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Oct 23, 2014

Oct Hunger and conflict pushing South Sudan to the brink of famine

23
2014
As humanitarian crises in the Middle East dominate news headlines and the world rallies to tackle the ebola outbreak, hunger and conflict have combined to push South Sudan – the world’s newest country – to the very brink of famine.
 
The recent Scottish referendum is a stark reminder that even in times of peace and democracy, the path to independence can divide a nation. In Ireland, we know too well the enduring struggles the journey towards independence can bring.
 
South Sudan became the newest country in the world in 2011 following two decades of civil war in what was then part of Sudan. A green country not unlike our own where the River Nile flows, independence brought optimism for a brighter future.
 
 
But the high hopes of just three years ago now lie in tatters. At least 10,000 people have lost their lives and over one million have fled their homes. Around four million people (more than the population of Leinster and Munster combined) are struggling to find enough to eat.
 
In a report titled ‘From Crisis to Catastrophe’, Oxfam Ireland and other aid agencies including Christian Aid, Concern, Goal, Trócaire, Tearfund and World Vision have warned that the number of people facing dangerous levels of hunger is expected to increase by 1 million between January and March next year.
 
They are not the victims of nature, but of a disaster which is the result of a political dispute between two leaders that has escalated into a conflict rooted in the unresolved tensions of the Sudan civil war combined with the proliferation of arms and the lack of development in what is one of the poorest countries in the world.
 
There are fears among those working on the ground that efforts so far this year to prevent the crisis from deteriorating will falter as rival sides are regrouping ready to resume violence once the rainy seasons end this month. The threat of famine is very real.
 
Despite this, the sheer number and scale of crises worldwide – Iraq, Syria, Gaza, Ukraine, the Central African Republic and now the ebola virus among them – means the rapidly deteriorating situation in South Sudan has slipped off the news agenda.
 
The UN has declared South Sudan the world’s worst food crisis. But if we wait for an official declaration of famine to put South Sudan in the global spotlight, it will be too late. By the time famine was declared in Somalia and the Horn of Africa in July 2011, more than 125,000 people, half of the famine’s victims, had already died.
 
Since the violence broke out in December, men, women and children have been targeted because of their ethnicity and many have lost the people they love most in the world. They are scared and hungry.
 
Many have had to leave behind their possessions, crops and livestock or sell their assets to escape and have no means to buy food, water and other essentials. The conflict has meant that people were not able to plant crops. Camps are becoming overcrowded and poor sanitation is increasing the risk of disease.
 
Gwada Joseph (27) walks through open sewers in the Malakal camp for internally displaced people in the Upper Nile province, where heavy rains are making life intolerable for civilians. Gwada fled her home in Malakal town during the second rebel attack on her town in February 2014. Her husband was unable to escape and died in the fighting, while Gwada, her mother and four children made it to the safety of the UN camp.
 
 
Above: Gwada Joseph, 27, with son Mark, 1, in the Malakal IDP camp, South Sudan, where recent rains are making life intolerable for civilians. Photo: Simon Rawles/ Oxfam
 
Her home in the camp routinely floods in the rains, making life unbearable for her and her children. The rains in Malakal mean flooding is a regular occurrence and it is common to see people having to wade through water and mud that’s knee deep with little escape from mosquitoes, sewage and disease.
 
International aid – including Ireland’s contribution – has had a significant and positive impact on Gwada and her people’s lives. Food distributions make the difference in people eating even one meal a day and clean water has prevented more serious outbreaks of disease, while the distribution of solar lamps is helping keep girls and women safe.
 
Yet a massive funding gap remains (the UN World Food Programme estimates that $78 million is needed each month to deliver assistance) and the outlook for 2015 is of great concern, with news that 2.5 million people are projected to be in crisis or emergency from January to March 2015.
 
Sadly, this is not a crisis that will be ended simply with more aid. There needs to be political pressure to end this conflict. If the international community really wants to avert a famine then it must take a stronger stance towards the leaders of South Sudan increasing diplomatic efforts to end the fighting.
 
