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WFP evaluation of emergency operation in Sudan

Fasher-Kabkabiya and Kutum-Fasher, Dafur

Summary of evaluation1

The World Food Programme (WFP) recently published an evaluation of their general food distribution programme (GFD) in Darfur in 2009 as part of emergency operation (EMOP) 10760. The overarching goal of the EMOP is to save lives, reduce food insecurity and restore livelihoods of conflict-affected and vulnerable populations in Sudan. WFP has been aiding the whole conflict-affected population in Darfur since 2003. In 2009, the programme targeted 6.2 million beneficiaries, of whom 3.8 million were GFD recipients in Darfur. Darfur is a difficult context in which to work. Even in the best of times it is food insecure, with a history of famines and chronic malnutrition is some areas. Security for international staff has steadily worsened since 2004. Aid agencies are the target for criminals stealing cars or since March 2009, kidnapping international staff for ransom. Added to these problems are difficult logistics, leading to high operating costs.

Overview and strategy of the operation

The EMOP was the largest of six WFP operations in Sudan in 2009. The remaining five operations comprised the country programme and four special operations, three of which were relevant to Darfur (one wholly concentrated on Darfur). WFP revised the EMOP three times during 2009. The first revision saw a reduced budget due to lower food and transport prices. The second revision was a minor administrative revision, and the third revision increased the caseload in the south.

The EMOP had a total budget of US$868.7 million for the year. It included several food distribution methods, the most important of which was GFD. WFP planned to distribute 443.8 thousand MT (metric tonnes) in Darfur by GFD, 84 percent of all the GFD planned in the EMOP.

After the Government of Sudan expelled some of WFP's most important cooperating partners in March 2009, WFP developed special operation (SO) 10845 to augment the operational capacity of WFP and partners. This SO was intended to cover the extra costs arising because of the expulsions and to increase the number of locations where WFP staff could work, while continuing to comply with the United Nation's (UN) security rules.

Evolution and differences in needs

When the Darfur operation began in 2003, all those in the affected population were in need of food aid. Over time, the affected population developed alternative livelihoods. In many cases, these livelihoods are inadequate to support families on their own, are maladapted in that they damage other livelihoods or are unsustainable, and are contingent on good security locally.

The pattern of alternative livelihoods means there are big variations in need across the affected population. However, the affected population strongly opposes any targeting at the household level. There appear to be several reasons for this. First, the community recognise the fragility of many of the current livelihoods. Second, providing aid to some and not to others would threaten social cohesion. Third, the community confuse entitlement to food with their conflict-affected status.

Even with the low quality of many alternative livelihoods, these are better than the livelihoods that some of the poorest previously had in the rural areas. Coupled with increasing years in a more urban environment, even if there were peace, a significant proportion (interviewees estimate from 15 percent to 50 percent) of the internally displaced persons (IDP) population would not return to their rural homes. Permanent returns to villages have been minimal, but there is a growing pattern of temporary returns for the agricultural season.

WFP has reacted to the variation in need and the difficulties of targeting different levels of need within the population categories by reducing the overall ration. The Darfur Food Security Monitoring System (DFSMS) set up by WFP in 2009 has provided excellent data on food security. This has shown that reducing the ration has had no major negative impact on food security in the monitored sites.

Evaluation results

WFP reached 96 percent of the number of beneficiaries specified in the EMOP. This was a significant achievement given the difficulties of operating in Darfur.

WFP distributed 83 percent of the planned GFD tonnage. However, as the EMOP was only 73 percent funded, this tonnage represents 107 percent of the funded tonnage. WFP managed to reach almost all of the beneficiaries with only 83 percent of the planned tonnage by distributing rations that were less than planned in the EMOP. Initially (from 1 January 2009) WFP reduced the ration to a 70 percent ration for, as food security data showed a positive picture following the 'good' 2008 harvest (with as much as 25 percent of the pre-conflict yield in south Darfur). The ration was subsequently reduced again in November 2009 due to resource constraints to 60 per cent EMOP ration. Factors such as milling losses, milling costs, transport costs, and taxes to sheiks at some locations reduced this notional 60 per cent EMOP ration to one providing less than half the food requirements. The need for recipients to sell some food to pay for soap, education, or other goods and services reduced the notional value of the ration even further.

WFP varied the numbers of beneficiaries and the ration composition throughout the year in response to the seasonal pattern of need (with rations for resident populations during the hunger gap) and vulnerability assessments.

While WFP had planned changes to the programme in 2009, including the greater use of non-GFD mechanisms to target assistance better, this was derailed by the need to respond to the expulsion of cooperating partners in March 2009. However WFP maintained, and in some cases increased, key non-GFD mechanisms including Food for Education (FFE), Supplementary Feeding Programmes (SFP), and Blanket SFP (BSFP). A major achievement in 2009 was the introduction of the Darfur Food Security Monitoring System (DFSMS).

Attaining objectives

WFP's assistance has not reduced the Crude Mortality Rate (CMR) or the global acute malnutrition (GAM) prevalence, but has helped to prevent them from rising in the face of suboptimal alternative livelihoods.

The introduction of the DFSMS dramatically improved food security monitoring in 2009, effectively replacing an annual survey with a series of four surveys. The DFSMS showed that WFP assistance was an important source of food for the affected population. WFP assistance means that the affected population in general, and IDPs in particular, have not been forced to engage in livelihood strategies that pose greater risks than those they currently use.

Factors explaining results

In addition to the constraints imposed by the security situation, the UN security rules impose further constraints. The kidnapping threat is focused on international staff only, but UN security rules make no distinction between national staff and international staff. The security threat to national staff depends on their origin and on what part of Darfur they are working in, but UN security rules take no account of these factors.

