Findings solutions to displacement: a hand-in-hand process with municipalities in Niger

November 7, 2019

Minor towns in the Diffa region of Niger are becoming heavily affected by displacement. In this region, where more than 250,000 people are forcibly displaced, urban systems have a limited capacity to absorb the increasingly significant number of arrivals. To relieve the pressures caused by these arrivals, humanitarians work hand in hand with local municipalities. If unaddressed, the situation could lead to an increase in the vulnerability of host communities and the inability to fulfill their needs, and those of incoming displaced populations. With support from major aid actors, several municipalities are building entirely new neighborhoods to permanently resettle displaced populations.

This ambitious “out of camp” approach requires a robust understanding of the multi-sectoral needs to be addressed, and of the capacity of each individual neighborhood to develop, from scratch, in an integrated manner. In support of municipalities affected by successive waves of arrivals, IMPACT, via its AGORA Initiative, facilitated local development plans that harbor solutions to displacement.

With the Boko Haram insurgency showing no signs of slowing down, voluntary and safe returns are not a viable nor desirable outcome for many households in the region. Instead, in search of safety and access to basic services, many displaced households have made their way the cities of Diffa, N’Guigmi, Chétimari, and Mainé Soroa. These cities of modest size and limited capacity are left bearing the brunt of displacement, hosting thousands of displaced persons. This population inflow has increased the demand for services and generated pressure on adequate and affordable housing, education, health, and other basic yet essential amenities.

Against this backdrop, municipalities are promoting “out of camp” resettlement solutions to the 42,000 people that are currently located in informal camps. These municipalities, with support from UNHCR and INGOs including ACTED, Welt Hunger Hilfe, Concern Worldwide and IMPACT, are building new neighborhoods with permanent housing units. This initiative provides much-needed housing solutions to populations so far bereft of any safe alternatives and whose vulnerabilities will likely continue to increase without the appropriate level of support. Such initiatives, however, lack the investments that are central to securing access to essentials services: clean water, sanitation, education, healthcare and livelihoods for example. Improving the performance of basic service delivery is essential to encourage those entitled to housing in these neighborhoods to settle permanently, contributing to the cities’ socio-economic development.

IMPACT’s Area-Based Assessment (ABA), by deep diving into the challenges linked to service delivery, facilitated the elaboration of local prioritisation and investment plans specific to each municipality. The goal? To ensure that the families settling in these neighborhoods can enjoy permanent access to basic services and meet their fundamental needs in a sustainable and dignified manner.

Delivering key information to key actors

The research surveyed all service providers and in so doing identified the challenges faced to access basic services. Combining elements of participatory qualitative and quantitative and spatial analysis, the assessment revealed that whilst most basic services are in place, delivering them effectively to communities would require additional support in terms of infrastructure expansion, renovation, human resources, and equipment. As such the assessments provided much-needed evidence to shape a comprehensive planning process. To foster the long-term integration of these new neighborhoods in the urban fabric, it is critical for aid and urban planners to move beyond fact-finding and to envision concrete interventions in each sector affected by displacement.

Left: AGORA national expert working on the construction site of the future neighborhood near Diffa. Right: Focus group discussion participants brave the heat in Mainé Soroa in order to discuss development priorities for the future neighborhood.

By bringing together local service providers, traditional leaders, government institutions, aid agencies, and civil society to reflect on the findings of the ABA, IMPACT provided a framework for all these actors to look beyond mandate-specific interventions and to jointly develop multi-sectoral priority plans. In other words, the reliable data and information retrieved by IMPACT on the ground enabled a shared understanding of the situation among stakeholders which paved the way for a collective reflection on the best possible solutions.

In N’Guigmi for instance, the need to construct a road connecting the neighborhood to the urban center ranks high on the agenda, while investment in education infrastructure and staffing was raised in each city. In Chétimari, where the new neighborhood is on the contrary located at the heart of the urban center, local actors insisted on improving the quality of various existing services that benefit both the displaced and host populations.

Left: In Chétimari, under the shade of a tree, a participatory focus group discussion enables a joint understanding of priorities for development between the community and key stakeholders. Right: In N’Guigmi a similar focus group discussion is taking place.

The benefits of this approach are key in terms of supporting good local governance practices and ensuring accountability. In a context where the weakness of multi-stakeholder relationships puts the community at risk from armed groups and their influence, overcoming obstacles to coordination between aid agencies and local governments is essential.

The four area-based assessments also revealed that despite the presence of relief assistance in each city, development investments – either public or driven by international programs – remain scarce. This calls for NGOs operating on the ground to support local service providers in education, health and water, and sanitation services rather than to create parallel service delivery channels. It also calls for the municipalities to successfully budget the necessary public investment on education, health, markets, sanitation and road infrastructure in their annual investment plans, so communities residing in these neighborhoods are not left in the lurch when humanitarian assistance ends.

Assuring the sustainability of good governance

Assessing the local needs for better and more inclusive service delivery in each resettlement neighborhood has been a key ingredient for the empowerment of local authorities. Equipped with a comprehensive overview of needs and capacities in these areas, relevant stakeholders are able to lead the discussions with aid partners and establish context-sensitive priorities. The process of translating data into priority plans, including detailed elements in terms of the implementation strategy, cost estimates, and timelines for each intervention, gives municipalities a strong basis on which to track progress and advocate for further investments with precision. Aligned with local development schemes, the priority plans carry the local vision that will guide resettlement response for each neighborhood.

IMPACT will continue to support local actors in strengthening the capacity of municipalities to monitor the implementation of their plans, and manage partnerships with humanitarian and development actors. This will take the shape of additional area-based research efforts, capacity development programs for local authorities, and provision of IT equipment.

For more detailed information, make sure you have a look at the full prioritisation plans, who also contain the entire service capacity analysis, per neighborhood assessed: