Darfur: In search of durable solutions

Posted by Chiara Altare.

While the world’s attention has turned to south Sudan and its preparation for independence on 9th July, life is going on in the region of Darfur, which has been affected by conflict since 2003. The question is: how are people managing to make a living?

In the past eight years of violence, the majority of the Darfur population has been somehow affected by the conflict, violence and displacement, either directly or indirectly. 2 to 300,000 people have died, some 3 million people have been displaced, livelihood opportunities have changed and people have adapted their livelihoods to the new situation.

Although violence has significantly decreased and humanitarian assistance has been provided, the overall situation has improved less than expected and desired: global acute malnutrition among children under the age of 5 has been decreasing since 2003 in many of the areas from which data is available, especially in West and South Darfur. However, it has not gone below the internationally recognized threshold for emergency (10%) indicating that the situation remains precarious.

In North Darfur, malnutrition and food insecurity remain high, which, in a situation of limited humanitarian access, can easily become a new emergency. The biggest improvement can be seen in mortality (both among adults and children), which has significantly decreased, thanks to both a reduction in violence and an increased provision of medical assistance. Both the crude mortality rate and under 5 mortality rate are well below emergency level.

This applies however only to the areas where humanitarian assistance is possible: unfortunately several regions are not accessible to any humanitarian assistance and therefore not covered with medical and nutrition programmes. This implies that the severity of the situation in these areas is unknown.  

Long term prospects do not promise any clear improvement: the current peace consultations in Doha are not reaching the expected agreement among the numerous actors involved and therefore no peace agreement seems possible in the near future. In addition, recent escalating attacks of the army and rebel groups on the civilian population caused new displacement in North Darfur where around 15,000 people moved to Zamzam camp (between December 2010 and February 2011), making living conditions in the already crowded camp even more critical. Assistance to the civilian population therefore remains limited due to both insecurity and governmental restrictions for humanitarian and peacekeeping interventions. 

In the meantime, the Darfur population is showing an extreme ability to adapt: through diversification of economic activities, adaptation to the urban setting, changing food and life habits, and accepting humanitarian assistance. However, how sustainable can this be? What are the real chances for the population living in camps or in the camp periphery or among the host communities? Which opportunities are available for those who may plan to return to their place of origin in rural areas?

The search for durable solutions is one of the key priorities of the government of Sudan as presented in the Humanitarian Assistance Strategy in Darfur (November 2010) which stresses the need for a shift from emergency assistance to recovery and long term interventions. This reorientation however has to be carefully planned so as to ensure that humanitarian needs are not underestimated. The call is for a contiguum approach, in which humanitarian interventions occur simultaneously with developmental interventions according to the different needs of the population throughout the large and diverse region of Darfur.

In this context, two of the MICROCON partners (IDS and CRED) together with the Ahfad University for Women (Omdurman, Sudan) have started a study on livelihoods, nutrition and public health in Darfur. The study is funded by the European Commission and involves the FAO, UNICEF, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, the Federal Ministry of Health as well as the Humanitarian Assistance Commission. The study aims at investigating how livelihoods have changed since 2003 and how this has affected the health and nutrition status of the household members.

There are two innovations in this study: first, it combines information on both livelihoods, and nutritional/health characteristics of the Darfur households. Only by bringing together these two sets of information will it be possible to better understand the underlying causes of malnutrition and identify which types of households are more vulnerable. This will facilitate targeting specific population groups who are more at risk.

Second, the study will gather both qualitative and quantitative data. A household survey is currently being prepared: demographic, social, economic information will be collected, together with anthropometric measurement and data on feeding and care practices. With this tool, we aim to capture important information from a representative sample which will provide us with a comprehensive understanding of livelihoods in Darfur. Qualitative data will complement this information and provide a deeper insight into how lives have been affected by the conflict and what are the expectations of the population for the coming years. 

The results of the study will be available towards the end of this year and will be used by the Sudanese government and the international community for readdressing their interventions in Darfur.

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