From the field

May 2, 2014

May An incredible story of survival against all the odds in South Sudan

2
2014

A major humanitarian crisis is unfolding in South Sudan where more than a million people have been forced from their homes by fighting. These people need water, food and protection from the violence. Below is one mother’s incredible story of survival against all the odds.

Martha Nyandit (42) and her six children are amongst the thousands of people who have fled several rounds of violent and bloody fighting in and around the town of Bor in Jonglei state.

With gunshots ringing through the night, Martha only had time to pick up a few things – 300 South Sudanese pounds (€50/£40), some clothes and 10 kilos of sorghum grain before fleeing to an island in the middle of the river Nile.  

The island was no paradise. It was the first stop on a journey clouded by hunger.  

Clockwise from top: Portrait of Martha Nyandit, South Sudan. Martha shows us her registration card. Martha waits for food at a distribution. 
Photos: Pablo Tosco / Oxfam
 

The precious grain she had managed to rescue was whole and so needed to be ground by a hand grinder or a grinding stone, neither of which anyone among the hundreds of people on the island had with them.  With nothing else to eat, Martha had to boil the grain whole.

“For the adults and the older children this was okay but the small children couldn’t eat it, they complained it was tough and hard.” 

Asked how she coped with hungry children, she says: “It was a challenge and honestly, I had no method of coping with them.  But some of the others hiding had some food which they shared with my children.  I thank God for this help.”

Eventually the grain and what little else others had brought ran out. The families became so desperate for food that they would travel back to the mainland in dug-out canoes, risking their lives under the sound of artillery fire to find the next meal. Then one morning, when these canoes were waiting on the shore for their owners to return, some armed soldiers stole them and crossed back over the river to the island where Martha, her family and many others were hiding.

“The armed men came ashore and started shooting, so we quickly ran down into the reeds where they couldn’t see us. They didn’t know where exactly we were so they sprayed bullets into the reeds.”

Martha’s 11-year old son Kuol was injured by the gunfire when a bullet grazed the skin on his ankle, a lucky escape as she said several people were shot dead.  At that point, with the soldiers on the island, Martha and the children had no place to hide but in the river itself.

Clockwise from top: Martha Nyandit collects dirty drinking water. Martha talks to Oxfam's Grace Cahill. Martha grinds sorghum grain - a meal for her children. Photos: Pablo Tosco / Oxfam
 

“I knew I had to get us down into the water for us to be safe.  The water came up to my chest, I had one child on my back, the baby around my neck and one floating on my arm. The others were able to go on their own.”  

Martha explained to my colleague Grace Cahill, how along with several other families, they spent the entire day in hiding between the river and its bank, trying to make as little noise as possible in case they were caught by the soldiers.  Martha had to go to extraordinary lengths to keep her young children quiet.

“Kur (aged four) kept asking me where his elder siblings had gone off on their own.  He kept screaming ‘Where’s my brother? Where’s my brother gone?’ I needed to keep him quiet so lay on top of him on the shore. He had mud all over his face but it stopped the sound of him crying.  I told him he must stop asking questions because we need to survive.”

After a day spent submerged in the water, with the sound of fighting on the island and nothing to eat, the families managed to telephone relatives already in Mingkaman camp, home to thousands of displaced families like Martha’s, and got a barge sent after dark to rescue them. 

In Mingkaman the family arrived with nothing, Martha told me how she had lost the 300 South Sudanese Pounds and all of the family’s clothes in their escape from the island.  But upon arrival, Martha discovered it wasn’t just clothes and money the family had lost.

“I had been asking if my husband was alive since January but people refused to answer me straight.  It was not until a few weeks ago, here in MIngkaman, that a cousin came to bring me the news that he was killed.”

Martha’s husband was a soldier in the South Sudanese government army when he was pulled into action and killed in the town of Bor.

Clockwise from top: Martha and her family. Oxfam staff measure out food for Martha at a distribution. Martha waits for food to be distributed. Photos: Pablo Tosco / Oxfam
 

“Now I feel like it was recent even though he has been dead for three months. I used to wake up needing to get on with my day, needing to get on with things but I felt so weary, I couldn’t get things done, I needed to know where he was.”

Martha recalled with sadness how it was her husband who had built their home back in Bor where they had two thatched huts and one smaller shelter they used as a kitchen. The family also took care of eight of their own goats.  

