Protection and Livelihoods: Important New Report
The Overseas Development Institute’s Humanitarian Policy Group has produced some of the best evidence-based analysis of the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, including studies of how displaced people have sustained their (diminished, vulnerable) livelihoods, the trajectories of the nutritional crises in the region, and the complex ways in which pastoral and agricultural livelihoods have been transformed. The HPG reports provide a salutary picture of a complicated reality.
The latest report, Challenging Choices: Protection and livelihoods in Darfur, by Susanne Jaspars and Sorcha O’Callaghan, is another fine contribution. Some of its major findings are the following.
First, after the nutritional situation in Darfur stabilized in 2005 and 2006, the 2007 and 2008 data show a significant deterioration (although mass starvation has not occurred and is not in prospect). One reason for this decline is harvest failures, with up to half of the newly-displaced people in South Darfur this year being described as “˜harvest-affected’ rather than “˜conflict-affected.’ Jaspars and O’Callaghan argue that this distinction doesn’t make much sense: Darfur is better seen as the locus of a complex and interrelated livelihoods crisis, with all groups suffering loss of assets and reduction in livelihood opportunities over the last five years. This compound crisis has been exacerbated by the growing number of attacks on World Food Program convoys, which has led to a reduction in food deliveries and in rations. Food aid has been essential to maintaining nutritional standards among Darfur’s IDPs and allowing them to establish new (if modest) livelihoods on the fringes of Darfur’s fast-growing cities. Relatively good rains have also sustained people in rural areas who might otherwise have been compelled to migrate.
The research for this report, commissioned by the Danish Refugee Council, was conducted around Zalingei and Nyertete in West Darfur, an area of massive displacement during the height of the war. Considerable areas of land vacated by Fur villagers have since been occupied by Arab groups, both Darfurian Arabs who were historically disadvantaged in terms of access to land, and newcomers from across Sudan’s western border. The report notes that many of these settling pastoralists insist on calling themselves “˜farmers’, perhaps in response to their newly-acquired land, and perhaps because of the widespread feeling among Arabs that humanitarian assistance is provided only to sedentary groups and not to them.
Physical security is a dominant theme of the report and the single most important determinant of the viability of rural livelihoods. This is the case for both pastoralists and farmers. Camel herders, blocked from their northward migratory routes, have established more camps in the vicinity of Zalingei. For them, safety is not a day-to-day worry, but rather a constraint on their overall livelihood strategies. Pastoralists are militarily dominant in the area. For the Fur villagers, the main factor which determines their day-to-day security is whether they have negotiated a “˜protection’ agreement with the Arabs. These agreements are forms of taxation or extortion and the extent to which the pastoralists actually honor them is variable””some are respected, but in other cases protection is provided during daylight, while looting occurs at night. To the extent that farmers are able to sustain or re-establish their livelihoods, they are restricted to cultivating in relatively small areas (perhaps one third of their land, for an even smaller fraction of their previous harvests) and most of them have had their livestock stolen. This is much reduced existence compared to the comparative wealth of this area in former years.
However, there is good evidence that NGO operations in rural areas have increased the viability and safety of villagers, including reducing the burden of protection arrangements.
IDPs also face insecurity, especially the newer arrivals who have less access to the power structures of the camps and less rations, and who are therefore obliged to pursue more risky livelihood strategies.
Darfurians’ famed resilience under extreme hardship is evident from the research. Families often split, with some members in the IDP camps, others in the villages, and others dispersed elsewhere. There is considerable seasonal migration as people exploit the small niches that are available for them. A number of markets have reopened, trading between pastoralists and farmers, but they are few and travel to them is often insecure.
One of the most intriguing elements in the report is the hostility it describes between the IDPs and the villagers who have not fled and still remain in their villages. The authors suggest that the reason for this antipathy is that the existence of the non-displaced implies that survival is possible in the rural areas, a fact which undermines the rationale for humanitarian assistance to the camps and suggests that international agencies might consider programmes of return. Leaders of the IDP camps accuse the non-displaced as being “˜not really Fur’ and imply that they had sided with the Arabs and thereby escaped being affected by the conflict. This hostility extends to organizations working with remaining villagers, as well as those providing assistance to Arab communities.
For those seeking to draw a general picture of Darfur, the report once again shows just how difficult it is to generalize. Even within the limited area in which research was done, there is a vast amount of local specificity. Their recommendations are also highly specific, for example improving the safety of access to markets in the Nyertete area.
The report counsels against putting too much store in return of IDPs and rehabilitation of former livelihoods. The examples of enduring rural livelihoods it documents are relatively few cases, against a backdrop of enduring complex humanitarian crisis and insecurity. But they are real and important. Jaspars and O’Callaghan make some careful recommendations for humanitarian programming focusing on how protection and livelihoods can be linked. As with Darfurian coping strategies, this is also an exercise in identifying niches and filling them, opportunistically and perhaps temporarily, against the odds. They argue that in the current situation””marked by high levels of risk for humanitarian workers including intimidation by officialdom””humanitarian activities targeted at the most vulnerable remain the priority. Agencies are simply unable to address the wider governance and security situation in which they are forced to operate, and Darfurians are required to live. But coordinated livelihood and protection efforts are possible, aimed at villagers who have managed to eke out a living staying behind in the rural areas.