratie (FDD) rebels, which began three weeks ago, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
"Every night for the past three weeks, more than 200 people from the hills have been spending the night at the site of the chief residence of Ruyigi commune, and at surrounding military posts," a humanitarian worker in Ruyigi told IRIN on Wednesday. "Most of them are children, women and the elderly. In the morning, they go to their fields, and in the late afternoon they move towards Ruyigi town with their cattle in order to escape being attacked by the FDD rebels."
Authorities in Ruyigi estimate that altogether 4,654 families are sleeping rough in the bush. Hospitals and health centres are registering many patients suffering from respiratory infections and malaria after spending nights in the rain.
"The people are not able to pay for their health care, but MSF [Medecins Sans Frontieres] Holland has agreed to cover the expenses," a humanitarian worker told IRIN.
He added: "Humanitarian NGOs want to locate the dispersed people and then assemble them in a secure place and supply them with blankets to give them protection from the cold. Until now there hasn't been a problem with provisions, because they go to their fields to cultivate."
For the past year Ruyigi Province has been a battlefield for rebels from the principal FDD rebel faction led by Peter Nkurunziza, and the government army. The government complains that the rebels cross easily from Tanzania, which borders the province.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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