Peacebuilding With Durable Solutions for Darfur’s Displaced At The Core: Insights From Eight Localities

For the UN Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) and the Durable Solutions Working Group (DSWG), 2020-2021

An exercise jointly implemented by UNHCR, UNDP, UN-Habitat, UNICEF, IOM, FAO. Technical support provided by JIPS and SUDIA.
 Photo by © Saima Hassan | UNHCR

The Juba Peace Agreement (JPA) was signed in 2020 to structure the pathway to peace for the many people affected by nearly two decades of conflict in Darfur. It establishes durable solutions for displaced populations as a necessity for lasting peace in Sudan. This is reiterated by the National Strategy on Solutions for IDPs, Returnees, Refugees, and Host Communities that the Government is planning to launch in 2021.

In 2020, a large-scale analysis covering eight localities across Darfur’s five states was initiated to provide a shared evidence-base to support peacebuilding and durable solutions under the UN Peacebuilding Fund. The key insights from the resulting locality studies have been condensed into five thematic briefs, which are summarized below and help inform policy and programming led by the Government of Sudan and the humanitarian, development and peacebuilding actors in-country.

Specifically, the results show that the majority of IDPs prefer to locally integrate, while only a third wants to return to their location of origin. They bring focus to key obstacles that hinder local integration and the preconditions for sustainable returns. The findings also call for a stronger focus on nomads, who can play a key role in peacebuilding efforts, and bring critical attention to the need for better inclusion and participation of communities and especially women and youth, which is critical to peacebuilding and solutions to displacement.

From data to action

 Photo by © Albert Gonzalez Farran | UNAMID

DURABLE SOLUTIONS FOR IDPs: key barriers and opportunities to locally integrate or return

IDPs should be able to make an informed and voluntary decision regarding what durable solution is right for them. It is critical that actors understand the preferences of IDPs, in order to support them effectively in their pursuit of a solution — whether that is to stay, return or relocate elsewhere.

Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) Sudan, DSWG Sudan, UNHCR, JIPS (2021).
Thematic Brief 1: Durable Solutions for IDPs. Key Barriers and Opportunities to Locally Integrate or Return. (PBF, DSWG, JIPS; 2021)
Findings show that a majority of the surveyed IDPs (67%) prefer to locally integrate rather than return to their place of origin. This is especially the case of IDPs in the localities of Assalaya, Sheiria, and Yassin (East Darfur) as well as in Gereida locality (South Darfur).

The results highlight three main areas where IDPs are facing particular challenges compared to the non-displaced residents, and where attention is needed:

Insecurity: This is the number one barrier for integration. IDPs are more insecure than the non-displaced population, and specifically IDPs living in camps and informal settlements feel less safe compared to IDPs residing in villages and towns.

Lack of access to land and tenure security: IDP households have less access to land and more are renting — 19% of IDP households lack access to any farmland. Only 3% of IDPs own farmland in their current location compared to 48% of non-displaced residents, while the majority of IDPs are renting agricultural land, which is a less secure form of land tenure. Also, the majority of IDPs reside on camp plots of land, while only 17% own their residential plot.

Food security: While this is a challenge for all population groups, IDP households are comparatively more affected in areas where food insecurity is widespread. This is especially the case in Nertiti and Tawila. Findings also show that IDPs residing in camps and informal settlements are worse off compared to IDPs living outside of camps.

Results show that the majority of IDPs (81%) are displaced within the same locality, and almost half (48%) were displaced more than 10 years ago. Both displacement characteristics help explain the high numbers of IDPs who prefer to remain in the place of displacement. In fact, while the volatile security situation in Darfur has prevented large-scale and lasting returns, seasonal commuting is commonplace, where many IDPs live in relative safety in the area of refuge while household members seasonally travel back home to cultivate land. Supporting IDPs in areas where they currently live is thus critical and needs to go hand-in-hand with reducing their specific displacement-linked vulnerabilities by strengthening their resilience and livelihoods.

How can actors assist IDPs who want to return?

