Supporting self-management in the camps for internally displaced in West Darfur
By Steinar Sveinsson, UNICEF Sudan
Taiba camp for internally displaced people, West Darfur, June 2009. In Arabic, “taiba” means “kind”; perhaps, then, an unusual choice of name for this camp accommodating 7,000 people forced to flee their homes due to ongoing conflict in West Darfur – it is hard to see how life has been kind to this most vulnerable section of society.
Taiba has been home to most of these people for the last three years, years marked by shortages of the basic necessities for life. Even simple tasks can become almost insurmountable hurdles in a camp like this, due to lack of necessary tools and equipment. The inhabitants of Taiba have had to show resourcefulness in the face of the many different challenges to survive.
Those challenges deepened in March this year, after the decision of the Government of Sudan to expel 13 international aid agencies and suspend the operations of three national organizations. A number of those organizations had been supporting humanitarian services in Taiba, and their departure was acutely felt.
Sheikh Al-Hadi is the highest ranking community leader in Taiba. When the NGOs were suspended, he recalls, the community leaders met to try to find a way to fill the gaps they left behind.
“We asked ourselves if there was any further assistance available but We decided that we wanted to help ourselves and be as independent as possible as a communitywe also decided that we wanted to help ourselves and be as independent as possible as a community,” he explains.
One key issue demanding urgent attention was garbage collection in the camp; in a place like Taiba this is less the detritus of modern life but rather animal waste and straw.
Leaving garbage to collect is an invitation to disease
Failing to dispose of this garbage regularly by burning it can lead to outbreaks of diseases, spread further by the flies that the garbage attracts. This is a particular risk during the approaching rainy season, when water-borne diseases always increase.
Fourteen community members had been paid by one of the expelled NGOs in Taiba to serve as garbage collectors – but with the departure of the NGOs, the source of those salaries went with it.
UNICEF, alongside the government’s State Water Corporation, met with Taiba’s community leaders to find a solution to the problem. UNICEF had been called upon in many parts of Darfur to try and fill the short-term gaps in services caused by the NGO expulsions, but there were concerns about the sustainability of this type of response. Creative thinking was required.
“From the outset we focused on finding a solution how to help the community to help itself, as there was a strong will to do so,” says Mohamed Osman, UNICEF’s head of office in nearby Zalingei.
“Ownership is the cornerstone of sustainability and this is best attained through community participation. Therefore, all parties agreed that the best way forward would be to assist the community members by giving them the means to help themselves.”
Matching provision of resources
UNICEF supplied the camp community with the tools and equipment needed to carry out garbage collection themselves. The camp is divided into six sectors and six donkey carts, each for every sector, were provided to transport the garbage from the collection points to the site where it is burned. Fifty wheel barrels and other tools were provided for households to share when working on the garbage collection.
For its part, the community had to provide donkeys for the carts, as well as human resources, and take on the organization of the collection programme. This provision of valuable resources had to be undertaken in an acceptable manner within the camp community, and it was left to each elder in each of the six sectors to identify who had a fit donkey to support the UNICEF-provided carts. For those providing the donkeys, an agreement was reached that the owner could also use the UNICEF carts for private useFor those providing the donkeys, an agreement was reached that the owner could also use the UNICEF carts for private use, five days a week – as long as the remaining two days were allotted to garbage collection.
A monitoring and mobilization mechanism has also been established, led by the State Water Corporation. “One of Taiba’s community members monitors the programme and registers how many trips the donkey carts make between the collection points and the burning site. That’s how we know how much garbage is being collected,” explain the Corporation’s Mahmoud Dow.
“We also mobilize and inform the people by holding community sessions on hygiene and sanitation and visit households to educate the families on hygiene, as well as distributing soap,” he adds.
A model for replication
The combination of aid and community empowerment is working; the camp appears to be clean and community leaders in other camps want to start with a similar programme in their own camps. Mahmoud Dow show off a letter from a community leader, asking for a meeting on the issue.
“The community has embraced the programme and people are participating,” affirms Sheikh Al-Hadi. “They take their garbage to the collection points and they want to keep the camp clean. People now feel a common responsibility and understand it’s not something which will be done for them. They live here and have to participate.”
The expulsion of so many key NGOs created ongoing challenges for humanitarian aid, and will continue to require innovative responses to maintain critical services. A long-term solution to the gaps caused by their absence is still being thought through. But at least in Taiba, thanks to the resourcefulness of its residents, the spirit of self-reliance is showing through.