CEO Blog

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

Jul 14, 2014

Jul 75 years is too long to wait for equal pay

14
2014

Women in many countries won’t be paid as much as men for another 75 years. That’s according to a new report released by Oxfam which shows that women are over-represented in part-time labour and are discriminated against across the G20 countries and beyond.

This is an issue that affects not only women, but all of us who live on this planet. Gender inequality is one of the biggest obstacles to ending poverty.

Above: Grandmothers, mothers, daughters, carers, and farmers at a rally in Biona Ranja village, Jalaun, Uttar Pradesh, India - ddemanding their right to be recognised for the work that they do. Photo: Rajendra Shaw / Oxfam
 

Women make up majority of those living in poverty and their unpaid but crucial contributions to our economy and our society are largely invisible in a system that does not value the impact of their work.

In the countries that make up the G20, women do an average of two to five hours unpaid work than men per day. The monetary value of unpaid care work which is mainly carried out by women is anything from 10% to 50% of GDP.

We know from experience that ending poverty starts with women, because when investment is directed into the hands of women, the whole community prospers.

That’s why women’s rights is at the heart of everything we do at Oxfam. A key part of our approach is empowering women to stand up for their rights, avail of the same opportunities and have their voices heard, which makes the world a better place.

For example, Oxfam’s Raising Her Voice project in Indonesia has helped to make local government more accessible to women, who have influenced the first participatory budget exercise in villages where the project was implemented. The impact of this greater participation in budgeting and planning is closer scrutiny and accountability of local government for the delivery of their programmes and plans.

And it’s not only society that benefits when women are treated as equal – the economy benefits too.

According to the report, the Eurozone’s GDP would increase by 13% if women’s paid employment rates were the same.

It clearly shows that the absence of women’s rights drives poverty, while their fulfilment drives development.

Gender equality is not a women’s only issue, it is a family issue, an economic issue and an issue for all of society. As long as women are denied equal opportunities all of us, in rich countries and in poor, are losing out.

‘The G20 and Gender Equality - How the G20 can advance women’s rights in employment, social protection and fiscal policies’ is co-published by Oxfam with the Heinrich Boell Foundation in advance of a G20 Business Summit being held this week in Australia.

Jim Clarken is Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland.

Ending Poverty Starts With Women

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Jul 8, 2014

Jul We can’t look away from the crisis in South Sudan

8
2014

In a town called Kurmuk, on the eastern border with Ethiopia, I watched on in awe as refugees returned in 2006.

The trauma and hardship these people endured over more than two decades of civil war was replaced with a hope for the future and an overwhelming desire to return to their homeland.

Despite the multiple challenges the refugees knew they faced — a lack of safe clean water or physical infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and roads — I saw in them phenomenal strength and personal courage as they embraced rebuilding their land and their lives in their broken country.

It is devastating to witness yet again so many forced to flee their homes amid increasing conflict and disease in the region. South Sudan has experienced just three years of independence and already the seeds of hope sown then have turned to despair in the aftermath of violence that erupted last December.

The situation in South Sudan, the world’s newest country but where so many live in poverty, has gone beyond the forewarned tipping point, with its people now facing certain catastrophe in the months ahead.

The recent bloody conflict has left millions dependent on food aid to survive. Four million people are at risk of severe hunger. This is a humanitarian crisis of staggering proportions.

Above: Families arriving in Mingkaman after fleeing violence. Photos: Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin/Oxfam

Over 1.5m people have been forced to flee their homes, often with just the clothes on their backs, leaving behind what meagre possessions they had with no means to get food, water or other vital essentials.

Over 392,000 of refugees have fled to neighbouring countries of Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan lending to increased risk of regional insecurity as the spread of localised conflict in the Middle East has demonstrated.

In camps for those displaced, people are living in atrocious conditions and walking knee deep in mud and water. Poor sanitation has already taken many lives through the spread of cholera and other diseases, ever increasing with the seasonal heavy rains.

Now, many of South Sudan’s well-travelled but unsurfaced roads that form the arteries and veins of the country’s economy are left water logged and largely impassable.