27% of IDPs prefer to return to their place of origin. It is important to understand that preferences for the future may change as situations evolve and people amend their plans. Two key factors can be highlighted that critically shape IDPs’ decision to return:

  • Safety and access to agricultural land in the place of origin were viewed as preconditions for return, as IDPs’ livelihoods depend on land.
  • Access to basic services in return areas was a secondary consideration and seen as relevant once security and IDPs’ access to their land allowed for return. According to the findings, the two most important services were water and policing.

  • Actors should increase their focus on local integration, given the high numbers of IDPs who prefer to stay in their area of displacement. Programming and policies that support the rule of law, food security and access to secure land tenure are critical to support IDPs in their current location.
  • The Government’s National Strategy on Solutions (draft) stipulates a process to identify areas conducive to return and should include security and access to agricultural land as essential criteria. Actors across the humanitarian, development and peace (HDP) nexus should align their programming and invest in service provision in prioritized return locations.
  • Actors need to acknowledge that creating conducive environments for return are longer-term processes linked to resolving inter-communal conflict. Therefore, it is essential that actors in parallel also support interim solutions in the locations where IDPs currently live.

 Photo by © Albert Gonzalez Farran | UNAMID


Roughly 68% of all displaced households from Darfur remain in displacement within Darfur, 10% are displaced to neighbouring countries, while 23% have returned to their place of origin. In other words, less than a quarter of those displaced by the conflict have managed to return so far.

Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) Sudan, DSWG Sudan, UNHCR, JIPS (2021).
Thematic Brief 2: Supporting IDPs Post Return.

How well have returnees re-integrated?

A majority (83%) are accessing the same agricultural land and residential plots as before becoming displaced. Similarly, a majority state that crop farming is their main livelihoods and that they intend to remain and continue to re-integrate (87%). Hence, having retained or regained access to their land is critical for IDPs’ sustainable return. At the same time, it is not enough to make their returns sustainable.

Safe water and sanitation are specific challenges for returnees: all surveyed returnee populations have less access to water and sanitation than the non-displaced residents. Findings specifically highlight that many. Access to water is crucial as it is a natural resource that underpins lives and livelihoods and has the potential to act as a conflict driver.

Results also point to the need for area-tailored support in return locations. Although many challenges are shared by returnees and non-displaced residents in the eight surveyed localities of Darfur, returnees are facing specific additional challenges in some localities:

  • Insecurity and crime: While higher levels of insecurity and crime can be observed in several localities affecting all residents, returnees are particularly worse off in Tawila locality: 47% of returnees report having been robbed during the previous year in contrast to 27% of non-displaced residents.
  • Insufficient food: The prevalence of food insecurity varies considerably but in localities where food insecurity is high, more returnee households are food insecure. This is specifically the case in Nertiti locality, where 75% of returnees are food insecure in contrast to 65% of the non-displaced population.
  • Limited access to basic services: School attendance rates vary greatly between localities. In Central Darfur, returnees have the lowest school attendance rates and in Um Dukhun locality, state-run education is only available in towns, leaving many rural return areas without schools. In contrast, returnee children in Tawila locality have better access to education compared to the non-displaced children.

  • Actors should support returnees in their efforts to re-establish their livelihoods post return, as physical return of displaced households and re-access to their land do not solve all displacement-linked vulnerabilities.
  • Actors need to pay particular attention to conflict resolution and security in return areas — security is not only a precondition for returns, but also essential for the sustainability of returns.
  • Actors need to prioritize the provision of sanitation and especially water in areas of return, as water is a basic livelihood resource and a challenge specifically for returnees.
  • Actors should adopt an area-specific approach when designing programming to tailor support and address specific vulnerabilities of returnees living in different areas.

 Photo by © Saima Hassan | UNHCR


The Juba Peace Agreement acknowledges that nomads are one of the groups most affected by the Darfur conflict. The agreement stipulates the establishment of the Commission for the Development of the Nomads and Herders Sector. It has a wide-spanning remit that includes providing tailored education, water points along migration routes and mobile veterinary services. Crucially, it is tasked with ensuring the participation of nomad communities in public affairs and representation at all levels of governance.

Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) Sudan, DSWG Sudan, UNHCR, JIPS (2021).
Thematic Brief 3: Nomads: Shifting Livelihoods and Marginalization.

