Sudan: Building roads and trust in Darfur

13 May, 2013
2013, Darfur, Sudan: Community members build a road near the village Yathriba in Central Darfur. They are working as part of a cash-for-work programme that is run by the NGO ACTED, with support from the OCHA-managed Common Humanitarian Fund. Credit: OCHA
2013, Darfur, Sudan: Community members build a road near the village Yathriba in Central Darfur. They are working as part of a cash-for-work programme that is run by the NGO ACTED, with support from the OCHA-managed Common Humanitarian Fund. Credit: OCHA

In the village of Yathriba, in Central Darfur, a group of men and women are building a bridge across a small, muddy stream. They work methodically, slowly putting stones into place, conserving their energy under the hot Sudanese sun.
During the rainy season this small stream can easily flood and cut Yathriba off from markets, health facilities and schools. This new bridge, and the new road that runs across it, will go a long way to solving this problem.

The community is working as part of a cash-for-work programme that is being run in Darfur by the NGO ACTED. Since 2006, ACTED has worked with communities to build 58 sections of new road and rehabilitate hundreds of kilometres of existing roads. The work is supported by the OCHA-managed Common Humanitarian Fund, a pooled fund supported by donors including the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain, Denmark, Australia and Ireland. The CHF provides early, predictable funding so that the humanitarian community can address needs on the ground as they arise.

Thirty-year-old Sumaya was part of the team that built the road in Yathriba. She lives with her four young children and her visually impaired mother-in-law in the village. Her husband left to find work in one of Sudan’s larger cities. Sumaya explains that over the past three years, recurrent drought made it difficult for her husband to cultivate enough crops for the family. Last year, she says, she only managed to grow enough food for two months.

With her first cash-for-work wages, Sumaya was able to buy food for her family. As the work continued and her income slowly grew, she invested part of her earnings in a small business. Today, she sells fruit and vegetables in the local market, where she is already a popular vendor.  She hopes to expand her business.

“My life has improved since I started working in the market. And this was possible thanks to the wages I earned doing cash-for-work activities,” she says. “With my wages I could buy clothes and basic items for my family. Now, I will ask my husband to come back to Yathriba and join me in business too.”
Sumaya and her family are among many people who have benefited from this unique approach to road construction. ACTED has employed thousands of people across Darfur, injecting much-needed cash into an economy devastated by a decade of conflict and neglect.

ACTED also ensures that vulnerable community members – single parents and people who are disabled, elderly or poor - are given opportunities to take part in the cash-for-work programme. At least 50 per cent of participants have been women.

Overcoming tensions and mistrust

But the benefits of the programme have gone beyond even this. One of the most important outcomes has been that this approach has helped to bring previously fractured communities together. ACTED’s chief project officer, Abdel Mohammed Rahaman, explains:

“The most outstanding and tangible outcome of our cash-for-work programme has been its contribution to reconciliation,” he says. “The joint participation of Arab and African communities has reduced tensions between these ethnic groups, and has even led to some marriages.”

The cash for work approach provides a common purpose and task which has helped to dissipate some of the tension that had built up over almost a decade of fighting. In some cases, nomads have been invited to sleep in villages near project sites so that they could avoid long and dangerous commutes. In general, ACTED teams have observed the breaking down of barriers between nomads, residents and internally displaced people (IDPs).

Communities have been actively involved throughout the programme. They have helped identify priority roads that needed to be built or repaired, and have been provided with tools and training so that they can maintain roads once they have been constructed. These efforts should go a long way towards ensuring that the programme is sustainable.

"We have good experiences with implementing humanitarian assistance through cash-for-work schemes,” said Mads Uhlin Hansen for OCHA’s Humanitarian Finance Section in Sudan. “It provides direct benefits to the communities where the projects are being implemented, and our monitoring has shown that it has strong positive effects on increasing local ownership."