How can pastoralists become displaced when they lead traditionally mobile lifestyles?

While this is a much debated question, a new study by IDMC, NRC and the Nansen Initiative sheds light on this relatively unexplored area.  The study argues that there is in fact a ‘tipping point’ at which pastoralists fall from voluntary migration into forced displacement, and it is only in understanding the nuances of this group’s specific needs and behaviours, can we formulate a more appropriate response.

Photo Credit: EC/ECHO/Malini Morzaria, May 2012

Photo Credit: EC/ECHO/Malini Morzaria, May 2012

Pastoralism is a global phenomenon, common in the arid and semi-arid areas of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, the Highlands of Latin America and in Asian countries such as Afghanistan and Mongolia. Pastoralist lifestyles vary, but they all share three characteristics: some degree of mobility, a livelihood based on livestock, and a special attachment to land, resources – particularly grazing areas and water – and markets.

Quick facts:

  • Pastoral production takes place on an estimated 25% of the world’s land
  • In Africa, where 66% of land is used for pastoral production, nomadic pastoralism is recognised as part of the continent’s cultural heritage
  • Pastoralists account for 10% of the world’s meat production, with a billion head of livestock supporting some 200 million households.

While pastoral communities produce a significant proportion of the world’s meat, pastoralism holds a deep cultural and historical significance. It is a way of life where the identity of the individuals and communities that practise it and their relationship to their land and livestock are intrinsically linked. As a displaced Turkana elder told the researchers in Ngaremara, northern Kenya: “What the town is for you, this land is for us. What the bank is for you, our animals are for us.”

The ‘tipping point’ of pastoralist displacement

The extent to which pastoralists can become internally displaced is a subject of debate. It is a reality, however, that changes in pastoralists’ external environment – due to effects of climate change, drought, insecurity or conflict – may lead to decreasing access to land, resources and markets. This will, over time, cause pastoralists’ natural living space to shrink or to become inaccessible. When their coping capacities are exhausted and “normal” migration is no longer possible, pastoralists fall into a gradual process of impoverishment and become internally displaced.

Poverty among pastoralists is intrinsically linked to loss of livestock and displacement. It puts their safety and security at stake, strips them of their social networks, cuts them off from their livelihoods and production systems, separates families and disrupts education. “I beg for food and I am thankful for the merciful people who give me something to eat,” one displaced pastoralist woman said. She was a widow whose family had lost all of their livestock in 2011.

There is a ‘tipping point’ at which pastoralists fall from voluntary migration into forced displacement. The line between voluntary movement and forced movement is not always easy to draw. They should be considered as two poles at each end of a continuum, ranging from “normal” nomadic movement and adaptive migration to forced displacement. This continuum is characterised by growing pressures and fewer choices, with a steady increase in people’s vulnerabilities and a decrease in their ability to recover from changes in their external environment.

This lowered resilience creates special needs and puts basic human rights, such as those to food and water, health, physical security and education, at risk. It also means that most pastoralists will not have enough rebound capacity to restore their lives. “I have two cattle and few goats left. I can barely survive,” said one displaced herder.

Essentially, the story of internally displaced pastoralists is a story of impoverishment, decreasing resilience and disenfranchisement of their human rights.

What measures can be taken to help internally displaced pastoralists?

The study articulates what an appropriate response to pastoralist displacement might be, by recognising the multi-causal nature of pastoralist displacement and advocating for an integrated response across the humanitarian and development fields. It emphasises that ending displacement and finding long-term solutions for pastoralists involves a process of reversing impoverishment and bolstering the resilience of such communities in a changing external environment.

Displaced pastoralists share many needs with other IDPs but they also have specific ones, primarily related to loss of livestock and the inability to access their living space, many of which go unaddressed due to gaps in the national laws and policies. Advocacy must therefore be undertaken to ensure that pastoralists and their rights are taken into account in the development and implementation of relevant legal and policy frameworks.

IDPs themselves play a critical role in the search for long-term solutions to end their displacement. They have a right to choose options based on the information available to them. While some displaced pastoralists may choose to settle, others may choose mobile lifestyles, a return to pastoralism in its various forms, or diversification and alternative livelihood opportunities. Based on these choices, governments, humanitarians and development actors can take measure to assist which may include ensuring access to land, markets and education; restocking options and subsidised microcredit schemes in the aftermath of droughts; vocational training and the establishment of social protection schemes.

This newly published study aims to shine a light on this largely overlooked issue both highlights and invites the need for more innovative thinking on internal displacement.

For more information, read the full report: On the margin: Kenya’s pastoralists

Martina Caterina

IDMC’s Country Analyst for Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, Yemen and Zimbabwe

IDP voices: Hawoye, displaced from Mopti region, Mali

A new brief released yesterday by IDMC voiced concern for the tens of thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) and their host communities in Mali’s south. The briefing paper particularly highlights the growing needs faced by these people, including health issues, schooling, and personal documentation. IDMC’s Julia Blocher visited IDPs in Mali’s south to find out more.