Findings show that nomads’ livelihoods are shifting: Most surveyed households rely on a mix of crop farming and livestock, with 58% reporting crop farming as either their primary or secondary source of income. This also indicates that many nomad households have either permanently settled or practise a semi-nomadic way of life. This change highlights nomads’changing needs for agricultural land. However, the Hakura traditional land management system currently does not grant most nomads rights to agricultural land.

Nomads also experience more crime. In Um Dukhun, Jebel Moon and Gereida localities, they face damage to property and robbery to a greater extent than any other population group. Pastoralists are exposed to serious security risks as there is a widespread proliferation of weapons in many areas.

Many nomad households also face a number of other challenges: loss of livestock due to animal diseases, environmental degradation and frequent blocking of animal migratory routes. Nomads also want to settle because the constant movement makes it difficult to access healthcare and education for their children.

Nomads have significantly lower access to basic services compared to other population groups. Among primary school-age children (6–13 years), only 17% of boys and 9% of girls go to school. 85% of nomads have no access to basic sanitation and practise open defecation, and merely 5% of births are attended by skilled personnel in nomad communities.

Pastoralism as a livelihood is becoming increasingly unviable. Nomad communities in Darfur have historically been and continue to be marginalized as their perspectives are rarely sought or included, which has been a major source of grievance.

  • Actors should consult directly with nomads and seek advice from thematic experts on Darfur’s nomad communities to better understand the unique problems they face and their views on solutions.
  • Actors must pay attention to nomads’ rights to water, grazing land and migratory routes but also their access to farmland given nomads’ shifting livelihoods and greater reliance on crop farming. Looking to the future, actors must ensure that nomads are represented in all new institutions and initiatives developed per the Juba Peace Agreement (JPA) and any further agreements.
  • Actors need to be alert to nomad communities’ particularly poor access to basic services, including water and veterinary services for livestock. Peacebuilding and development actors should make sure programming is conflict sensitive and ‘leaves no one behind’, including nomad communities, whose exclusion and marginalization are part of the spectrum of root causes of the conflict.

 Photo by © Kyle Jacques | Peacebuilding Fund


The JPA recognizes the role of community-based management in maintaining civil peace and local dispute resolution. Traditional conflict mediation forms part of the existing judicial system in Sudan and residents can pursue justice and resolve disputes through a number of avenues: police and courts, the Native Administration, Judiya and several committees that bring together representatives from the Native Administration, police and local government.

Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) Sudan, DSWG Sudan, UNHCR, JIPS (2021).
Thematic Brief 4: Strengthening the Rule of Law and Conflict Resolution Mechanisms.

In Darfur, all population groups experience high Nevertheless, a significant proportion do not report crime — 50% of those that had experienced a security incident did not seek assistance or report it. Merely 1 in 5 reports to the police, and only 22% say that the resolution was ‘effectively resolved and just’.

The police in all surveyed localities face serious challenges in terms of capacity and coverage. A limited number of police posts have to cover large geographical areas, and there is a lack of trained staff, vehicles and fuel to respond to security incidents. The lack of an effective police force has resulted in a lack of faith in the police, which is reflected in the very low numbers that turn to the police for help.

In terms of local conflict resolution mechanisms, findings show that the local level rural courts, committees, and the Native Administration can mediate and resolve many of the conflicts that involve disputed land ownership between individuals, boundary disputes between farmers and conflict between farmers and nomads related to grazing routes. However, these local mechanisms often lack even the basic resources necessary to mediate effectively including transport, fuel or phone credit.

At the same time, respondents consistently stress that local conflict resolution mechanisms are unable to address the larger issues of insecurity and the unlawful occupation of land. Less than 25% across all population groups approach the Native Administration, committee or rural court for help to resolve a crime or conflict, and only 22% of all population groups say that the resolution was fair and the dispute effectively resolved. Solving these broader issues are considered beyond the scope of the Native Administration and local committees, in the responsibility of the government. 

How inclusive are the local conflict resolution mechanisms?

Nomads are represented on the two main locality-level committees that exist in all eight localities: the Harvest Protection Committee and the Peaceful Coexistence and Reconciliation Committee. In contrast, Water Committees are not inclusive: in Um Dukhun, Jebel Moon and Gereida, 84% of nomads say they do not have access to a Water Committee.

