Take 364 officially declared cases of Covid-19, air borders closed, major cities in quarantine, curfew from 7pm to 5am, forbidden clusters of over 50 people, and the largest markets closed. Add a growing desertification, increasingly frequent terrorist attacks resulting in a constant increase in internally displaced persons and season everything with a temperature that is between 42 and 46 degrees (at night 38-40)… Here is the situation in Burkina Faso in the early days April 2020.
Managing the pandemic is nowhere easy, but when you live in a country that faces many basic difficulties every day, the matter becomes even more complicated. Here we cannot think of a lockdown as in Italy or we would risk literally starving an incredibly large number of people. And then with which army would we monitor compliance with this measure? We should move the soldiers who stem terrorist raids from the red zones to the cities… Are we sure that would be a good idea?
When I talk about starving, I am not exaggerating: already with the closing of the markets in the capital for about ten days, many people find themselves on the street. Those who work in the market in fact tend to be women, very often with a low or non-existent level of education, who earn about 3/4 euros a day selling fruit and vegetables and who, with their income, contribute to the maintenance of very large families (15-20 people).
Another difficult condition in this period are the children who have to stay at home from school to avoid infections. But we are in April and, with the heat and the absence of electricity in most homes (so no fans or air conditioning), how can you keep them at home? You have to let them go outside, but that means they will be around all day playing with other children, increasing the risks for the whole family.
The same applies to the curfew, which prevents people from gathering en masse in the maquis, but how to find refreshment during the night if you live under a tin roof?
You have to stay inside, but you have to stay outside; we must enforce the measures, but we must not do it by exceeding the limits… What to do, then?
The police react very harshly with those who try to break the rules, so much so that the Prosecutor of the Republic has already ordered to avoid forms of violence.
And there is no hope, given that Ramadan will begin in a couple of weeks with the usual nocturnal gatherings of conviviality.
Also consider that we are talking about a population with an education rate below 40% (according to the CIA World Factbook), where understanding and making people understand the importance of certain measures is very difficult.
I’ll give you an example: like Mani Tese, as soon as the first cases of Covid-19 were declared in the country, we suspended all activities that involved the presence of more than 5 people in the same place and we started spreading between partners and beneficiaries of our projects good practices of hygiene and prevention. Because yes, the national measure provides for the prohibition of gatherings of more than 50 people, but if we consider a contagion rate of 2.5 per person (average figure in Italy but, given the promiscuous conditions of life, in Burkina Faso it should even be increased), even if we are 10 in a room, with only one positive case we would have 35 in a few hours!
But just yesterday I was under the house and a man stopped me who wanted to talk to me to get a contribution for a football tournament organized in the ground behind the house. I, who do not stop working even when I take the dog for a walk, would normally have answered him by asking him for budgets and estimates signed and stamped, but given the situation I limited myself simply to reminding him that the measure taken by the government against gatherings clashed with his program. His reply was: “Madame, but we won’t be more than 25!”. Now, I’m not an avid sportswoman, but I understand that soccer teams are made up of 11 people. Let’s say he made a mistake and that it is not a tournament, but a single match: there will therefore be at least 11 + 11 players, the reserves (we are low and we only do 4), 1 referee, 2 coaches and only one friend for each player, so 22 spectators. We are already 51 people or 178.5 people potentially infected in an instant.
We also know well that every day a different fake news comes out about miraculous products that would cure or prevent the virus. I read about garlic, canaries (the famous water and lemon), herbal teas, rituals and so on and so forth. If you have in mind how serious the phenomenon of functional illiteracy is in Italy, think of how much damage it can do in a country with 64% of true illiterates, who drink a nice glass of hot water and lemon and go out to make party thinking they are immune.
And again: in a country where there are less than 2000 tampons available, there has been no sanitizing gel for weeks except from the jackals who resell a bottle from 1200 fcfa (less than 2 euros) to 10,000 (over 15 euros) and now they are printing respirators with 3D printers.
So what do you do? We hope and pray a lot.
We at Mani Tese are continuing to work on our projects in order not to interrupt support for local populations and to ensure food security and the self-sufficiency of communities through sustainable development. But, as I explained, we cannot ignore anything so if, on the one hand, we suspended the activities that could expose our beneficiaries to risk, on the other hand we increased the sale of the agro-ecological products of our partner in Loumbila, the union of agro-ecological producers NANGLOBZANGA (a union of farmers’ cooperatives), providing for safe home delivery. We have also begun to equip the Loumbila producer headquarters with a new drip irrigation system and with a barn for the breeding of oxen, which we are procuring these days. We also continue to support the development of 20 local businesses in Boulgou and Boulkiemdé through financial support for purchases and construction.
Usually, in crises of this type, the answer comes from the West, which runs to help. This time, however, we are all in the same boat and therefore we need to help each other a little bit by ourselves. This is a challenge but, as the Burkinabé say, “yel ka bé” (no problem), “inch’allah ça va aller, car on est ensemble” (if God wants it will be all right, because we are together).
We at Mani Tese believe in it and move forward.