The conflict has prevented people from planting seeds in time for harvest before the rains. Because of this, access to food will deteriorate even further, as access by aid agencies decreases and the risk of new peaks in fighting rise.

Oxfam is reaching out to thousands of vulnerable people with food and water but there are thousands more who need our help. We will be staring into an abyss if funds do not start arriving soon.

Clockwise from top: 7 tonnes of Oxfam aid arrives in Juba, South Sudan. Photo: Grace Cahill/Oxfam Oxfam is helping to purify 1m litres of water a day Photo: Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin/Oxfam Martha Yandt receives food at a distribution. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

It is disappointing that while many nations pushed for and supported South Sudan’s independence from Sudan, little commitment is forthcoming from the international community in the form of aid.

The people of South Sudan need an end to the fighting, but with peace talks stalled, there is little hope of a swift end to the conflict.

We need to see a surge in the capacity of the response, which is very much dependent on funding. There must be a scaling-up of the activities of the international community to respond to this crisis.

A recent presentation by Irish aid agencies to the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee resulted in cross party political acknowledgement of the scale of need in South Sudan and earnest commitment to supporting a peaceful resolution.

The international community can mirror Ireland’s diligence by increasing its diplomatic pressure on the two protagonists of the conflict, facilitating efforts to keep the situation in South Sudan on the international agenda, delivering on pledged funds to the UN appeal and deploying UN peacekeeping troops within capacity. It absolutely cannot resolve itself of responsibility.

Despite the flagging interest of news agencies, the conflict in South Sudan has not abated. The scenes of devastation may have become less visible but the suffering does not end.

The UN has warned that the worst hit areas are at risk of impending famine. We have a chance to act now to avoid the “Forgotten Crisis” becoming a crisis we cannot forget.

We need a massive and rapid global surge in aid. For the sake of our common humanity we cannot, we should not, look away at this time of crisis. Action must be taken now. The tide is already against us.

Jim Clarken is Oxfam Ireland’s CEO

South Sudan: From the Other Side of the War

Jun 12, 2014

Jun Climate change is the single biggest threat to winning the fight against hunger

12
2014

Everyday items such as cereals, yoghurts and ice cream have a hefty climate footprint. A quarter of all emissions are coming from the food system and these emissions are growing as demand for food rises.

The main impact of climate change on the food we eat is often considered to be how rising temperatures, erratic rainfall and climate “shocks” directly damage crops.

Climate change also wipes out harvests, directly depriving poor farmers of the food that they grow to feed themselves and their families; this is the human dimension of the climate change crisis, already unfolding right across the globe.

Four years of floods have left Pakistan hungry. Now half the population suffers from a lack of available food and can’t be sure where their next meal is coming from. By 2050 climate change could create 25 million more malnourished children under the age of five and 50 million more hungry people in the world.

Above: Pakistan is suffering the impact of climate change, causing serious challenges for the country's population.

The impact on crops may prove deadly for people. But most people don’t grow food for themselves – they buy it. While the poorest and most vulnerable people are being hit worst by climate change, all of us will be affected, directly in our pockets.

When you’re eating your breakfast cereal you’re probably not thinking about climate change. But it’s not just causing temperatures to rise; food prices in this part of the world are set to increase too. For instance, Oxfam calculates that climate change will drive up the retail price of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes by as much as 44 percent over the next 15 years in major markets like the US and the UK as the cost of corn and rice increases.

Rising food prices will lead to the already growing problem of food poverty in western countries getting worse. Over half a million people (600,000) already live in food poverty across Ireland.

Food banks have been set up around the country to help families who can’t afford regular nutritious meals. Households are being squeezed between higher energy bills and rising prices for imported food. Many can’t afford to feed themselves properly.

Often overlooked, it is not only dirty coal or the oil industry causing climate change; food companies contribute too. Climate change is the single biggest threat to winning the fight against hunger – yet food companies are making climate change worse because of the emissions from their operations and supply chains.