Youth and women were key actors in the popular protests leading to Sudan’s political transition. They can seek help from committees, Judiya and the Native Administration, but neither play active rolesin resolving conflicts nor are they represented in these conflict resolution forums or peacebuilding processes. Women are prohibited from actively taking part in committees because of local traditions and customs, while youths are deemed too inexperienced to be part of committees concerned with managing access to natural resources and conflict resolution.

  • Actors must push for youth and women to be included in resolving local conflicts and the wider peace processes. Existing structures (i.e. youth-led Resistance Committees and Hakamat female elders) can be supported to ensure representation.
  • Support to increase the coverage and capacity of police and courts is needed to uphold the rule of law and assist peacebuilding efforts.
  • The Native Administration, rural courts and committees are key local conflict resolution mechanisms. Actors should explore further how best to support these mechanisms to increase their effectiveness in preventing and mediating
  • Water Committees tasked with resolving conflict around competing demands for water should equally serve nomad communities. They need to involve all population groups to be an effective conflict resolution mechanism.

 Photo by © Albert Gonzalez Farran | UNAMID


Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) Sudan, DSWG Sudan, UNHCR, JIPS (2021).
Thematic Brief 5: Access to Land and Tenure.

Access to land is key to the livelihoods of all communities in Darfur; it is also one of the root causesof conflict and continues to be a key conflict driver. A majority of IDPs do not own the land they currently cultivate but instead rely on renting farmland. In some areas of Darfur, renting agricultural land is more commonplace than land ownership. In Assalaya, Sheiria and Yassin, 80% of IDPs are renting agricultural land and so is 60% of the non-displaced population. Findings highlight that tenure security and rental fees vary across localities but in some places rental fees are high, which place a considerable burden on the households that rent agricultural land. 

Very few households across all groups hold a formal land registration document proving ownership of agricultural land, while the vast majority claim customary rights. Land registration involves high transaction costs, cumbersome and lengthy administrative procedures, and challenges accessing administrative offices often located far away. This is challenging for most people but especially for vulnerable community members including women, who tend to have less education and fewer financial resources. 

A third of all households are female-headed and more women work in crop agriculture compared to men, yet women consistently face inequalities when it comes to land ownership. This is because Darfur’s customary Hakura system, which is the predominant way to manage land, does not grant women land rights. Similarly, the Hakura system does not grant nomads rights to agricultural land, for whom access to land has become increasingly important given their changing livelihoods.

Unlawful occupation of land continues to be a key conflict driver. A majority of IDPs (62%) are not accessing their former land due to its occupation by ‘secondary occupants’ from other tribal groups. These conflicts are regarded as the most difficult to resolve and with the greatest potential to spark large-scale tribal unrest. The Native Administration and committees working at the local level, cannot solve these overarching tribal conflicts over land. Yet, none of the transitional justice institutions stipulated by the JPA to deal with resolving land conflict are currently operating.

The Juba Peace Agreement (JPA) attempts to address housing, land and property (HLP) issues, specifically by providing the right to seek restoration and compensation for any lost or seized HLP rights as a result of the conflict in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan. However, it does not adequately consider the rights to land of the secondary occupants. This remains a divisive issue with the potential to reignite violence in Darfur.

  • Actors should explore conditions for land tenants in different areas and consider ways to make renting land more affordable and tenancies more secure.
  • Policymakers need to recognize that statutory and customary tenure arrangements must provide the same opportunities to community members irrespective of gender
  • The Government and international actors in Sudan should explore alternatives to individual land titling, because the process is a challenge for disadvantaged groups.
  • The Government needs to recognize the housing, land and property (HLP) needs and rights of the nomad Darfuri communities and consider those as part of the peacebuilding and durable solutions process.
  • International actors should prioritize support to the establishment of the transitional justice institutions set out in the JPA to address the critical issue of land occupation and to help ensure they are capable of addressing both the scale and complexity of the HLP issues in Darfur.
  • To build lasting peace, the Government and other actors in Sudan must address the rights to land of the secondary occupants in addition to the rights of the displaced population.