Better together: a common approach to sustainable return in North Darfur

Jun 23, 2016

 “It is simply not enough to save a person’s life. We don’t want to leave them in extreme vulnerability either. The moral imperative extends all the way to reducing and eliminating needs”. Stephen O’Brien, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul.

Protracted and complex are the new normal. Over the last year the international community has been gearing up to establish the Sustainable Development Goals - a new 15-year vision that promises to “leave no one behind”. At the same time however, the majority of today’s humanitarian crises are protracted in nature and pose a significant obstacle to achieving those goals. This is why ‘business as usual’ and the traditional idea of a linear transition between humanitarian and development assistance is no longer appropriate. The importance of bridging the humanitarian – development divide to better address immediate needs while pursuing durable solutions for displaced people was also emphasized at the World Humanitarian Summit that took place in May 2016. UN agencies committed to ‘New Ways of working’ to ensure collective and shared outcomes across the humanitarian response, climate change and development.

The humanitarian community is translating this concept of joined-up humanitarian – development into a number of multisector and multiannual response frameworks.

The Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) has developed the Protracted Displacement Strategy that promotes self-reliance for Internally Displaced People while in displacement.

The Recovery, Return and Reintegration (RRR) Sector designed a Multi-Sector Response Framework for Sustainable Return to bring together humanitarian and development actors for an integrated response in selected areas of return. The framework proposes outcome-oriented multi-year planning and action to meet people’s immediate needs, reduce vulnerabilities and build on existing capacities to provide opportunities for a more resilient future and support durable solutions. The strategy marks a break from just assessing needs to analyzing coping mechanisms, risks, and vulnerabilities and to strengthen local capacity as part of humanitarian action. It also encourages a funding mechanism that involves investing in rather than spending on return communities.

Ultimately, the return framework aims to ensure voluntary, dignified and safe return. This can be achieved by jointly addressing the lack of security (notably due to the absence of justice and police institutions), the lack of access to basic services, shortage of economically and environmentally viable livelihoods, and limited access to land and environmental assets.

Collective outputs for greater sustainability. The Um Baru pilot.

To put this into practice, a group of eight national and international NGOs with support from the UN is currently piloting this approach in the Um Baru locality in North Darfur. They have set up an Um Baru Coordination Mechanism to closely work between themselves and other operational partners in the area and are finalizing agreements to begin implementation. With a total of over US$ 750,000 funding provided by the Sudan Humanitarian Fund for a period of twelve months they are paving the way for a gradual reduction of humanitarian needs to ensure the more than 30,000 returnees in the area can withstand a range of shocks and crises.

Through this multi-sector approach which promotes integrated planning and joint implementation by all partners, the people returning from across Darfur and Chad to Orchi village and the surrounding settlements will stand a better chance of re-establishing their lives in their place of origin.  ‘Through this project, we can continue providing local medical services for the people of Orchi for one year’, explains Ahmed Elsadig Mohammed from the Anhar for Peace, Development and Humanitarian Work Organization. “Before, when I was sick, we had to go by donkey all the way to Um Baru town. Now I can get my medication just here in the village’, states one woman in the Orchi clinic waiting room.

With more than six hours distance between those places, this will give the people of the area much needed time to focus on essential livelihoods activities. With a greater focus on creating synergies between partners and building on existing structures, UNDP will provide a solar water pump to improve water supply that has previously been established by the Italian NGO COOPI (and who will now focus on promoting hygiene in the communities). With water collection still predominantly being women’s responsibility, this joint approach will give them more time to engage in the area’s first Women and Youth Centre that is being constructed by the Humanitarian Assistance Programme Organization (ASSIST) to promote their active participation in community planning and to receive vocational training in a safe environment.

‘But the challenge is to find a way of keeping the doctors and services in this area beyond the duration of this project’, warns Anhar. To make this happen and to deliver on this new multi-annual way of working, the RRR Sector and partners are starting to engage development organisations, livelihood programmes and donors to ensure the continuation of interventions after the initial 12-months interventions.

Gender mainstreaming for better outcomes. The Um Baru pilot also operationalizes the recently endorsed HCT Gender Strategy by using sector specific gender tools at each stage of the programme cycle. For example, gender issues were incorporated into an interagency assessment in March 2016. The more targeted questions helped identify specific challenges of women, girls, men and boys in accessing health, WASH, shelter and livelihoods. Across sectors, the absence of women and girls from decision-making structures was identified as a key barrier to their meaningful participation in community planning and response. “We go to the community and rely on the sheikhs (who are mostly men) to help identify needs”, one partner noted.


During the first meeting of the Um Baru Coordination Group, partners recognized that implementing gender commitments remains a challenge as it calls for a shift in thinking and doing things, but agreed that this principled approach can lead to better outcomes. The RRR Coordinator concluded the meeting highlighting that “it is important to map multiple entry points within the community to reach specific groups of the returnee population who may be hard to reach due to gender, age or disability. Ultimately, people’s needs and capacities should inform the priorities and services we design”.


For more information on the Multi-sector Return Framework please contact the RRR Sector Coordinators at and, and Geeta Kuttiparambilgeeta for questions regarding the HCT Gender Strategy.




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