Everyday items such as cereals, yoghurts and ice cream have a hefty climate footprint. A quarter of all emissions are coming from the food system and these emissions are growing as demand for food rises.

Together the ‘Big 10′ food and beverage companies create an amazing 264 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year according to Oxfam’s Behind the Brands research. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Companies can cut their emissions and encourage others to do the same.

Europe is the world’s biggest food importer, dependent on exports from regions that are highly vulnerable to climate change.

If Europe is to avoid rising food (and fuel) prices and play its role in tackling climate change G7 leaders must add weight to common sense, by developing an energy security plan that places energy saving, clean, affordable and renewable energy first.

Crucially, before the next – almost inevitable – price shock, we need to keep cutting emissions and fast. We need to pressure businesses and governments to stop climate change from making people hungry and help build a future where everyone has enough to eat.

Otherwise, consumers and food companies here will increasingly feel the pinch of higher and more volatile prices for their food. More frequent and more extreme storms, floods, droughts and shifting weather patterns are affecting food supplies, driving up food prices, causing hunger and poverty, and jeopardising past gains in the fight against hunger.

It is within our power to ensure that every person’s right to food is realised, both in the developing world and here at home.

We can all play a part. The food we eat does not have to feed climate change.

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Apr 7, 2014

Apr Rwanda 20 years on

7
2014

Twenty years ago, the world stood by and watched as over 1,000,000 people in Rwanda were killed in 100 days.  Aid agencies saw what was happening and tried in vain to persuade Western governments to fulfil their obligations and intervene to stop the killing.

Today it is sobering to remember Rwanda and think about what has changed. How is the world responding today to war, conflict and murder? 

In short, are the world’s governments any better than they were in 1994 at setting aside selfish interests – or indeed selfish lack of interest – and acting to protect civilians from war and conflict?

Clockwise from top: Rwandan refugees returning from camps in Tanzania in 1996.  Refugees pass by recently dead left at the roadside, Kitali camp, DRC.  Rwandan refugees in Tanzania collecting grain 1994. Oxfam staff member with water bucket and Rwandan refugees in DRC 1997.  Aid worker treating a head wound in DRC 1997. Photos:  Howard Davies/ Oxfam

At first sight, the signs are not encouraging. While there may not have been systematic killings on the scale of the Rwandan genocide since 1994, extreme violence continues, with hundreds of thousands of people killed, raped or living in terror every year.

It’s now more important than ever to ask how well the world is doing in acting to reduce conflicts around the world.

Some things have gotten better. After ten years of NGO campaigning, an Arms Trade Treaty was agreed last year. The UN Security Council now sets about protecting civilians in its peacekeeping operations, far more than it did. 

But different countries still give arms to Syria’s conflict. Terrible violence in countries such as the Central African Republic still struggle for media attention. Despite the growth in UN peacekeeping very few rich countries donate their own resources to this effort.

And Oxfam faces growing humanitarian challenges because the world is still not as good as it should be at resolving conflicts. 

Above: Oxfam Genocide in Rwanda leaflet 1994. Photo:  Howard Davies/ Oxfam

Oxfam has been with Rwanda since the 1960s and working inside the country since 1982, delivering humanitarian response, water and sanitation, conflict management, human rights and democratisation and sustainable livelihoods projects especially in the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide.

Rwanda is today a country which has turned itself around and is now achieving impressive growth and stability. Yet massive challenges remain, with nearly half the population living in poverty, needing support to create work in rural and urban areas.

Oxfam is having huge success in Rwanda. We work with local organisations to support farmers to grow their own food, open their own small businesses, train other members of their communities in farming skills and create many jobs in rural areas so that they don’t have to rely on us to provide for them. 

Rwanda is a country moving beyond its tragic past to try to build a peaceful future.

The twentieth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide will be a painful moment for millions, especially the Rwandan survivors still trying to heal their shattered lives. 

For the rest of us, it should be a time to remember how much more there is still to be done to protect civilians in every corner of the world, from every kind of atrocity.

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