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close this bookFamine, Needs-assessment and Survival Strategies in Africa (Oxfam, 1993, 40 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAcknowledgements
View the documentExecutive summary
View the document1 Introduction
Open this folder and view contents2 A case of crying wolf?
Open this folder and view contents3 Survival strategies and their 'costs'
View the document4 The dangers of relying on survival strategies
Open this folder and view contents5 Survival strategies: informing relief, not precluding it
View the documentBibliography

4 The dangers of relying on survival strategies

In Ethiopia in the early 1980s, survival strategies were severely constrained by government restrictions—notably on grain trading, on freedom of movement, and on opportunities for labouring. These constraints to survival strategies are critical in understanding the causes of Ethiopian famine in the mid-1980s. But given these constraints, the presence or absence of emergency relief deliveries was also of vital importance (Africa Watch, 1991). Similar conclusions can be drawn about famine in Bahr el GhazaVsouthern Kordofan in 1988 (Africa Watch, 1990; Keen, 1991). The constraints on people's movement back into war-torn Chad from Geneina area, western Darfur, in 1984-85, helped expose both Chadians and the local Darfuri population to starvation in 1985 when adequate relief failed to materialize.

While people's survival strategies should always be considered when thinking about relief interventions, one lesson from Mozambique is that it can be dangerous to rely on these strategies to sustain people, particularly in wartime. War and forced displacement in Mozambique have tended to undermine agricultural strategies and to constrain alternative strategies. High concentrations of people around particular towns inevitably puts a strain on survival strategies, with large numbers competing for wild foods, petty trading and labour opportunities. Economic strategies in Mozambique have not only been severely constrained; they-have also been vulnerable to sudden changes in the security environment that can jeopardise access to food even more abruptly than changes in market prices. In these circumstances, it is very dangerous to neglect food aid, as the evidence of malnutrition and mortality in Mozambique presented above indicates. As Wilson puts it, 'People do somehow manage to maintain coping strategies even in extreme military situations, but these must not be overestimated.'

It is important to remember that constraints on survival strategies are not necessarily a 'side-effect' of war; they may also be part of the tactics of warring parties (Duffield; Africa Watch, 1990, 1991; Wilson, various; Keen, 1991). For example, in Mozambique, Renamo has been observed to increase its raiding in the period immediately before and during the harvest season, thus undermining the economic strategies of its victims to the greatest possible extent (while at the same time furthering its own 'survival strategy' of securing access to food through raiding). Even in 1991, with Renamo having by this time lost significant areas of control to government-linked forces, the insurgents were still able to cause substantial material deprivation in government-held towns, and to restrict movements between these towns and surrounding rural areas. Renamo was effectively trying to starve out the towns, and to discourage flight to government towns from rural areas in which Renamo was active. Those attempting to move from government-held towns to rural areas could face execution by Renamo soldiers on the grounds that they were government 'agents'. The government I?relimo forces, for their part, often moved people to towns and sought to keep them there, 'for their own good'. The government appears to have been anxious to control rural populations that could give support to Renamo, to increase the government's legitimacy, to deny Renamo access to urban supply channels, and perhaps also to secure food aid which helped in sustaining the government army and administration.

The often very limited economic opportunities in areas to which people were moved are clear from a Unigovernment report on Zambezia province, which stated:

People should not be removed from productive areas when there are not the means to offer them an alternative support, especially during the critical planting period. The CPE (Provincial Emergency Commission) and military should coordinate, so that concentrations of newly-recuperated people are in areas with supply access and resources.

Increased concentrations of populations in coastal areas, together with the limited amount of productive land close to district towns, severely limited the potential for agricultural self-sufficiency among the displaced, despite the distribution of some quantities of land to many of them. In addition, traditional land-holdings of local people were often reduced by the influx of displaced people, sometimes reducing the resident's ability to meet their own needs. The fertility of land has often been overlooked in resettlement programmer. So, too, have the traditional livelihoods of people being moved: for example, people who traditionally make a living from fishing off Mozambique's coast have been moved to inland areas without significant rivers.

Given such constrained living conditions, relief may become a vital lifeline. Wilson observes that:

At the end of 1991 the safe radius of the government garrisons of Morrumbala (a district of Zambezia province) was pitifully small and the populations eking out a pretty pathetic existence dependent upon limited and erratic aid disbursement.

Indeed, hunger became widespread in the Derre war zone, Morrumbula district, in 1991. In the early stages of war and displacement in the Derre area, there had been no great threat to food security, except for vulnerable categories. Locally displaced people were often supported by relatives, or they became subjects (anarnalaba) of local notables, or they performed piece-work. But then raiding was stepped up. With young men tending to be most at risk from Renamo and most mobile, those remaining in home areas were often groups particularly vulnerable to hunger. The destruction of the previous limited commercial network in the area exacerbated hardship. Those in the government garrisontown of Posto Derre faced particular problems, since the area around the town had been largely uninhabited since 1986 and this prevented a strategy that had proved helpful to the army and displaced people in some other parts of Zambezia—namely, pilfering the cassava fields of people who had retreated with Ren~mo. Thus, for those in Posto Derre, it was necessary to trek long distances to find food, and this gave ample opportunities for Renamo to attack. Wilson again:

The upsurge of Renamo activity in southern and western Zambezia in late 1991 was therefore resulting in starvation in Derre: one old man said 'Renamo has us trapped like an animal in a sack'.

Meanwhile, relief supplies were erratic, and hunger grew more severe.

In Niassa province in the far north of Mozambique, interruptions in emergency relief supplies to the major towns of Lichinga and Cuamba led to increases in malnutrition rates among the displaced people there. Insecurity in areas around these towns has contributed to people's reluctance to venture into rural areas in search of food.

In Sudan, security constraints have, for many years, restricted survival strategies in the south, as a result of the civil war which began in 1983. Even in parts of northern Sudan, security has become a significant constraint. For example, in June and July 1991, villagers in the south of Kebkabiya area council, Darfur, feared to leave their villages, and this inhibited the collection of wild foods, as well as trading. Banditry is a continuing and apparently worsening problem in Darfur. The spread of fighting from southern Sudan into southern Darfur in late 1991 undoubtedly constrained survival strategies there.

Political constraints can also be significant. Under Sudan's Islamic military government, it has become very difficult for women to engage in petty trading in the public space of the market-place, since sharia laws have been interpreted as forbidding such activities. In the Darfur towns of Kebkabiya and E1 Fasher, women—who previously sold tea, peanuts, melon seeds, charcoal, yoghurt and other items—have been effectively removed from the market-place. Meanwhile, the government's introduction of a new currency has constrained market strategies. Pastoral groups have lost significant cash reserves as a result of delays in informing them about the currency change, and the low rate of exchange offered. Villagers found that the money they were holding no longer permitted them to buy food from passing lorries or from the market-place. There were fears, too, that attempts to get pastoral groups to put their money into a bank account would inhibit their freedom of movement, constraining traditional survival strategies. Pastoralists' movements are already restricted by agreements such as the 'Mellit agreement' which states that pastoralists from Kordofan are not allowed to enter Darfur with their animals until June. There have also been intermittent restrictions on the movement of food from one area council of Darfur to another.