When the first "peace village" was set up in Burundi in 2003, it was meant to foster healing and reconciliation among the country's three ethnic groups - Hutu, Tutsi and Twa - at the end of a prolonged civil war. Since then, 16 of these villages have been established across the country but some residents feel neglected and forgotten, enduring perennial water shortages and lack of land for cultivation.
Built on 10ha, Kukamakara peace village in Rugombo commune of Cibitoke province houses 301 families, comprising demobilised former combatants, former refugees who returned from Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and families from the country's minority Batwa community.
Separated only by a rice plantation is Rural, in Mugina commune, home to 30 families of returnees and formerly internally displaced persons (IDPs). Residents of both villages say they last had government relief aid in 2005.
Salthiere Gahungu, the head of Kukamakara, told IRIN some of the village's residents arrived in 2005 while others came as recently as 2009. Each family has access to a 300 sqm plot, just enough to build a house and a toilet, leaving very little ground for cultivation.
"We were given houses but nothing to live on," he said.
Japhet Ngendakumana, who returned from DRC in 2005 with his wife and 10 children, said his only means of livelihood was to look for casual labour in farms nearby.
"If I go with my wife and my eldest daughter, we can get 6,000 francs [US$6] per day, which we then use to buy food, soaps or medicines if there is somebody ill," Ngendakumana said. "Sometimes we are paid 10,000 in advance to till a portion of land; then we can consider ourselves lucky."
Photo: Judith Basutama/IRIN
Concilie Ntuwuhorahiriwe uses rain water for her chores at the Rural peace village in Mugina commune
According to Gahungu, many of the returnees in Kukamakara fled the country in 1965 or 1972 and came back to find their original land occupied.
"We are sad to see that we are living like this while the occupants of our land are making a decent living from it," Gahungu said. "If the land commission had enough strength, it should have stopped the occupants of our land from exploiting it."
The Commission National Terres et Autres Biens, CNTB, the authority on land and other property, was set up in 2006 to handle all land disputes between returnees and those who stayed in Burundi and occupied the land left vacant.
On 26 March, the chairman, Abbot Astère Kana, told new commissioners that to date, 8,139 out of 15,000 land disputes registered had been settled.
More than 95 percent of the rest were amicably settled, he said.
Gahungu said he believed some residents of Kukamakara were considering going back to DRC "because there, they just tell you to go and dig wherever you want; but here, you need money even to rent a field for a season".
Without land, residents of the peace village are left with few options to earn a livelihood, many complaining about the lack of assistance from the Ministry of National Solidarity, Repatriation of Refugees and Social Reintegration.
"We were once given rice, beans and maize flour; another time, they brought us kitchen utensils and clothes, since then nothing," Gahungu said.
A similar situation prevails in Rural. Concilie Ntuwuhorahiriwe, 36, who returned from Rwanda in 2000, said they were given hoes and blankets when they settled at the village in 2007. "We have never seen anyone ever since," she said.
Elie Harindavyi, the spokesman for the Ministry of National Solidarity, said it regularly assisted vulnerable people. However, he could not recall the last aid distribution in the two villages.
"Because they are hungry, they just give into despair thinking they are left out of the distribution circuit," he said. "But, they have to remember they are not the only ones. There are more than 14 peace villages [across the country] and we regularly assist them with food and non-food items, but all depends on the availability of the assistance."
With only one water tap for 1,600 people, Kukamakara residents have difficulty accessing water.
Moreover, most residents cannot afford the daily cost, paying only for drinking water and resorting to the river or ponds for other needs.
" We pay 10 francs [to the water and electricity company] for a 20l jerry can; we can use 5l a day but if we are washing we need more," Ngendakumana said.
There is not a single water tap at Rural, where most residents fetch water from the nearby rice plantation for everything, including drinking. Those who can afford it travel at least 3km to the water tap in Nyesheza.
Harindavyi said peace villages had been planned with infrastructure such as a water supply, schools and health centres, but for "sites like Kukamakara, that absent infrastructure will be targeted as the major priorities to submit to any organization offering funding".
He said the first peace village was built in 2003 at Kabo in Nyanzalac in the southern province of Makamba while others were built in 2005. The latest is under construction at Rumonge in the southern province of Bururi.
According to Gahungu, pregnant women are the most vulnerable as they have to travel long distances, through wetlands, to reach a health centre.
Parents with young children, he said, also struggled to access medical care for their children, most of whom often suffered waterborne diseases.
"The ministry had promised us insurance cards to access healthcare but we have not got them," he said.
Harindavyi said the ministry paid for medical care for identified vulnerable persons but these health facilities were not accessible to people in provinces, only in the capital.
The ministry was planning a partnership with hospitals in provinces to offer medical care to vulnerable people, he said. "A team from the ministry toured the provinces last week to assess the situation for this future partnership."