Some WFP assistance is traded by beneficiaries to fund school fees and other costs, or because local varieties are preferred. Those with multiple ration cards also sell their surplus. The impact of these sales has been to stabilise food prices in Darfur. Thus the EMOP indirectly supports the access of non-targeted groups, such as the urban poor, to food. WFP also piloted milling vouchers in north Darfur. These are an excellent initiative as they are a far more cost effective way of meeting milling costs than having beneficiaries sell or barter part of their food to meet these costs.

WFP is constrained by the limited number and capacity of cooperating partners in Darfur. The relatively small number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in Darfur, in comparison to the overall humanitarian needs, means that WFP has relatively little choice in selecting partners. The difficulties of working in Darfur mean that cooperating partners have difficulty in attracting appropriately qualified staff.

Even before the expulsions, WFP had begun work on an improved management information system to make better use of monitoring data and to address, among other issues, problems with partner performance. Engaging in direct distribution made WFP even more aware of the capacity problems of partners, and WFP has instituted a special project to support developing this capacity.

WFP had planned to expand significantly non-GFD modalities in 2009, but was overtaken by the expulsions. The security situation was very tense prior to the expulsions, so there was no space for other modalities. Special assistance for the most vulnerable was expanded through BSFP, but this was constrained by capacity. However, non-GFD modalities generally need more management capacity than GFDs, and such modalities normally serve far fewer beneficiaries than GFD. WFP has supported what few permanent returnees there have been, but these are very few in number.

Cooperating partners generally praised WFP as a good partner, but said that partnership "goes out the window" when WFP is negotiating the Field Level Agreements (FLAs) with partners. They complained that WFP negotiated very aggressively, and that the existing FLAs represented an unfair sharing of financial risks between WFP and its cooperating partners. WFP engaged in direct distribution in those areas where it could not find a partner willing to manage the distribution at a reasonable cost. However, direct distribution had a high opportunity cost for WFP, as staff engaged in direct distribution did not have the time to follow up on new projects that might have used other modalities.

There are two types of inclusion errors in the distribution lists in Darfur. The first are those who should not be on the lists as they are not bona-fide members of the affected population. The second are those who have strong alternative livelihoods and do not need WFP assistance. WFP is planning further research in 2010 that will investigate the links between livelihoods and household food security.

The current distribution lists have remained largely unchanged since late 2005. With a few exceptions, the distribution lists do not include children born since late 2005 and new arrivals since late 2005. The lists are thought to include quite a number of individuals who are either double registered, or are not entitled to food assistance. However, sheiks are strongly opposed to re-registration. WFP has conducted one re-registration exercise at a small camp in west Darfur but could only do so by not distributing food in the camp for three months. WFP deemed this a wholly appropriate course of action, as inflated ration lists are an obstacle to proper targeting.

Sudan is expensive, and Darfur especially so. Local transport, storage, and handling costs are high in Darfur, as are direct support costs - largely the costs of maintaining a WFP presence. Direct support costs are high because of the costs of meeting the UN security rules. However, despite the cost, there is good evidence from the DFSMS that without WFP assistance, there would have been a food crisis in Darfur.


GFD continued to be appropriate in the context of 2009. Although affected communities have developed a range of new livelihoods, many of these are fragile or poorly adapted and are, in most but not all cases, far inferior to the communities' pre-conflict livelihoods.

Although it would have been ideal to have moved more to self-targeting modalities like Food for Work (FFW) and targeted food within communities, this was not a realistic option in 2009.

The biggest issue facing the programme is the growing disconnect between needs and assistance. This is driven by the growing obsolescence of the five-year old distribution lists and the development of alternative livelihoods within the affected community. The distribution lists are the responsibility of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) rather than WFP directly.

WFP has successfully addressed these problems in the short-term by adjusting rations to reflect overall need, The DFSMS provides WFP with good information on the food security situation at the monitored sites, which demonstrated that the reduced rations had no major negative consequences in nutritional or food security terms in 2009.

The alternative livelihoods established by the affected community in Darfur are fragile and are often predicated on improved security. The failure to reach an effective political settlement in Darfur means that the need for WFP assistance for the broader community is likely to continue.

The reliance on GFD is historical as there was no other option at the start of the operation in 2003/2004. GFD offers a lower overall implementing cost per MT, and requires less skill from cooperating partners than do other modalities. However the disadvantage of GFD is that it is untargeted.

The food deficit in Darfur is still so large that it would be impossible to meet this through other modalities with the current cooperating partner's capacity. However it is still possible to gradually introduce other modalities. WFP will only be able to completely move from GFD to other modalities when the overall food deficit declines.

WFP?s operation in Darfur is one of the most expensive WFP operations in the world. WFP began a concerted campaign in late 2009 to drive down the overall cost per MT. Again, earlier action was constrained by the expulsion of cooperating partners.

Milling vouchers represent a more efficient way of having families meet their milling costs than by selling part of their food ration.

WFP has also successfully put contractors and cooperating partner under very strong pressure to reduce their costs. Partners have not always been transparent about their true costs, but direct implementation by WFP has given WFP a very accurate picture of such costs. However, such hard negotiation with cooperating partners raises questions about the meaning of partnership.

Overall the team concluded that WFP has done a good job in Darfur in the face of very difficult circumstances.


The team has made eight recommendations based on the findings of the evaluation:

Show footnotes

1WFP (2010). Sudan EMOP 10760.0. Food Assistance to Populations Affected by Conflict. An Operations Evaluation. July 2010. Draft 1.82 commissioned by Office of Evaluation. Measuring results, sharing lessons. Prepared by John Cosgrave, Hugh Goyder and Anne Marie Hoogendoorn. Report No: OE/2010/011


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Reference this page

WFP evaluation of emergency operation in Sudan. Field Exchange 41, August 2011. p56.



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