Burundi is a relatively small (27,834 km²) landlocked country located in East Africa in the Great Lakes region. It is bordered by the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west, Rwanda to the north, and Tanzania to the east and south . The country is endowed with valuable natural assets. In particular, abundant rainfall, a dense river network, fertile arable land, productive marshlands, and freshwater lakes, which generate a range of ecosystem services and directly support the lives and livelihoods of the population.
Burundi has a tropical highlands climate due to its altitude and its location just south of the equator. Strong temperature and rainfall variations are found across the country because of Burundi’s mountainous landscape. Rainfall is highest over the central parts of the country and lowest over the north east and the lower elevations of the south west .
Independent since 1962, Burundi was plagued by a civil war from 1993 to 2006. The consequences of which have undermined the country’s economy and social situation, placing it among the poorest countries in the world. To emerge from this post-conflict situation, Burundi has resolutely embarked on a pathway towards sustainable development in order to ensure a better life for its population, relying on its own strengths and with the support of technical and financial partners , .
Despite the country’s limited surface area (27,834 km²), Burundi’s population is estimated at 12.6 million inhabitants (in 2022) . Burundi’s population is young , with 65% of the population under the age of 25 years and 33% between the ages of 10 and 24 years old . Burundi's demographic situation is marked by rapid population growth, averaging 2.4% per year. In 2016, the country had 11.2 million inhabitants, with an average population density of 392 inhabitants/km², but exceeding 500 inhabitants/km² in some provinces. This high population density causes excessive pressure on the country’s environment and natural resources .
In 2018, only about 13% of Burundi’s population lived in urban areas, making it the least urbanised country in the Horn, Eastern, and Central Africa (HECA) region. However, it is also among the countries with one of the fastest growing urban populations in the region, with an urbanisation rate of 5.7% (in 2018). The urban population is projected to increase by 22% to reach 4.5 million by 2040, and double by 2050. Of the urban population, about 58% live in unplanned areas . The main cities are Bujumbura (economic capital), Muyinga, Ruyigi, Gitega (political capital) and Ngozi.
The Burundian economy is a low-income economy , dominated by two sectors, namely the services and agriculture sectors. The share of the Burundian industry remains low (with a contribution, in added value, of less than 20%) . Before the COVID-19 pandemic, economic growth in Burundi was mostly driven by the services sector. From 2019, this trend changed, as the country’s economic growth became mainly driven by agriculture. The agricultural sector, mainly fed by rain, contributes around 30% of the country’s GDP, and employs about 90% of the labor force. This heavy dependence of the Burundian economy on rain-fed agriculture increases the country’s humanitarian, social, and macroeconomic vulnerabilities to rising temperatures and extreme weather shocks , .
Over the past seven years, the country has experienced a difficult economic situation which has resulted in fiscal deficit and balance of payments difficulties. Further, the shock linked to the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the country’s economic recovery and intensified macroeconomic imbalances . However, after a GDP contraction of 1% in 2020, the economy bounced back in 2021, with GDP growth of 2.2%, driven by agriculture and by investment in public infrastructure . The inflation surge of 2020 due to the disruptions in global supply chains continued in 2021, with an inflation rate of 8.3%, up from 7.5% in 2020, driven by rising food prices , . Global inflationary pressure intensified by the Russia–Ukraine conflict is expected to increase the inflation rate to 9.3% in 2022. But the rate is expected to decrease in 2023 to 8.3% .
With projected GDP growth rates of 3.6% in 2022 and 4.6% in 2023, Burundi’s economic outlook is favorable, owing to the continuing recovery of agriculture and public investment. However, this outlook could be undermined by low rainfall that decreases agricultural yields, by sociopolitical instability, and by new COVID-19 variants .
Episodes of political instability in Burundi have not helped the country to build the foundations for sustained economic growth and it is estimated that about 85% of Burundians live below the poverty line . For the structural transformation of Burundi’s economy, a number of constraints have been identified and include, among others, low agricultural productivity, great vulnerability to external shocks, the electrical energy deficit, rapid population growth, lack of and poor quality transport infrastructure, weak human capital, and poor Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) infrastructure .
