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Darfur: Livelihoods Under Siege

Time (GMT +01) 00:00 23:59


Helen Young, Director of Public Nutrition

Rebecca Dale, Feinstein International Famine Center, Tufts University


Simon Maxwell, Director ODI

Helen Young and Rebecca Dale Feinstein International Famine Center, Tufts University spoke at ODI in London recently to present the findings and recommendations of their study 'Darfur, Livelihoods Under Siege', which examines in detail the effects of conflict on people's livelihoods strategies and vice versa in the context of contemporary Darfur. The meeting was attended by a range of actors including government representatives, humanitarian NGOs, academic institutions and others and chaired by ODI's Director, Simon Maxwell.

Helen Young began by stressing that this work had been very much a partnership study with various local organisations including Ahfad University for Women, Libyan Red Crescent, and El Kufra University. She went on to say that, though human rights abuses were an important aspect of conflict, this particular study was specifically interested in analysing the effects on livelihoods of selected communities in the region of the conflict in Darfur. Thus a thorough conflict analysis was combined with mapping trade routes, tribal territories, systems of local administrations and the relationships between national and local authorities to highlight how livelihoods and conflict were inter-related in Darfur ? both in terms of land and resources being one of the causes of conflict, and conflict in turn reducing access to productive resources.

Helen Young

Various livelihood strategies amongst a diverse range of communities were identified including: cultivating crops, raising livestock, collecting natural resources such as wood and wild foods, migration and remittances, and, to a lesser extent, artisanry. Though different livelihoods appeared to be more or less significant depending on the region, it was noted that people generally relied on a combination of these strategies in their daily lives. The study showed that the insecurity in the region was resulting in these livelihood strategies being severely curtailed. This had continued despite the recent ceasefire agreement.

In particular, livestock was extremely important as it constituted a multimillion dollar business. The insecurity, however, of key migration routes was compromising the quality of livestock, which was having a long term impact on people's assets. The conflict had also affected access to markets (especially internationally, both due to insecurity on transit routes and to border closures). In addition, access to goods within the region had been restricted and breakdown in communication systems had also limited remittance transfers and had made it difficult for migrants in neighbouring countries to return home.

The report suggested that the situation was in constant deterioration and that if a solution to the conflict was to be reached, the issue of livelihoods had to be central to the discussion.

Though there was not sufficient time to go through all the recommendations in the report, two of them were highlighted in the meeting. Firstly, it was suggested that reconciliation had to be linked to livelihood issues such as mobility, markets and the protection of assets. In other words, a political solution that dealt only with government representation issues, for instance, would not be enough. Secondly, all aspects of livelihoods must be considered for interventions to have a positive impact. Security must be extended to all aspects of people's lives.

Rebecca Dale

Andrew Shepherd in the audience

Discussion of the report centred on methodology, comparisons of the current situation with previous famines in the region, the need to engage with the diversity of existing livelihood strategies in the resumption of trade, and the need to bring effective political pressure to bear on the Government of Sudan to halt the conflict.

In relation to the study's methodology, one discussant questioned the separation of local and national level systems, since local failures seemed to be national as much as they were local. In response to this, it was explained that the purpose of the division was to illustrate the way national failures affected local life to inform both local and national strategies.

The point was raised that the current food insecurity was different in its nature and severity from previous episodes of famine which were a result of production failures in the region. The current conflict had affected a fuller range of livelihood strategies than in the past. In the past, people were able to fall back on different strategies if food production failed but current insecurity made this impossible.

A question was raised about whether there was a likelihood that trade would resume between southern and northern Sudan. It was agreed that it would be useful if trade increased, however, development projects within Darfur must take into account the complex and sophisticated livelihood strategies that already exist.

Finally, the inability of the international community (including the AU) to bring effective pressure on the Government of Sudan to halt the conflict was acknowledged, but it was reiterated that this was essential to resolving the conflict.


At this event Helen Young, Director of Public Nutrition, and Rebecca Dale, Feinstein International Famine Center, Tufts University, presented ‘Darfur: Livelihoods Under Siege’, a collaborative study between Tufts University and the Ahfad University for Women, Sudan, of the effects of conflict on livelihoods of different groups in Darfur based on fieldwork in Darfur, Khartoum, eastern Sudan and Libya. Detailed recommendations cover six broad areas; security, land, livestock, trade, markets and international humanitarian response. The presentation included consideration of future prospects for Darfur, including implications of the recent signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and forthcoming donor conference in Oslo.