Non-government aid agencies working in Burundi are urging the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to exempt immediately relief supplies from its blockade of goods into the country.
The embargo has been imposed in a bid to persuade warring parties in Burundi to stop fighting and start negotiations. However relief agencies, including the British Christian Aid, fear that stopping relief and rehabilitation supplies and the fuel needed to distribute them could have the opposite effect.
The OAU has already eased its embargo on relief food for displaced people and Rwandan refugees in Burundi. It is also allowing some medical supplies through. "As things stand we are having to negotiate permission for each consignment of relief goods we want to bring in and inevitably there are delays of up to several weeks," said one aid worker.
With the onset of the planting season in September, the agencies are particularly concerned about any hold up in supplies of seeds, tools and fertiliser.
"If people can't plant, they will have no food in the first quarter of 1997, intensifying Burundi's dependence on aid," said a relief worker. Compounding the problem are the hundreds of thousands of Burundians who have fled to the hills and cities during the past three years of violence, leaving large tracts of land abandoned. Those who are now able to return lack the resources to cultivate.
Other crucial supplies as the rainy season starts are plastic sheeting for shelter and blankets, particularly for the many people displaced from their homes.