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Livelihoods under siege in Dafur

Summary of unpublished study1

Burnt grain from granaries torched by the Janjaweed

Never before in the history of Darfur has there been such a combination of factors causing the failure of livelihood strategies and the loss of assets. These factors include systematic asset stripping, production failures, market failures, failures of access to natural resources and constraints on the remittances of migrant workers. Researchers from the Feinstein International Famine Centre recently conducted a study to investigate the effects of the current conflict and humanitarian crisis on the livelihoods of selected communities in Darfur, in order to refine strategic humanitarian interventions. The study focused on labour migration, livestock production and trade, and on communities' links with central and eastern Sudan and with Libya. The study included a background review of literature and liaison with partners. Field work was undertaken in Tripoli, Benghazi and Kufra in Libya and in Khartoum, Gedaraf, and north, west and south Darfur in Sudan.

The main recommendations from the study are that major structural changes need to be addressed at the international, national and state levels. These changes include the process of land restitution and compensation, livestock restitution, reconciliation and compensation, and the opening up of transport routes to provide safe passage for people livestock and goods. Ideally, the wider processes of reconciliation should be linked with livelihood support. Extensive and detailed recommendations in the study cover six broad areas: security, land, livestock, markets, labour migration and international humanitarian response.

History and origins of the conflict

The sources of the conflict date back to the 19th century. A number of national and local processes have directly contributed to the conflict, for example, the economic and political marginalisation of Darfur by central government, wider regional conflicts which have contributed to the development and deployment of ethnically distinct armed militias, and the increase in number of firearms owned by Darfurians. In addition, there has been tactical manipulation of ethnic identities within Darfur by the government of Sudan and political parties, including the mobilisation of armed militias and political mobilisation based on religious ethnic identity. At a local level, the marginalisation and neglect of Darfur have contributed to failing institutions and development.

Effects on livelihoods

Five case studies were conducted covering all three states of Darfur. The most fundamental problem affecting livelihoods in Darfur is insecurity, which restricts the mobility of all groups. Insecurity is widespread as a result of continued ceasefire violations on the part of both the government of Sudan (GoS) and rebel groups. Consequently, the towns of Darfur are in a state of siege and internally displaced persons (IDPs) within them have become cut off from their normal livelihood strategies. For rural based populations the situation is little better, with people fearing to travel or even to cultivate their fields for risk of attack.

While the GoS has manipulated and eroded the native administration, local interests in Darfur have sought to gain authority and power through the tribal systems, thereby increasing the politicisation of tribal administrations. Certain groups clearly feel that they have been marginalised within Darfur, in that they have had less access than others to the limited resources that exist, including land, health care, education and even international aid.

Pressure on labour migrants and the blocking of remittances

Until the recent conflict, remittances from internal and external labour migrants in cash and in kind were a regular and stable source of income for Darfurian families and made a substantial contribution to livelihoods. The conflict has caused the sending of remittances to dwindle dramatically, for example, at a conservative estimate, lost income from workers in Libya amount to roughly US $15 million per year. Official estimates of the numbers of Darfurian migrant workers in Libya were unavailable but were estimated to be between 150,000 and 250,000. The closure of the national border between Sudan and Libya in May 2003, which was associated with insecurity in the northern deserts of north Darfur, has had a serious impact on the economy of Darfur. The closure has stopped the traffic of migrant workers between north Darfur and southern Libya (effectively trapping several thousand in Kufra) and has blocked well-established and critically important trade routes. Communications and remittances have been seriously affected.

The study also found that Darfurian migrants to Khartoum were people recently displaced by the conflict and were principally women and children. Displaced Darfurians in Khartoum were facing difficulties because of fierce competition for limited job opportunities, difficulties in the IDP camps and problems with the local authorities.

The importance of livestock

Women in Kebkabiya describe their situation

Before the conflict, the region was exporting 30,000 camels to Libya and about 50,000 to Egypt each year. In economic terms, livestock has been the primary target of the current conflict. Various sources suggest that the non-Arab population of Darfur has lost between 50 percent and 90 percent of its livestock to the government's armed forces. A visible outcome of the conflict is changes in livestock migration patterns. Increasing hostility between Arabs and non-Arabs, and control by the SLM/A (Sudan Liberation Movement) of some critical areas along the traditional migratory routes, have resulted in the restriction of access to the wet-season grazing reserves in the north for the camel herding Arabs. Similarly, cattle belonging to the Baggara cattle-herding groups have been confined to the railway line close to Nyala town and to the Nyala-Kaz Zalingi road in the west. Concentrations of livestock in confined areas in the dry season grazing reserves will deplete pasture and water resources and increase the risk of disease, leading to increased livestock mortality.

The disruption of livestock trade, both within Darfur and beyond its borders, has signalled a downward spiral of the region's economy. Important secondary markets, such as Mellit, have been closed. In April 2003, insecurity on the livestock trade routes through north Darfur worsened with the murder of 10 camel drovers and the confiscation of 3000 camels. Shortly afterwards, the border was closed by the GoS. The total value of business lost since the route was closed amounts to over US$14 million. Other trade routes that have been affected include the route through El Fascher and also the southern route through Nyala and El Daein. Some Arab livestock traders in El Geneina are attempting to establish new trade routes to bypass the security-affected areas in the south. These routes are longer, increasing the number of days trekking by an additional 20-40 days, and therefore putting greater stress on the animals.

Total and partial closures of strategic trade routes have increased the prices of basic commodities. This is due to increased transport costs, the risk of bandit attack, the need to obtain commodity supplies from new sources, and government embargoes.

Show footnotes

1Young H et al (2005). Darfur- Livelihoods under siege. Feinstein International Famine Centre. June 2005

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Reference this page

Livelihoods under siege in Dafur. Field Exchange 27, March 2006. p7.



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