Hawoye, 40, is a mother of five who was forced to flee attacks by armed groups in her hometown of Kona, in the Mopti region of Mali. She fled with her family to Ségou. ‘The saddest part about being displaced is knowing my children are suffering,’ she told me.

IDMC’s latest brief on Mali indicates that the existing health needs of IDPs have been compounded by the trauma of flight and poor living conditions in their places of displacement. The situation of Hawoye’s 21-year-old daughter – who suffers from mental trauma resulting from the events she experienced during flight – unfortunately elucidates these challenges. This is best told in her own words. Watch this short clip:

Displaced children face barriers to education

While trauma and health issues are primary concerns, compounding this mother’s suffering is the fact that she cannot easily educate her other children. ‘Some are not doing well at school,’ she told me one Sunday afternoon, as her older children played nearby in the dusty, bustling neighbourhood just outside of Ségou.

According to IDMC’s recent briefing paper on the situation in the South, schooling is a commonly cited concern; displaced children have difficulty with a different curriculum than that which they followed before, or face barriers due to regional differences in language. School fees can also be a barrier. In many cases displaced parents have been unable to send all of their children to school, needing their help instead to work and support the family.

Commendably, southern schools in Mali have made efforts to accommodate displaced children, even for those who no longer have identity documents. Nevertheless, an absence of personal documentation can cause other problems for displaced families.

Hawoye and her mother.

Hawoye and her mother. Credit: IDMC/ Julia Blocher

Identity documents can leave people more invisible

Only about 50% of Malian IDPs have personal identification. This makes it difficult to access assistance and services and further impedes socio-economic recovery. Many IDPs did not have time to take their identity documents and title deeds when they fled, and thus lack these papers during displacement. ‘We didn’t have time to take anything with us,’ says Hawoye, ‘we [just] took our children and the clothes on our backs.’

As we spoke on the thatched mat beneath a handmade canopy, two twin babies, barely two weeks old, quietly slept beside her.  As children born in displacement, their future is unstable.  A recent article by UNICEF reaffirms that registering children at birth is critical in order to acknowledge their identity and existence. Unfortunately for these twins – as well as many other displaced children in Mali – the cost of birth certificates was too great for the family to consider, costing around 5,000 CFA franc, equivalent to under eight euros. Indeed neither of these twin infants had birth certificates.

A mother’s lament

IDMCs latest brief asks on the government and its partners not to ignore the challenges for the nearly 100,000 people still displaced in the south. ‘My hopes and wishes for the future are that my children finish their education. I hope that my [21-year-old] daughter can recover and find peace.’

In order to realise the dreams of women like Hawoye – one of nearly 100,000 other people still displaced in the south – the international community must not put all its focus on rebuilding the north at the expense of the futures of those left behind in southern cities.

One of the twins. Credit: IDMC/ Julia Blocher

One of the twins. Credit: IDMC/ Julia Blocher

For more information about displacement in Mali, see IDMC’s latest brief in English or French and IDMC’s country page for Mali.

Julia Blocher

IDMC’s Communications Officer

Disclaimer: Translation in the video clip is approximate.

Les villes du sud du Mali, un vide humanitaire ?

IDMC a rencontré un nombre inquiétant de déplacés internes qui décrivent leur lieu d’origine comme dangereux et leurs conditions de vie dans les villes du sud comme insupportables. Bien que l’attention du gouvernement et de ses partenaires se tourne vers le nord pour reconstuire, l’IDMC pose la question: Cet encouragement au  retour n’est-il pas prématuré?

Téléchargez le note d’information, ‘Laissées pour compte: Personnes déplacées oubliées dans le sud du Mali.’

Julia Blocher

Officier de communications de l’Observatoire des situations de déplacement interne

Mali’s Southern Cities: A humanitarian blind spot?

On a recent mission to Mali, IDMC met a worrying number of IDPs who described the place they used to call home unsafe and their living conditions in the cities in the south unbearable.

As attention shifts to rebuilding the north, IDMC asks: is the focus on returns premature?


For more information about displacement in Mali, see IDMC’s latest brief and IDMC’s country page for Mali.

Julia Blocher

IDMC’s Communications Officer

Still at risk: the forced eviction of displaced people in urban Afghanistan

A new IDMC report highlights how thousands of displaced families in towns and cities across the country are living with the threat of being forcibly evicted. While the new IDP Policy offers hope for the long-term, immediate action is now needed by Afghan authorities and humanitarian and development partners to domesticate its provisions so as to ensure secure and dignified housing conditions for all of Afghanistan’s displaced.