The UN Security Council must impose an embargo on the arms and ammunition that are sustaining the conflict and ensure that it is rigorously enforced. Every political negotiation should focus on the most important priorities; overcoming the obstacles that South Sudan’s people face in reaching aid; ending the violence immediately; and searching for a sustainable political solution.
 
The world must protect South Sudan’s people from violence; without ending the violence, the threat of famine will never be far away. With more vigorous diplomacy and swift action to convene a political solution inclusive of all people in South Sudan, the world has a chance to prevent that.
 
Otherwise 50,000 children will die from malnutrition unless we wake the world up and act now.
 
Because declaring a famine is like declaring a car crash – once it happens, it’s too late.
 
 

South Sudan: From the Other Side of the War

Oct 20, 2014

Oct Eating and talking food rights in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

20
2014

Tuesday evening, the paper dosa arrived – a large sheet of crisp and thin folded pastry about 30cms high and longer – filling the large metal plate. In small containers on the plate were spicy dips and coconut to go with the dosa. 

My partner, Teresa, and 12-year-old daughter, Zora, were having dinner with two friends who are from the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa.

Swaad restaurant has good and reasonably priced food; it is three floors up on the roof of a building belonging to the Badminton Club and, yes, they do play badminton there. 

From our table we could look down on the end of Kisutu Street where most of the Hindu Temples in Dar es Salaam can be found. The food we were eating is another result of the community of Indian descent who have long been part of the society along the East African coast.

They have come as traders and later as labourers and administrators, especially when the British colonies in East Africa were administered from India. The lamb kadai and palak paneer were excellent, the Tanzanian rice typically tasty and we had to compete with Zora to get a piece of the garlic naan.

Our friends told us about the research they were doing on the sugar industry in Tanzania. It is an industry the Tanzanian government wants to expand and one involving a number of large companies like Illovo (one of the world’s biggest sugar producers) and numerous small farmers as well.

Sugar is one of the commercial crops in the controversial Southern Agricultural Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) public-private partnership scheme that Oxfam looked at in its research for the paper Moral Hazard: ‘Mega’ public-private partnerships in African agriculture.

Probably the biggest challenge this year has been the issuing of licences to import sugar into Tanzania. Now one finds sugar from India all over Dar es Salaam and local farmers who have increased their sugar production have not been able to sell their produce.  

The government of course wants to ensure that consumers can get sugar and at affordable prices, not least in the fast growing city of Dar es Salaam with its population of over 4 million people. On the other hand farmers, small and big, say that now they cannot sell their harvest, at least not at a price that covers their costs of production.

Without strong political and economic influence, it is the smaller farmers who are losing out more in access to limited processing capacity and markets.

During the day I had been at a popular tribunal-style event convened by the Tanzania Civil Society Forum on Climate Change (Forum CC) and Oxfam to hear community experiences of large land deals and the impact of climate change on their lives.

 

Photos: Top A schoolgirl addresses the crowd during the climate change march in Dar es Salaam. Bottom left: Eluka Kibona, Oxfam Economic Justice Campaign Manager in Tanzania, speaks to people at the climate change march. Bottom right: A woman joins the discussion at a tribunal-style event to hear community experiences of large land deals and the impact of climate change on their lives.

This was part of our Food and Climate Justice Campaign. A week earlier, while tens of thousands marched in New York and other parts of the world including Belfast and Dublin, young people also marched in Dar es Salaam to raise awareness of climate change in Tanzania and to add their voices to the global call for action on climate change.

The ‘tribunal’ was held in the historic Karimjee Hall in the centre of Dar es Salaam. This had been the seat of the first Parliament of Tanzania, back in the days of former leader Julius Nyerere when the tide of liberation from colonialism was sweeping across much of Africa. The hall with its parliamentary-style benches down each side and large seats for the presiding officers at the front created a fitting atmosphere to hear the serious stories that were shared. Judge Mizray of the land court led the panel hearing the cases. 