At the moment, Martha and her six children only eat twice a day, rather than a normal three times a day.

“We eat once around 11 and 12 in the morning when I cook porridge and again between 6 and 7 in the evening.  When the food is scarce I give breakfast to the children and then I eat only once.”

“When there’s no food I ask for a loan or I beg from my neighbours who have fewer children and so might have some of their ration leftover.

“Sometimes I feel so weak I worry I will not have enough milk for the baby.  Sometimes I’m so weak I feel like I’m going to collapse; I can’t see when I stand up.

“Maybe one day people will see vulnerable people like us and decide to help more.” 

Asked about how she managed to be so resilient, she simply replied: “But it’s the responsibility of a single mother to put up and wait for better times.”

Better times must come soon for this family who had already been through so much in last few months on their search for safety. 

We are now supporting Martha and 95,000 other people in Mingkaman, distributing enough food to feed a family for a month. Every family receives two 50kg bags of sorghum grain, 10.5 kg of lentils and 7 litres of oil. 

In addition to food, seed and tool distribution, we are also providing a full water and sanitation response – treating water directly from the Nile so it’s safe to drink, building latrines, distributing soap and teaching people simple methods for good hygiene.

We are also calling on the international community to step up diplomatic efforts to promote peace talks and saves lives with a massive injection of emergency aid.

Until then, this rapidly worsening crisis threatens to become an even larger catastrophe. 

Please donate here, call 1850 30 40 55 (Republic of Ireland) or 0800 0 30 40 55 (Northern Ireland) or go to your local Oxfam shop.

Colm Byrne is Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager. He is working in South Sudan on our emergency response.

Oxfam's Colm Byrne in South Sudan

Apr 1, 2014

Apr 5 critical things we learned from the latest IPCC report on climate change

1
2014

Yesterday leading international experts on climate change, the IPCC, presented their latest report on the impacts of climate change on humanity, and what we can do about it. It’s a lengthy report, so we’ve boiled it down to Oxfam's five key takeaways on climate change and hunger.

1. Climate change: the impacts on crops are worse than we thought.

Climate change has already meant declines in global yields of staple crops, and it is set to get worse.

Not so long ago, some people suggested crops could actually grow better because of climate change. Not any more. The IPCC is clear that we are already seeing the effect of climate change on food production. That will come as no surprise to farmers like Vladimir or Auntie Jacoba. But what is more striking is that the IPCC finds that climate change has meant significant declines not just in some areas in developing countries, but in aggregate global yields for staple crops like wheat and maize. Harvests will continue to be hit hard in the future, both in developing countries and in major crop exporters, at the same time as demand for crops is expected to rise rapidly. That doesn't add up to a more food secure future for our planet.

2. Climate change also means higher food prices for most people.

Most people will feel the impact of climate change on food through the price they pay at their local market or supermarket.

In the years since the last IPCC report, there have been 3 global food price spikes, each linked in part to extreme weather that hit harvests hard. The IPCC gives a cautious estimate that food prices may rise due to climate change by 3-84% by 2050. Oxfam expects food prices to approximately double by 2030, with around half due to climate change, with further spikes linked to extreme weather to come on top of that. That's a massive problem for anyone spending upwards of 50% of their income on food, but increasingly we'll all feel the pinch of higher prices for things like premium coffee or chocolate.

3. Without action, climate change will reverse the fight against hunger – perhaps by several decades.

Right now hunger levels worldwide are going down, though not nearly fast enough. But the IPCC cites studies which project a reversal of this progress. 

By 2050 an extra 50 million people – that's the population of Spain – could be at risk of hunger because of climate change, and an extra 25 million under-fives malnourished – that's the same as all the under-fives in the US and Canada combined. Availability of calories per person is set to fall lower than the levels in 2000. If we are serious about getting to zero hunger by 2025 and staying there, we need a huge increase in climate action – both in adaptation and cutting emissions.

 

 

4. It is not too late to act, but we need to get serious about adaptation.

We must over-come major adaptation deficits to cope with climate impacts on food in the near-term. 

Eradicating hunger by 2025 will take a massive increase in efforts to adapt our food systems to climate change. But as we outlined in a briefing last week, the world is currently woefully unprepared. The IPCC for the first time recognises a funding gap between the finance needed for adaptation – in the order of $100bn per year – and the amounts that are actually flowing (something Oxfam has long shouted about). The countries that have done most to cause climate change should help to pay this bill in poorer countries. But Oxfam estimates countries have received only around 2% of the money they need from the adaptation funds provided to them in the three years since the Copenhagen climate summit.

