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Livelihoods under siege in Darfur

Refining humanitarian interventions to alleviate pending famine

Tufts University

The Darfur region of the Sudan, which has been accustomed to local level conflict for hundreds of years, is currently in crisis since conflict took on new national and international dimensions. In a new report entitled Darfur--Livelihoods under Siege, researchers at the Feinstein International Famine Center at Tufts and their colleagues describe the ongoing conflict and the current humanitarian crisis in Darfur. According to lead researcher Helen Young, PhD, the challenge for Darfur and the international humanitarian community is to help protect and support livelihoods - the basic means by which people survive over time.

"The most fundamental problems affecting livelihoods in Darfur are insecurity and immobility," the researchers report, after completing extensive field work in the region, including neighboring Libya where the Tufts team was the first academic research team to enter Libya since US and UN sanctions were lifted. Young explains, "People literally cannot travel to conduct their basic business and they fear for their lives."

"A brutal counter-insurgency on the part of the Government of Sudan against rebel groups in Darfur has had horrific repercussions for civilians, and has left many of the towns in Darfur in a state of siege, cutting people off from their normal livelihood strategies. Inhabitants of rural Darfur, who depend on crops and livestock for their livelihood, are also restricted by insecurity. They fear traveling or even cultivating their fields for risk of attack by the armed militia of the government of Sudan or by rebel groups," comments Young.

"Livestock trade, the traditional backbone of the region's economy, is failing fast," says Young, associate professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. Conflict in the region has changed livestock migration patterns, causing deaths among livestock confined in areas where pastures and water resources are depleted. Livestock trade routes, both within and beyond Darfur's borders, particularly with Libya, have been disrupted, contributing to the failure of the livestock market.

"The impact that regional conflict has had on migrant laborers is another major threat to livelihoods in Darfur," Young reports. "Darfurian families rely on remittances from internal and external labor migrants; but constraints on these remittances, including border closures and insecure road travel, have led to a loss of vital income."

This combination of failing livestock markets, constraints on migrant workers, and direct destruction of household and community property at the hands of government forces, has created a situation in which "region-wide famine appears inevitable," according to the authors.

"Food aid," says Young, "can help address crop and livestock production failures, but cannot address other issues, particularly the underlying conflict." In their report, Young and her colleagues cover six broad areas--security, land, livestock, markets, labor migration, and international humanitarian response--as they provide detailed recommendations for structural changes at the international, national, and state levels. They say these changes will help support peoples' livelihoods, which are "inextricably linked" to the underlying conflict, and must be central to any lasting solutions.

Young, H., Osman, A.M., Aklilu, Y., Dale, R., Badri, B. and Fuddle, A.J.A. (June 2005) Darfur- Livelihoods Under Siege. Feinstein International Famine Center, Tufts University, Medford, MA USA


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