An Afghan returnee Sadiqa, 30, holds her daughter in her shetter yard in Kabul, Afghanistan, June, 11, 2012. Sadiqa and her family returned to Afghanistan 7 years ago after living for 5 years in Pakistan and are building their home by the support of Norwegian Refugee Council shelter programs in Afghanistan.  Norwegian Refugee Council shelter program in Afghanistan targets internally displaced persons, returning Afghan refugees and host communities by providing shelter interventions include short-term emergency shelter and longer-term permanent shelter construction. Photo credit: Farzana Wahidy

An Afghan returnee Sadiqa, 30, holds her daughter in her shetter yard in Kabul, Afghanistan, June, 11, 2012. Sadiqa and her family returned to Afghanistan 7 years ago after living for 5 years in Pakistan and are building their home by the support of Norwegian Refugee Council shelter programs in Afghanistan. Norwegian Refugee Council shelter program in Afghanistan targets internally displaced persons, returning Afghan refugees and host communities by providing shelter interventions include short-term emergency shelter and longer-term permanent shelter construction. Photo credit: Farzana Wahidy

In Afghanistan, some 630,000 people are currently displaced due to ongoing armed conflict. Furthermore, the country still struggles with reintegrating over 5.7 million former refugees. As Afghans face a critical period of political and security transition in 2014, helping internally displaced people (IDPs) and returned refugees find long term solutions remains inextricably linked to guaranteeing their rights to housing, land and property.

Urban growth not matched by adequate policy-making

Up to 30 per cent of Afghans now live in towns and cities, and urban population growth in Afghanistan is well above averages elsewhere in Asia. Kabul’s population alone has doubled from two million in 2001 to 4.5 million in 2010 and is projected to reach an estimated six million by 2020. The majority of urban dwellers live in informal – or unplanned – settlements in or around the major cities of Kabul, Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad and Kandahar.

Without affordable housing options, vulnerable families, both IDPs and former refugees who have returned to Afghanistan, occupy private and public land in and around major cities without permission or without recognised land deeds. This exposes them to sub-standard living conditions and the constant fear of forced eviction by landowners or government authorities seeking to remove them from the land to make way for urban development projects.

The main option presented to IDPs and returnees who face eviction is through the government’s 2005 Land Allocation Scheme (LAS), where plots of land were set aside to re-house displaced communities. However, there is little evidence of people relocating for the long-term to these sites which frequently offer worse living conditions and are relatively more expensive.

In urban areas, more effective laws and regulations are needed to regulate informal settlements and provide peace of mind for the men, women and children who live there. But municipal and national authorities have been reluctant to acknowledge informal settlements, arguing that they should be demolished rather than improved and legalised.

This situation is compounded for the internally displaced population, because their right to choose their place of settlement has not been recognised and authorities continue to consider urban IDPs as a temporary phenomenon. Yet IDMC evidence shows that IDPs rarely wish to leave the towns and cities where they live, rendering the government’s preference to return those displaced back to their original “home” unsustainable.

Welcome, but insufficient, progress for urban IDPs

There are welcome signs, however, that official attitudes towards the urban displaced are shifting. In 2012, the humanitarian community drafted guidelines to prevent forced evictions and mitigate the harm and suffering they cause. These were later incorporated into Afghanistan’s landmark National Policy on Internal Displacement, which was adopted by the government in November 2013.

The policy is a significant step towards addressing gaps in protection and longer-term assistance for IDPs. It recognises their rights to secure and dignified housing as well as the right to settle where they choose. Importantly, it also highlights the responsibility of Afghan authorities at all levels – municipal, provincial and national – to protect the increasing number of urban IDPs and refugee returnees who live in informal settlements, including from the threat of forced eviction.

4 Next steps to prevent forced evictions

Forced evictions need not be an inevitable result of IDPs and refugee returnees living in cities. The Government of Afghanistan should, with international support:

  1. Take immediate steps to implement the IDP Policy
  2. Introduce comprehensive laws, policies and plans to prevent and sanction forced evictions of urban IDPs, refugee returnees and the broader urban poor
  3. Ensure genuine consultation and participation of affected communities, together with humanitarian and development agencies assisting them
  4. Introduce measures to provide legal security of tenure to vulnerable urban IDPs, returnees and others with no legal access to land and housing

The international community, too, cannot drop the ball now. While there have been good initiatives by individual agencies to ensure that Afghans have access to adequate urban housing, a comprehensive response is needed for the displaced which can bridge gaps between short term aid and long term solutions. In particular, international donors and the UN must provide sustained support for the implementation of the new IDP policy and ensure that there is an adequate focus on durable solutions in the UN’s development planning.

The large numbers of internally displaced and returning refugee families living in Afghan towns and cities today pose both a protection and an urban development challenge. The country’s landmark IDP policy now offers them a chance of real transition. Facing an unpredictable future in 2014, Afghanistan has no time to waste in making its provisions a concrete reality.

For IDMC’s full recommendations read the IDMC report “Still at risk: the forced eviction of IDPs and refugees returnees in urban Afghanistan.” 

Download IDMC’s media guide to the National IDP Policy.

Caroline Howard

IDMC Country Analyst, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal