Rebuilding lives: Stories of our disaster relief work in Darfur, Chad and Sudan

Many villagers have had virtually everything they owned taken from them. So the Oxfam livelihoods team is first focusing on helping to replace what has been lost. Grain and vegetable seeds have been distributed and villages will be carefully re-stocked with donkeys and other animals.

In the two decades that Oxfam has been working in Darfur, one factor has remained a constant. Mohammed Ibrahim Mohammed has been a member of the Oxfam team ever since we began operations here as an emergency response to the drought of 1984. Born and raised in Kutum, Mohammed Ibrahim has an almost encyclopaedic knowledge - local knowledge that has helped shape Oxfam’s work here.

Photo: Donkeys are integral to the livelihoods of rural Darfur, being used for the collection of water, firewood and other essentials. Credit: Adrian McIntyre/Oxfam

Oxfam has traditionally worked in partnership with rural communities throughout Darfur, providing capacity building and technical know-how to help improve water supplies, sanitation and agriculture in what has always been one of the poorest and most isolated parts of Sudan. When the current conflict escalated in 2003, up to two million people were displaced from their villages and crowded into IDP camps and around towns. The emergency needs of the people of Darfur were clear and Oxfam responded by providing immediate water and sanitation services to around 400,000 displaced people.

But many hundreds of thousands more remain in their villages, often in highly volatile rural areas where the various conflicting groups still vie for control. Many have seen their crops burnt, their animals looted and assets such as irrigation pumps, engines and cooking pots stolen. The violence of the conflict has prevented villagers from accessing local markets to trade, or from going out to harvest their fields. The traditional livelihoods on which the villagers previously sustained themselves have been destroyed.

Many villagers have had virtually everything they owned taken from them. So the Oxfam livelihoods team is first focusing on helping to replace what has been lost, working initially in villages to the west of North Darfur.

Grain and vegetable seeds have been distributed and villages will be carefully re-stocked with donkeys and other animals. Livestock are an important source of milk and meat and can also be sold to buy grain. Donkeys in particular are integral to the livelihoods of rural Darfur, being used for the collection of water, firewood and other essentials.

Even the gender of the animals can impact upon the village’s security. Only female donkeys are to be given out, which can assist in the collection of firewood, food and water every bit as well as males but have a significantly lesser market value and so are less likely to be looted.

After restocking it is essential to ensure that the animals are kept healthy. Selected local villagers are to be trained as “Para-vets”, assistant veterinarians who will be equipped with toolkits and drugs to ensure animals are vaccinated against diseases.

Mohammed Ibrahim and the team are also spearheading a new initiative to conduct research at key regional markets in North Darfur, mapping out the different production and food security patterns in different areas. Prices of animals, cash crops, sorghum and millet – the staples of the region – are being compared, as well as the prices of non-food items such as charcoal and firewood which, in addition to their practical uses, provide a vital source of income for rural communities. The information gathered is to be passed on to other NGOs working in the area to help shape other livelihood and food security programmes. 

Source: Alun McDonald/Oxfam

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