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The World Bank estimates the current population to total 6.6m. Some 8% of the population live in towns, far lower than the sub-Saharan average of 40%. Large-scale population movements have characterized recent history – for more detail see the section below on refugees and internally displaced people. Plagued by almost continuous ethnic violence since independence from the Belgians in 1962, Burundi faces worsening problems of displacement and growing poverty. With over 80% of the population living below the poverty line, Burundi’s social indicators are among the worst in the world, and well below the sub-Saharan average.

Demographic trends

The average population density is over 240 per sq km, the second highest in Africa after Rwanda.
Refugees and Internally Displaced People's (IDPs)

Burundi’s eight year civil war has resulted in the death of at least 200,000 people, and the country now faces one of the most acute problem of population displacement in Africa today. Displacement is a consequence of both ongoing violence, bad climate conditions and planned action by the government under the “regroupment policy”. In 1999 the Burundian government forcibly resettled up to 350,000 people in 'regroupment' camps in an apparent effort to protect them from rebel attacks. Situated in camps in the hills of Bujumbura province and guarded by the Burundian military, up to 35,000 people were held in each camp with minimal facilities. In August 2000 these camps were finally dismantled in accordance with the South African imposed pre-requisite for continuing peace negotiations. Since then the government has again resorted to forced regroupment as high levels of insecurity persist, particularly in the Ruyigi and Bjumbura rural provinces.

Statistics are deceptive as they only reflect long-term displacement and many people have been displaced more than once. In mid 2002 there were some 387,469 of the estimated 487,500 IDPs in 226 camps across the country, roughly half of whom were children. Chronic insecurity and problems of access have made it impossible to count displaced people outside the cities. It is estimated that more than 100,000 people may be dispersed in the countryside. The UN estimates that some 80,000 were displaced in the first months of 2002, and a further 30,000 in mid-2002.. In September it was reported that a process of voluntary villigisation was beginning to taking place in IDP camps in both the central province of Gitega and northern province of Ngozi, driven by a need for improved security and a sense of permanence. A major obstacle to a long-term solution for IDP’s is the scarcity of land, with disputes over land worsening considerably in recent years due to massive population displacements.

Burundians constitute the second largest single group of refugees (Afghans constituting the largest) with 521,000 refugees living mainly in refugee camps in Tanzania. Burundi has raised concerns that these camps serve as a support base for the FNL rebels. A tri-partite agreement signed by the Governments of Burundi and Tanzania and the UNHCR in May 2002 provideds the framework for the voluntary repatriation of Burundian refugees. By September over 40,000 Burundian refugees has returned from Tanzania, but an upsurge in conflict led to the number of returnees dropping dramatically, as well as a fresh influx of Burundians back into Tanzania.


The provision of healthcare is unevenly spread, with more than 70% of doctors concentrated in the capital, while many of the health centres have been destroyed completely or in part by the ongoing conflict. The ongoing conflict has resulted in the destruction and lack of maintenance of health centres, water and sanitation facilities. Bad climate conditions, insecurity, and massive forced displacements have resulted in dramatic increases in malnutrition, disease and HIV/AIDS in recent years. It is estimated there is one centre per 25,000 inhabitants. International aid agencies, operating under difficult conditions, have succeeded in reducing levels of child malnutrition, though it remains a serious problem. HIV/AIDS remains the main public health concern, but the increase in malaria is also of growing concern, both aggravated by the breakdown in health systems.

In November 2000 750,000 cases of malaria were reported countrywide, with some 75 percent of new admissions to health centres afflicted by malaria.

Government spending has been falling in real terms, the 2000 budget covering less than 20% of the minimum needs of hospitals and health centres.


HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of mortality in Burundi. In 1994 the rate of HIV infection was estimated at 15% in urban areas and 1% in rural areas. Rates are particularly high in IDP sites. In December 1998 the urban infection rate was put at 21% and the rural rate at 6%. Over 40,000 children are thought to have been orphaned by AIDS. The government estimates that three-quarters of the hospital beds are occupied by HIV/AIDS patients. Frequent displacement, combined with political insecurity, has exacerbated the spread of HIV/AIDS as families and stable communities have disintegrated and health services broken down.

Food security

Major foodcrops: pulses, plantains, roots, tubers, maize and sorghum.

Overall the 2002 foodcrop production is estimated at 6 percent higher than the average level of the pre-crisis period (1988-93). Food assistance remains essential for vulnerable groups, especially the large numbers of IDPs.


The literacy rate is roughly 35%. Primary school enrolment has dropped since 1990, from 73% to 51%, and to below 30% in some provinces.

Last updated January 2003

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