By Georgia Chambers
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Tens of thousands of Burundians are in need of humanitarian aid to help them cope with the consequences of civil unrest, flooding brought on by El Nino and a collapsing economy, an international aid agency said on Friday.
The tiny central African country has been gripped by a political crisis since President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term in April last year, a move the opposition said violates the constitution.
The unrest has forced some 250,000 Burundians to flee to Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo as well as neighboring Tanzania and Rwanda. Close to 80,000 people are displaced within Burundi, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
Those who have remained in the country have had to endure a very strong El Nino, a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific, which can result in wetter than average weather conditions.
"The combination of these various emergencies has, understandably, made it difficult for families to cope, with the cumulative effect being that even small-scale hazards now have the potential to be disastrous," said Andreas Sandin, an IFRC operations coordinator, in a statement.
"The humanitarian situation in Burundi is at a critical stage, and we need to step up our response to meet the needs of affected families."
IFRC said torrential rains and flooding in 15 out of 18 provinces in Burundi have destroyed more than 5,000 homes and thousands of hectares of cultivated fields, which has increased the number of people in dire need of food.
There has also been a spike in reported cases of malaria and cholera, IFRC said as it appealed for 1.5 million Swiss francs ($1.6 million) to help provide shelter, healthcare and household supplies to at least 100,000 people over the next six months.
IFRC said Burundi's economy was slowly collapsing after several donors reduced their support to the Bujumbura government as a result of the unrest.
It also warned there was a high chance the region would experience La Nina conditions later in the year. While a La Nina can be less damaging than El Nino, severe La Ninas are also linked to floods, droughts and hurricanes.
IFRC, which had to scale back activities in southern Africa earlier this year due to a lack of funding, said early indications from donors suggested there would be some support for its emergency appeal.
"Securing funding for any of our operations involves strong engagement with our partners, all of whom have limited budgets of their own," Katherine Mueller, the communications manager for IFRC Africa, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"We have started discussions with our partners and early indications are that funding will follow," Mueller said. "We will then adjust our response based on the amount of funding received. To not try is not an option."
(Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)