While the people’s tribunal was not a formal court and had no formal decision-making power, it was a rare opportunity for people from remote and impoverished communities to be heard and taken seriously. They reached not only the audience present in the hall, but also the public through the media – television, radio and newspapers – that covered the event.

Volunteers form ForumCC tweeted information (using #MahakamaYaWazi) from the tribunal and posted on Facebook. While they could not make binding orders, the judges were able to give advice to the communities on what they could do about their cases. 

We heard about local farmers who lost land they used to produce food on as a private school was built and expanded in their village. The school now controls over 500 acres of land. It was agreed that education is important, but if a school was needed people should be consulted and anyone who gives up land for the school should be compensated and receive alternative land.

None of this happened in this case and to make matters worse most of the land people have been removed from for the school is not currently being used.  

In another case a Dutch company acquired over 34,000 hectares with promises of community development and jobs. But the little support they started to provide, like school lunches in the local primary school, soon stopped and then the company ended all its operations, with the people who had gotten jobs losing them.

Despite the operations having been stopped, the company still holds onto the land and the community want it back. They have taken their case with the Ministry of Land and the Tanzania Investment Centre for some years, but with no success so far.

These were just a few of the cases heard on day one of the tribunal and many involved land rights violations and land conflicts. Land conflicts will become more common and harder to resolve as climate change affects rainfall, water availability and people’s ability to produce on the land, as evidenced by a video compiled for previous hearings. 

In my input to the tribunal I shared information on some of the international laws and conventions that our governments have all agreed to. The right to food is recognised as a fundamental human right. The right to land is also confirmed in international conventions and the violation of land rights is known to lead to other human rights violations, like violating the right to food for people who depend on the land to feed themselves. 

The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa has committed states to ensure they “provide women with access to clean drinking water, sources of domestic fuel, land, and the means of producing nutritious food” and “promote women’s access to and control over productive resources such as land”.

Yet many of the cases presented at the tribunal highlighted the way women suffer more from the impacts of land grabs and climate changes.

The United Nations Guiding principles on business and human rights confirm that states must protect people’s human rights and business must respect human rights (that is not violate any one’s rights) and further that there must be remedy for victims of any violations.

Sadly we heard how, far from protecting people’s rights, the Tanzanian government has too often collaborated with companies that for their part have not respected people’s rights. And for those who shared their stories at the tribunal, there has been no remedy. 

Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, has argued that climate change is a human rights issue as it is violating people’s right to food. 

The challenge is making these rights real in people’s lives, as Judge Mziray says: “The decisions of the courts need to be respected, the courts hear cases and make orders to defend people’s rights, but too often they are not implemented.”

Back to the restaurant, my daughter Zora was getting tired and bored with talk of agriculture, land rights and food security. It was time to go home. My family, friends and I were lucky enough to be able to enjoy the good food we did that evening, not something any of us should take for granted. 

Marc Wegerif is a South African, currently based in Tanzania, who has worked on development and human rights issues in a range of organisations for over 25 years and has a Masters in Land and Agrarian Studies from the University of the Western Cape. Marc has focused on land rights issues for much of his professional life and is currently Food and Land Rights Advisor with Oxfam Ireland. In this role Marc is involved with international advocacy and running several multi-country projects. He is married with two daughters. This blog is a personal reflection and the views expressed are not necessarily those of Oxfam. 

 
Oct 16, 2014

Oct Gap between rich and poor widening – and it’s not just us saying it

16
2014

Inequality is rising – to the detriment of us all. You might expect an organisation like Oxfam to say that, but it’s not just us.

In the past year everyone from Barack Obama to Pope Francis, IMF chief Christine Lagarde to UN head Ban Ki-Moon have highlighted the dangers caused by extreme inequality and how it holds back billions of people from reaching their full potential and getting out of poverty.

We revealed earlier this year that 85 people in the world hold as much wealth as half of the entire population of the planet. Just this week, Credit Suisse reported the richest 1 per cent of the world’s population is getting wealthier, owning more than 48 per cent of global wealth, and warned growing inequality could be a trigger for recession.

