Bridging Humanitarian and Development Action in Sahel: Host Communities and Refugees Together to Preserve Stability
Like most of the countries in the Sahel Region, Mauritania has been suffering severe droughts for decades. The decrease in precipitation and the dramatic decay of vegetation has had several adverse environmental and social consequences leading to increased desertification.
The Hodh Ech Chargui region of Mauritania is no exception to this phenomenon. Tensions among the population around natural resources increased even more since the crisis erupted in Mali in 2012, forcing thousands to flee to neighbouring Mauritania and pressuring the host communities on the already dwindling natural resources.
Thousands of Malian refugees arrived with large herds of animals in need of grazing lands, vaccinations, and water. More than seven years after, the population of Hodh Ech Chargui has more than doubled and faces challenges linked to access to water and animal health.
“We came from Mali in 2012. We had experienced several tragedies on the way and several animals died from the droughts,” says Malian farmer Leknane Ould Beidi, who still lives in the camp.
As if desertification was not enough, both host communities and refugees also face sudden floods destroying the lands and cattle food. The situation has worsened over the years and resulted in a significant reduction in livestock and agricultural production, with livestock being the main mean of subsistence, a process of rural pauperization has been triggered.
An emerging disaster related to scarce resources faces the inhabitants of Hodh Ech Chargui: in and around the M’bera refugee camp, tensions tend to spark between refugees and host communities.
In Mauritania, IOM has established a presence to respond to the influx of Malian refugees, with activities including community stabilization and facilitation of community dialogues.
Implemented by IOM since 2015, the project “Increasing Livelihood Opportunities for Malian Refugees and Selected Host Communities in Hodh Ech Chargui” allows refugees and host communities to improve their livelihoods. It has also established a mechanism to prevent and manage conflicts in the form of village committees, which facilitate dialogue between refugees and host communities to reach solutions to local conflicts.
“When we arrived here, the project had already started, and we were allowed to access the water wells. That’s how our cattle survived. They also received good vaccinations: those who were sick got better and those that were pregnant were taken care of,” adds Leknane.
“Due to the instability in Mali, we cannot return home. Instead we must think about settling here and thank God, we can raise and care for our animals here,” he concludes.
The success of the project can be explained by the fact that it was designed following a people-centred and conflict sensitive approach, differentiating it from many other humanitarian initiatives. Implemented in coordination with the host government, the UN Country Team, local NGOs, civil society organizations and potential beneficiaries, IOM conducted surveys and interviews with both refugees and host community members prior to the start of activities, in order to better understand the grievances and stakes on the ground.
It is on this basis that the IOM project was created and after the initial evaluation, its concrete objectives were set to produce diversified and high quality food products for refugees, safeguard and increase host communities’ livestock breeding and farming resources, and to strengthen community dialogue and ensuring peaceful coexistence. More than 12,000 direct beneficiaries (of which 6,000 were refugees) and 35,000 indirect beneficiaries benefitted from the project.