Burundi’s Country Environmental Analysis report , commissioned by the World Bank, estimated the annual cost of environmental degradation in Burundi to be USD 376 million – equivalent to 12.1% of the country’s GDP in 2014. The major contributing causes of environmental degradation in the country include water pollution and indoor air pollution, which contributed to economic losses of 3.8% and 3.6% of GDP in 2014, respectively , .
Indoor cooking using traditional methods is very common in Burundi. Nearly all households use solid fuels for cooking, with an estimated 85% of households using fuelwood , which in turn causes health problems and aggravates deforestation . Health problems are particularly common among women and children who stay close to their mothers as they cook . Respiratory diseases in Burundi, most of which are caused by poor indoor air quality, account for 14% of child deaths and 25% of hospital visits . According to the World Bank, annual losses attributed to indoor air pollution in Burundi are estimated at US$87–137 million, though this estimate is likely an underestimation .
Burundi also faces challenges related to water pollution due to inadequate agricultural and sanitation practices, which affects public health and aquatic life . For instance, pollution from palm oil–processing plants seriously affects the downstream aquatic environments, killing wild fish and impacting local fisheries. In the World Bank’s Country Environmental Analysis report, the cost of water pollution in terms of mortality and morbidity attributed to unsafe water is estimated at an annual cost of US$91–144 million .
Further, environmental and human wellbeing in Burundi is under threat due to the improper management of chemicals and waste. For instance, in Bujumbura, Burundi’s economic capital, there is just one landfill serving its nearly 400,000 citizens. This uncontrolled open-air site threatens public health, with dangerous levels of heavy metals leaching out of the waste and cases of cholera in people who collect food and other items from the site. It also pollutes nearby Lake Tanganyika, which provides over 90% of Bujumbura’s water .
The predominant use of biomass for energy provision in Burundi households makes indoor air pollution the most important exposure pathway for air pollutants. Nearly all households use biomass for cooking, for which firewood is by far the most dominant source of energy, generating harmful household air pollution. Further, this indoor air pollution is worsened by the use of inefficient cook stoves , .
Concerning water pollution, the major causes are poor sanitation practices and insufficient implementation of regulations, particularly for agricultural processing (for example, palm oil, coffee). Factories, especially agro-industrial companies, are major water polluters. Almost all food industries and factories are located near water courses and bodies for constant water provision, as well as a means of exit for by-products. Palm oil extraction plants, coffee-washing stations, and other agro-industrial factories pose a major pollution threat from non-recycled, non-treated wastewater and other solid and liquid effluents that are injected into nearby water sources . Water pollution in Burundi is also caused by inadequate solid waste management, particularly in Lake Tanganyika, discharge of domestic sewage, and the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers in agriculture, among others .
Key policies and governance approach
The 2005 Constitution of Burundi refers to environmental protection and management, stating that “the citizens of Burundi enjoy a right to a clean and healthful environment”. It also includes a specific provision in article 293, which states that toxic waste and other substances that are harmful to public health and the environment cannot be stored in the territory of Burundi and no international agreement could authorise such storage .
Further, Law No. 1/010 of 30 June 2000 containing the Environment Code, comprises the framework law dealing with all major aspects of environmental protection and management. The Environment Code aims to, among other goals, fight against the different forms of pollution and nuisances, and improve the quality of life for all citizens. It has also been supplemented by an implementing decree: Decree 100/22 of 07 October 2010 on the enforcement of the Environmental Code in relation to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) procedure .
Concerning water pollution, the Water Code, Law No. 1/02 of 26 March 2012, sets out the fundamental principles, definitions, basic concepts and the institutional framework for water resources management, including the protection of water resources, pollution prevention, and the treatment of waste water . Relevant policies and strategies include the National Water Policy, the institutional framework for water, and the National Sanitation Policy and its action plan .
The Burundi Office for Environmental Protection (known by its French acronym, OBPE) is responsible for enforcing all environment protection–related legislation, including on water and pollution control .