5. We must cut greenhouse gas emissions now.

Unless we cut greenhouse gas emissions now too, we will surpass our capacity to adapt in the second half of this century. The IPCC is clear that adaptation alone will not be enough. 

By 2050, on our current path, risks to food security in many countries will pass “beyond projected adaptive capacity”. This means there is little we can do to prevent permanent and irreversible damage to food production or the means by which people can buy food. The IPCC suggests this will result in “large risks to food security, globally and regionally” and may mean “current agricultural practices can no longer support large human civilizations”. 

Oxfam is starting to see the limits to adaptation in our own work even today. In Zimbabwe, a previously successful irrigation scheme that has helped farmers to thrive in spite of more erratic rainfall hit the buffers when water levels dropped too low as a result of extreme drought. The IPCC describes the biological temperature limits of crops, beyond which they simply will not grow. The implication is clear: unless we rapidly reduce our emissions now, alongside a huge increase in adaptation efforts, runaway climate change will end our chances of winning the fight against hunger. Will ours be the generation to let that happen?

Mar 27, 2014

Mar Sharon Corr’s mum was and always will be her hero

27
2014

Oxfam Ireland Ambassador Sharon Corr is convinced her mother could have been a successful singer if she’d had the opportunity – but the social norms meant she had to stay home to raise her family.

“My mum grew up in an era where women were more or less dictated to - you must go to work because your brothers need to go to university, you must leave work because you are married and your job is now to look after your husband and have kids,” said Sharon.

Sharon is currently in the US on a world tour with her new album The Same Sun and said the title track was inspired by her trip to Tanzania visiting Oxfam’s women’s rights programmes.

Clockwise from top: Sharon Corr attends an event in Mgeta village organised as part of our We Can campaign to combat domestic violence. This social movement recruits ‘change-makers’, people who pledge to change their attitudes and behaviours towards violence against women. Sharon wears a traditional African headscarf presented to her by local women from Iyenge village. Sharon gets ready to play traditional Irish music for locals in Kimamba village. All photos by Barry McCall/Oxfam

Sharon is now supporting our Female Heroes campaign, which encourages people across the island of Ireland to celebrate the inspirational women in their lives.

“Going to Tanzania was a truly life-changing experience. It reinforced for me the power of women to change the world. No matter what challenges they might face and the obstacles in their way, women will do everything they can to overcome them for the good of their family and community,” Sharon said.

“My mother was a beautiful singer and I believe if she had had half the chance she could have really reached for the stars but she stayed at home and looked after us and she took great pride in that - making our clothes, cooking wonderful dinners - she did everything for us and gave us a wonderful childhood.

“She also taught us to follow our dreams. I don't believe you can put a value on that - she gave us wings so we could fly and dreamed of great things for us and I am so glad that she saw our success.

“To me a hero is someone who stands up for what she believes in, who puts the greater good ahead of herself and inspires others because of her strength, her kindness and her courage.” Sharon said.

“We’ve made a lot of strides in Ireland over the years towards equality between the sexes. But we must never take this for granted, nor forgot the women who made this possible from the suffragettes to the feminist movement. Our daughters will grow up with opportunities our grandmothers could only have dreamt of.

“Despite the many advances, women still struggle with sexism in many areas of life. My own experience in the music industry has been a largely positive one, yet there is still so much more focus on woman’s appearance compared to men rather than on her talent and abilities as a performer.

“But there are many strong women both on stage and behind the scenes, along with the fans themselves, who are changing the dynamic,” said Sharon.

Clockwise from top: Our ambassador Sharon Corr meets Female Food Heroes winner Ester Jerome Mtegule at her home in Lyenge village.  Rice farmer Halima Shida shares a moment with Sharon Corr outside her home in Kimamba village. Sharon Corr meets last year’s finalists (from left to right) Mwandiwe Makame, Anna Oloshiro and the winner Ester Jerome Mtegule, along with Oxfam Ireland’s Monica Gorman, at the launch of the 2012 Female Food Heroes competition. All photos by Barry McCall/Oxfam

“Seeing the difference our support can make, I would encourage people throughout Ireland - North and South - to celebrate the women who have made a difference in their lives with an Oxfam Heroes card, gift or event.