Burundi has recognized that achieving strong and competitive growth in its economy, will depend on the use of new innovative technologies and on ensuring the capacity to gain access to, and absorb these resources. Burundi’s Vision 2025 clearly states that the country intends to prioritise the promotion of new technologies. This effort will focus on reforming education at all levels. Pride of place will be given to science and technology in education curricula, with an emphasis on research, information and communication technologies, which are generally used as major catalysts for acquiring and adopting new advanced technologies. In order to facilitate access to certain technologies, training and research, collaboration with other countries in the subregion will be pursued . In this regard, the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation of Burundi was created.
Since independence from Belgium in 1962, Burundi has experienced successive violent conflicts. A series of military coups (July and November 1966, 1976, 1987) and episodes of ethnic violence have repeatedly impeded economic growth and increased the country’s poverty levels. The civil war, which started in 1993, claimed more than 300,000 lives and displaced over 1 million people , . Following Burundi’s signature of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement in 2000, the war officially ended with the election of Burundi’s first post-conflict president, Pierre Nkurunziza, in 2005 .
In 2005, Burundi entered a new era of participatory and inclusive politics: many of the security sector reforms outlined in the Arusha Agreement were implemented and largely effective and Burundians held a constitutional referendum and organized peaceful general elections. This democratic opening, and donors’ positive response, helped to create a certain degree of stability and robust economic growth. However, in spite of this important progress, the period from 2005 to 2010 also presented an emerging pattern of closing political space, human rights violations, and repression of the political opposition, press, and civil society organizations (CSOs) .
In 2015, President Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a widely-disputed third term, and his subsequent re-election, triggered a widespread political crisis. What started out as peaceful protests against President Nkurunziza’s third term turned into violent confrontations between law enforcement officials, protestors, and armed groups, and led to a failed coup attempt in May 2015. This political instability and violence resulted in the large-scale displacement of Burundians, both domestically and in neighboring countries, and worsened tensions in a country already afflicted with severe poverty, little access to education, and limited employment opportunities. In early 2016, the European Union (EU), one of Burundi’s most important development partners, imposed sanctions as a result of unsatisfactory consultations based on Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement .
In August 2020, a new government was installed. In his inauguration speech, President Ndayishimiye highlighted “national unity and cohesion of the Burundian people, peace and social justice” as top priorities, marking positive prospects for the improvement of relations between the Government and its international partners. In June 2021, the EU, which had suspended direct budgetary support to Burundi since 2015, announced that it was preparing to lift sanctions and resume budgetary aid .
The 2005 Constitution of Burundi refers to environmental protection and management in three provisions (articles 35, 159.4, and 293). Article 35 stipulates that the State ensures the good management and the rational exploitation of the country's natural resources, while preserving the environment and the conservation of these resources for generations to come , .
Until 2018, environmental issues fell under the mandate of the Ministry of Water, Environment, Land Use Planning and Urban Development (known by its French acronym, MEEATU). Following the re-organisation of ministries in 2018, environmental issues now come under the mandate of the Ministry of Environment, Agriculture and Livestock (MINEAGRIE). This new ministry includes the following 6 Directorates: 1. Environment, Agriculture and Livestock Farming Planning; 2. Self-development and Agricultural Extension; 3. Agriculture; 4. Livestock farming; 5. Environment, Water Resources and Sanitation; and 6. Resources .
The Burundi Office for Environmental Protection (known by its French acronym, OBPE), which is incorporated into MINEAGRIE , is a public structure in charge of environmental control and safeguarding. It is responsible for the effective protection of the environment, the preservation of biological diversity, and the fight against desertification and climate change. Its prerogatives also include the implementation of projects and programs of community interest targeting different sectors (hydraulics, environment, agriculture, livestock, etc.). OBPE, among other things, ensures compliance with the Water Code, the Forest Code, the Environment Code and other texts related to the protection of the environment . The Environment Code (2000) comprises the framework law dealing with all major aspects of environmental protection and management .