Successes and remaining challenges
Institutional difficulties in Burundi, including the lack of financial and qualified human resources, compromises the country’s ability to enforce its environmental laws , . For instance, over the 2010–16 period, the average share of environmental expenditures in the government’s budget was only 1.6%, despite the high cost of environmental degradation in the country (12.1% of Burundi’s 2014 GDP) . As such, despite the ratification of many international conventions and national laws on environmental protection, capacity for enforcement and funding levels remain low in OBPE . OBPE critically lacks the resources necessary to implement the wide range of activities for which the institution is responsible, in particular ensuring compliance with environmental regulations .
Additionally, a review of Burundi’s legal framework by the World Bank in 2017  revealed that the 2000 Environmental Code is yet to be supported by all the required implementation regulations, without which the Code cannot be effectively and completely implemented and enforced . Though the EIA decree represents an important step forward for Burundi, environmental quality norms and standards and other needed regulations and standards are yet to be issued and applied to projects and programs with detrimental environmental impacts. Further, following good practices from other countries, it is advised that the government also issues sectoral guidelines for EIA to make EIAs easy to complete and to ensure uniformity and consistency in content and review processes .
While adopting and implementing these necessary regulations is a priority in Burundi, so is the strengthening of the legal framework and the capacity of OBPE to improve the effectiveness of implementation and enforcement. Harmonization among the Environmental Code of Burundi, sector-specific legislation, and international agreements and treaties to which Burundi is a party is also essential .
Initiatives and Development Plans
The Government of Burundi is enacting a plan to strengthen its approach to chemicals and waste management through an ambitious partnership with the Chemicals and Waste Management Programme of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The country’s plan will involve strengthening the capacity of the government, institutions, businesses and individuals to take part in systemized management under the framework of a circular economy.
The project aims to achieve this by developing a national strategy and action plan, strengthening and enforcing regulations and policies, training those involved in chemicals and waste management, and adapting infrastructure and equipment to handle the amount and type of waste generated. Implementing a circular economy framework also promises the creation of new, green livelihoods, which will be a boon to the many Burundians who have lost employment due to the COVID-19 pandemic .
- The Environmental Code needs to be followed by the development, adoption and implementation of necessary regulations. For example, such regulations not yet gazetted to implement the Environment Code include the treatment and disposal of wastes (Article 120), and rules and principles to be applied to the treatment of wastewater and oil discharged by industrial installations and facilities (Article 126).
- The financial capacity of OBPE must be substantially strengthened to apply the Environmental Code in practice.
- Burundi needs to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of allocating and spending its limited resources while also securing greater resources for environmental protection and management.
- Harmonization is needed among the Environmental Code of Burundi, sector-specific legislation, and international agreements and treaties to which Burundi is a party.
- Widespread application of EIA is needed, including in the agro-processing industry. There is also a need for the development of sectoral EIA guidelines.
- Raise public awareness on national environmental challenges through environmental education.
- Improved ventilation, through the installation of windows in households, has the potential to reduce household exposure to particulate matters by 20–98% in laboratory settings and 31–94% in field settings.
- Improve household fuel and cooking stoves.
- Improve sanitation and hygiene practices in cities and rural towns to reduce concentrated contamination of water bodies.
- Reduction of urban and industrial pollution through the collection and treatment of wastewater and solid waste.
 World Bank Group. 2017. Burundi Country Environmental Analysis : Understanding the Environment within the Dynamics of a Complex World—Linkages to Fragility, Conflict, and Climate Change. World Bank, Washington, DC. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/28899 License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.
 UNEP (2022). Burundi tackles chemicals and waste management with circular economy principles. [Online]. Available: https://www.unep.org/technical-highlight/burundi-tackles-chemicals-and-waste-management-circular-economy-principles.
 Walmsley, B and Hussleman, S, (2020). Handbook on environmental assessment legislation in selected countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. 4th edition. Pretoria: Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) in collaboration with the Southern African Institute for Environmental Assessment (SAIEA). Chapter 5: Burundi – DRAFT FOR CONSULTATION.