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Perspectives from the Horn of Africa: Improving livelihoods for communities hosting refugees

Varalakshmi Vemuru's picture
Communities hosting refugees, more often than not, inhabit marginal areas which are characterized as underdeveloped, underserved, and environmentally fragile. In these areas, basic social services and economic infrastructures are either absent altogether or poorly developed. The dependence for fuel wood, construction timber, grazing and water (for both humans and animals) on already degraded natural resources by a significant population, both hosts and refugees in protracted displacement, often contributes to rapid environmental degradation thereby worsening the situation. In addition, with many of these areas being fragile and vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, protracted displacement further exacerbates the situation. 

In preparing the Development Response to Displacement Impacts Project (DRDIP) in the Horn of Africa, which supports Ethiopia, Uganda and Djibouti, consultations with local representatives brought out the critical need to help host communities cope and build resilience. An important challenge posed was how to develop activities that improve the productivity of both traditional and non-traditional livelihoods, including through diversification and income generation in these difficult locales. 
Barren land around Dadaab refugee camps, Kenya (Photo: Benjamin Burckhart)
 

While the team explored options for support, we were confronted with some realities. These included: (i) a high dependence on traditional and low productivity livelihoods, including agriculture, agro-pastoralism, and pastoralism; (ii) degraded natural resources base due to greater susceptibility to climate related events especially flash floods and droughts; (iii) lack of or limited access to basic social services and economic infrastructure, including rural finance and market infrastructure; (iv) inadequate presence and/or  limited capacity of the public sector; and (v) near absence of and/or non-vibrant private sector. 

Based on experience with supporting traditional livelihoods and livelihood diversification in a range of settings, including fragile and conflict affected contexts, the team and partners in Ethiopia, Uganda and Djibouti arrived at the following key considerations to promote livelihoods: 
  • Ensuring a focus on women and youth for livelihoods support given they are among the most vulnerable both among host and refugee communities.
  • Putting in place an inclusive and participatory planning process for livelihoods promotion and diversification is necessary to ensure community ownership.  
  • Establishing and/or strengthening community institutions focused on livelihoods is critical not only for training, capacity building, and livelihoods development; but also for promoting social cohesion and peace building between host and refugee communities thus creating an enabling environment for livelihoods promotion. 
  • Appreciating and mobilizing individual and community talents, skills and assets could serve to be a good starting point for supporting livelihoods in target communities, although designing livelihood programs and promoting livelihoods diversification requires careful assessment.
  • Understanding existing streams of livelihoods and livelihood diversification options is essential to better explore (i) existing traditional forms of livelihoods - stabilizing, expanding, and making them productive and sustainable; (ii) alternative forms of livelihoods (livelihoods diversification), including self-employment - micro-enterprise development, targeting micro-entrepreneurs; (iii) skilled wage employment - opportunities for youth and women in growing sectors of the economy; and (iv) technical, behavioral, and market-performance assessment for determining viable options. 
  • Access to finance should look at savings and credit groups and their saving mobilization and internal lending activities alongside the formal and non-formal financial institutions within and outside the target communities. 
  • Collectives of producers would need to be built on small scale livelihoods undertaken by individuals, community groups or institutions. The aggregation and/or upscaling will require access to larger markets, infrastructure for storage, transport facilities and appropriate technology for value addition and value chains; and importantly partnerships with the private sector.
  • Leveraging on initiatives that are existing, innovative and working in target communities and then adding value, including scaling up is more helpful. Given the challenging circumstances, transplanting models from more stable and developed environments may have limited chances of taking root.
  • Capacities and strengths of implementing agencies, local governments and communities should determine the scope and scale of livelihood activities while also paying attention to addressing the skills deficit and building sustainable capacity for planning, implementation and management of livelihood programs at all levels.
  • Phasing and sequencing of livelihood interventions will help manage the trade-off of a short-term versus a long-term planning horizon innovatively. Piloting and scaling up based on experience is a useful strategy to pursue.
  • Linkages and partnerships for greater impact need to be actively explored and established. Regular coordination meetings help encourage collaboration and partnerships, and provide feedback on implementation, share key learning and discuss challenges. 
Irrigation scheme in Dollo Ado, Ethiopia  (Photo: Benjamin Burckhart)


Promoting livelihoods is a challenging proposition in most contexts, much more so in displacement situations with their unique circumstances.  We are happy to share our perspectives as we work to help the people living in the Horn of Africa and look forward to hearing your views. 

 

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