There are those who argue that inequality is a good thing – it motivates people to work hard and those who are wealthy are simply enjoying the fruits of their labour.

The problem is the rules are rigged against the poorest and in fact against everyone except the wealthy, making equality of opportunity a myth. As writer and activist George Monbiot put it: “If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.”

Inequality is not inevitable – it’s the result of years of deliberate policies and rules that have been rigged in favour of the few. But strategies to bring about economic recovery after the financial crisis have been skewed in favour of the wealthiest. In poor countries, rising inequality means the difference between children getting the chance to go to school and sick people getting life-saving medicines.

For prosperity to be sustained it must be shared more equally. To do that we need make the rules fair, rules like taxation, so that everyone pays a fair share and loopholes are closed. We campaign for basic healthcare and education to be provided for all – it’s a basic right and also means that everyone has a fighting chance in life. We need transparent and accountable government so that wealthy special interests can’t use their power to rig the rules. We know that these rules can be changed to benefit everyone, and that together, we can tackle inequality.

More and more people are joining Oxfam in talking about inequality and how we can tackle it for everyone’s benefit. Today is Global Blog Action Day when thousands of bloggers are joining the conversation on inequality to share ideas. Get involved here.

Follow #BAD14 on Twitter for more updates on Blog Action Day 2014.

Oct 10, 2014

Oct Six Simple Steps For Successful Decluttering

10
2014

We recently teamed up with Declutter Therapist Breda Stack to take part in National Declutter Day (27th Sept 2014), a nationwide initiative that encourages you to organise your closet, stop unnecessary hoarding and to declutter your life.

 

Decluttering your closet and organising your life can have lots of great benefits

Above: Breda Stack, The Declutter Therapist.

Breda defines clutter as “anything physical, mental or emotional that doesn’t serve us or make us feel good. By letting go of anything that doesn’t enhance our life, decluttering helps us to make room for better things.

“It reduces stress and makes us feel happier and in control – I hear the words ‘freedom’ and ‘relief’ a lot. Giving to charity is also a feel-good exercise and a great way to extend the life of our unwanted possessions.”

Breda has made it her mission to raise awareness about the holistic benefits of decluttering and organising your home, not just in terms of physical space but also mental and emotional wellbeing.

Clutter may not enhance your life but at our Oxfam shops we can use it to transform lives. For example, the sale of a dress for €8 could help purify around 2,000 litres of water, making it safe to drink for South Sudanese families living in makeshift camps.

To help you with your decluttering and to show how to organise your life, Breda shared her Six Simple Steps for successful decluttering:

  1. Become aware of what doesn’t make you feel good. Your clutter threshold depends on your physical space, lifestyle and tastes
  2. Plan in advance. To prevent getting quickly disillusioned, work to a simple, step-by-step system that’s realistic for you
  3. Be patient. Decluttering is a process that requires time, energy and a reprioritisation of what’s important in your life
  4. Believe you can do it. Although becoming clutter-free and organised may not come naturally, trust that you can learn these skills
  5. Be honest with yourself. Let go of any guilt and follow your gut when making decisions – if in doubt, it needs to go
  6. Stay focused. Keep in mind the physical transformation as well as the many holistic benefits you’ll enjoy after you’ve decluttered

By Breda Stack, The Declutter Therapist

Why not give it a go today and let go, feel good and change lives?

Sep 16, 2014

Sep Oxfam & You

16
2014

Read the latest edition of Oxfam & You to see how we're making amazing things happen together.

Your support has enabled us to stand in solidarity with the people of South Sudan as the humanitarian crisis there escalated (see page 4). With 1.5 million people displaced and an estimated 4.9 million in need of assistance, we are there providing clean water, food and other basic essentials.

We are also responding to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza (see page 5), providing food and sanitation as well as supporting hospitals and health clinics as they struggle to cope with large numbers of injured people.

Your support is vital in times of emergency but also in our long-term development work, like the Pink Phones project in Cambodia supporting female farmers to boost their harvest and their profits as well as helping them to use their voice for good in their communities.

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