Further, the Geographic Institute of Burundi (IGEBU) was established by Decree No. 100-241 of 29 October, 2014. IGEBU’s mission is to promote geographical activities in Burundi, namely cartography, topography, meteorology, and those relating to water resources. One of its many mandates is to provide technical support to the government in matters of negotiation of multilateral environmental agreements. As such, the IGEBU is the focal point institution for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Burundi .
In addition to the provisions for environmental protection and control contained in the Environment Code, there are many other Codes, laws and decrees, relating to various components of the environment in Burundi, as well as various strategies, policies and guidelines on the environment , .
Despite progress made on Burundi’s institutional, legal, and regulatory framework for environmental management, more needs to be done to effectively and efficiently deal with environmental challenges. Notably, the technical and financial capacity of MINEAGRIE, especially of OBPE, must be strengthened at the national and local levels .
The National Development Plan (NDP: 2018-2027) is the main strategic development plan in Burundi . The main objective of the NDP 2018-2027 is to structurally transform the Burundian economy, for robust, sustainable, resilient, inclusive growth, creating decent jobs for all and leading to improved social welfare . Burundi’s NDP partially aligns with the priorities and interests of the European Union (EU). For instance, there is good consistency particularly with regard to the environment, inclusive growth, and job creation, including in its “human capital” dimension .
Relations between Burundi and the EU are based on three complementary pillars: the political dimension, economic and trade cooperation, and development cooperation. Since February 2021, the European Union and the Government of Burundi have resumed political dialogue, in the view of warming up their relations . The interests of the EU in Burundi are multiple, justifying an engagement of the EU with and for Burundi both politically and in terms of cooperation .
The priorities of the Multi-annual Indicative Program (MIP: 2021-2027) for EU-Burundi cooperation consolidate their partnership, while underlining the EU Green Deal. For the period 2021-2027, three proposed priority areas have been identified in the MIP for EU-Burundi cooperation: (a) Inclusive, green, sustainable, and job-creating growth; (b) Human development and basic services; and (c) Good governance and rule of law .
As a Least developed country (LDC), Burundi also enjoys preferential access to the EU market, under the "Everything but Arms" (EBA) rule .
Burundi is amongst the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change . The country has already experienced several climate-related extreme events. For instance, nationwide, Burundi has experienced severe droughts, resulting in crop failure and a 35% livestock mortality (in the period 1998 - 2005), as well as severe floods in 2006 and 2007 . During the period 1996-2016, over 3 million people in Burundi were affected by drought, in addition to the 94,800 people affected by floods . Such events have been estimated to result in a loss of between 5-17% of the country’s GDP per event .
Climate change trends are expected to further increase the frequency and intensity of floods and droughts in Burundi, threatening the country’s water availability and food security, which is already extremely fragile . Climate variability is expected to also threaten Burundi’s industry, energy, and health sectors, as well as the country’s biodiversity .
Land degradation is a serious concern in Burundi . Land degradation in the country is characterized by soil erosion in agricultural land , and is leading to a decline in agricultural production, loss of agrobiodiversity and contributing to food shortages, food insecurity, chronic malnutrition, land and social conflicts, poverty, rural-urban migration and increased vulnerability to climate change . The impacts of reduced agricultural productivity, due to the constant loss of topsoil and nutrients, are already evident in Burundi . For example, the coffee sector, which brings 90% of the country’s foreign revenue, has experienced severe soil erosion in the last 40 years, which has led to a two-thirds decrease in coffee production, pushing millions back into poverty . According to the World Bank’s Country Environment Analysis, Burundi loses almost 38 million tons of soil each year and land degradation costs an estimated 4% of the country’s GDP (in 2014), as a result of reduced crop yield due to soil erosion .
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