“We all know heroes, but how often have you told someone that they’re yours? Not only is it a beautiful way to say thanks to a female hero in your life, but you’ll also make a positive difference to women living in extreme poverty worldwide.

“Heroes change the world in big ways and in small. My motto is that we do not need to do great things, just little things with great love.

Celebrate your Hero this Mother's Day with one of our special gifts. 100% of the profits go to supporting Oxfam's work with women worldwide.  You can see more from Sharon's trip to Tanzania in the video below.

Feb 7, 2014

Feb 547,000 thank yous from the Philippines

7
2014

Three months on since Typhoon Haiyan wreaked devastation across the Philippines on November 8th, we'd like to share this video with you as a thank you for your generosity during our emergency appeal. Across the island of Ireland, we raised more than €300,000/£250,000 and 100% of every donation has gone to our specific response.

Oxfam has reached 547,000 people with life-saving aid. We couldn't do any of this without your incredible support.  

Our response

Our immediate response focused on Northern Cebu, Leyte and Eastern Samar. Our teams faced huge logistical challenges - roads were blocked, airports closed, and electricity and water supplies cut off. But, by the end of the first week, people devastated by the typhoon were already receiving essential supplies of water, food and shelter. 

We're now focusing on longer term support, helping people get their livelihoods back, for example by repairing fishing boats or distributing rice seeds.

Thank you for standing in solidarity with the people of the Philippines during this most of difficult of times.

Once again, a massive thanks to everyone who supported this appeal. Once you've watched the video please share on Facebook and Twitter to show your friends why you support Oxfam Ireland.

Jan 15, 2014

Jan Helping refugees stay warm this winter

15
2014

If there’s one thing that makes winter weather feel even worse, it’s not being properly dressed for the cold. Without our usual winter layers, it’s easy to imagine that we would feel the chill and wind much more acutely. 

Right now, staying warm is essential in in Ireland where we are feeling the grips of January frost and where sub-freezing temperatures are becoming normal. It’s also essential in Lebanon, where nearly one million refugees from the conflict in Syria are facing cold temperatures, rain and even snowstorms. Families are shivering through the winter in tents, unheated shelters, and other tough living conditions. Many fled their homes with little or no possessions, and now lack the means to buy warm clothes to bundle up against the chill.

“The clothes in Lebanon are so expensive I can’t afford to buy them for my children,” said Kawser Silka, 23, whose family of five people shares a single 10-by-13-foot room in a building inhabited by 12 other refugee families. This living situation has become a problem in winter, she explained: “It’s too cold. We don’t have stoves or any heaters and the windows are not fixed.”

Clockwise from top: Leila Silka, 5, holds a bag of winter clothes that were just purchased by her mother, Kawser, with a €30 voucher provided by Oxfam and a local partner organization. Kawser Silka, 23, a mother of three from near Idlib in Syria, holds her son Abdul Brahim, 2. Khaldiyeh Sika, 37, from near Idlib in Syria, looks for clothes for her five children which she will pay for with a €30 voucher supplied by Oxfam, with the assistance of partner agency JAK, in Qalamoun, north Lebanon, on December 26, 2013. Photos: Sam Tarling/Oxfam 

To help some of the most vulnerable families in Lebanon survive the cold, Oxfam is distributing cash and vouchers to 11,900 refugees so they can buy plastic sheeting, heating stoves, fuel, blankets, and warm clothing. The support will benefit about 59,500 people.

Among them are families in Qalamoun, north Lebanon, including Silka’s, who in late December received €30 vouchers from Oxfam’s local partner organization JAK. Families used the vouchers to buy coats, sweaters, and more to help their children stay warm in the winter months. Silka said this is the first time she has been able to give her three children new clothes since they came to Lebanon a year ago.

Giving people vouchers that they can spend themselves, rather than handing out clothes, empowers families to make their own choices about what to buy—a privilege that many of us sometimes take for granted. Enaam Yousef, 40, told Oxfam that it had been a welcome change to be able to choose the clothes she wanted for once, instead of hoping that relatives in Syria could buy clothes and send them to her.

“I’m a widow of 14 years and my daughter is too young to work,” said Yousef. “If nobody helped me, who could support this family? No one.”

Oxfam is on the ground in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, delivering life-saving essentials, and we’re making great progress thanks to our supporters. Overall, we’re helping a half-million people affected by the Syria crisis across Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. Join us today.

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