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OLS Review

Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) is a political and organisational arrangement which allows humanitarian assistance to reach war-affected populations. It was established in 1988. An independent review of OLS commissioned by donors and the UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA) was completed in July 1996. The aim was to look at the effectiveness of providing assistance to war-affected populations through a negotiated access programme. This comprehensive review addressed a number of food and nutrition issues which we attempt to summarise here.

An important conclusion of the review was that perceptions of the emergency by those involved in OLS have altered over time. This led to a change in the objectives of the operation and, therefore, in the type of response. Initially viewed as an acute emergency with high levels of malnutrition and mortality over time, it was assumed that the situation had stabilised and that affected populations had developed a number of coping strategies. OLS agencies, therefore, increasingly characterised the situation of war-affected populations by their food insecurity, but with improved options for achieving self-reliance. This led to a shift in programme focus from emergency food aid provision to measures that would enhance food security or support coping mechanisms, as well as various forms of capacity building, to promote self-reliance in the longer term. Emergency food aid was reduced by decreasing ration sizes, limiting food aid to certain times of the year, and more specific targeting. The perceived role of food aid also changed from that of being a life-saving measure to one which supported livelihoods or agricultural production.

The reviewers argued, however, that this change in emphasis from emergency relief to promoting self-reliance could not be justified on the basis of gathered information. There was no hard evidence to show that the emergency was over. There was also no information on the impact of food aid on malnutrition and mortality. Indeed, the first attempt to find out whether assessed food aid needs had in the past been matched by actual food deliveries was carried out by the OLS review team. Therefore very little was known about the amounts of food aid intended recipients had actually received.

In fact thereview team found that in the northem sector (government controlled areas) data showed a deterioration in nutritional status over time. Of particular concem was the fact that this had not moderated the strategy of ration reduction, but rather, acceptable standards of nutrition had been lowered. i.e. the threshold for qualifying for assistance (based on levels of malnutrition) had effectively been raised. The reduction in rations in the northem sector had been mainly justified on the basis of discouraging relief dependency and assumptions about an increasing ability to cope. However, assessments in OLS areas have not incorporated an analysis of the types of survival mechanisms adopted by the war-affected populations and who ultimately benefits from them. The OLS review team findings were that there was an increasing dependence on economically, socially and environmentally unsustainable strategies, which often indicated extreme stress rather than increased self-reliance. In fact the war displaced were often forced into exploitative labour relations, which supported Govemment of Sudan (GOS) aims of transforming them into a cheap labour force.

The review team found a different situation for the southem sector where although it was felt that greater targeting of food aid could actually be justified on the basis of available information, claims that the emergency was over were not supported by the evidence. Furthermore, current assessment and intervention strategies make assumptions about people's ability to survive, and assume that if they are surviving then their energy needs are being met. Yet since 1994 there has been little or no information on mortality or nutritional status to support these assumptions. If anything, information on factors which adversely affect food security indicate that they remain extremely vulnerable. The continued targeting of civilians by warring factions meant that the risk of acute crisis remained. In fact, at the time of the review, the security situation seemed to be deteriorating, due to further factionalisation, as was seen for example in the increasingly insecure environments in Bahr El Ghazal and Jonglei. In addition, access to areas in the southem sector was being increasingly denied by the GOS. In such a context, development was clearly impossible with limited access hindering programme continuity as well as assessment and monitoring activities.

Another point made by the review was that although the reduction in food aid has been accompanied by an increased emphasis on supporting initiatives to improve food security, this has generally been limited to support for food production and the provision of smaller food rations for livelihood support. In the southem sector, livestock and marketing interventions have also been a component. Food production support had mainly been limited to the delivery of material supplies, which had been subject to the same kind of constraints as the delivery of food aid.

The reviewers concluded that given the limited options available to war-affected populations in OLS served areas to achieve food security, and the deliberate targeting of people's subsistence base as a war strategy, there is only limited scope for supporting coping mechanisms. Also, food security programmes like the provision of seeds and tools, only address one aspect of food insecurity, and therefore can not lead to self-reliance. Finally, the reduction in food aid has not been matched by an increase in production support, due either to problems of access or lack of co-ordination.

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Reference this page

OLS Review. Field Exchange 1, May 1997. p19. www.ennonline.net/fex/1/ols