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Jul 22, 2014

Jul AIDS 2014: Taking stock of achievements, honouring the dead and protecting the most vulnerable

22
2014

14,000 people have arrived in Melbourne, Australia to attend the 20th International AIDS Society Conference. It takes place every two years and is the most prestigious gathering of the AIDS community, attracting leading AIDS researchers, activists, practitioners and policy-makers in the world. People living with HIV, community workers along with President Bill Clinton and Sir Bob Geldof are in attendance.

They have come here to take stock of what has been achieved to date and to discuss how to keep up the pace in the future. But they are also in mourning as a number of delegates on route to the conference sadly lost their lives in the MH17 plane crash in Ukraine. While this is an unimaginable tragedy for their families and friends, and a terrible blow to the AIDS movement; it is not the first time lives have been lost needlessly.

Since AIDS was discovered in 1981 around 36 million men, women and children have died. In 2012 alone 1.6 million died (nearly the population of Dublin and Cork put together), 210,000 of them children. And while many died at the early stages of the epidemic, when we didn't know enough about AIDS or did not have the drugs to treat it, the lives lost in recent years have happened at a time when we have the medicine at hand to treat the disease and the ‘know how’ to end AIDS.

Above: Women join in singing and dancing at the end of a short play performed by the Oxfam drama group to educate people about some of the high-risk behaviour that leads to HIV infection through traditional song, dance, poetry and plays. Photo: Annie Bungeroth/Oxfam

Yet there is progress to be proud of. According to UNAIDS (the joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS), the number of deaths has been halved since 2005; the number of new infections has also declined by 33% since 2001. We have put 10 million people on treatment. Those who died on flight MH17 have contributed to that. But we still have a lot to do. Sub-Saharan Africa is bearing the brunt of the epidemic with 69% of HIV positive people living there. Entire countries such as Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan or population groups such as sex workers, men having sex with men and injecting drug users are being left behind with regard to HIV and AIDS services.

However, another less talked about vulnerable group are people with disabilities, estimated at 650 million or 10% of the developing world’s population. New research conducted by Oxfam Ireland, Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin in Sub-Saharan Africa – where much of Oxfam Ireland’s work is concentrated including programmes that help people living with HIV and AIDS to get the services and support they need – found little evidence of effective HIV interventions for those with disabilities.

Where such practices existed – e.g. information made available in alternative forms to suit people with hearing, vision or intellectual impairment, or clinics adjusted to make them accessible to people with physical disability – they were of small scale and almost none were systematically evaluated. Less than half of national HIV strategic plans in East and Southern Africa recognised disability as an issue of concern, though a small number of countries – notably South Africa and Kenya – identified people with disabilities as a vulnerable group, and provided specific interventions for them.

We found a five-prong approach to be best practice. Participation (where people with disabilities are included as partners in HIV/AIDS initiatives from the outset and not just contacted for approval at the end of the process), peer led (members of the disability community lead on constructing and implementing HIV/AIDS programmes, e.g. by being trained as outreach workers for both general public and those with disabilities), integration (integrating disability friendly services into the mainstream delivery of programmes), sensitization (sensitising the disability population to information and issues around HIV/AIDS) and the creation of strategic partnerships by NGOs and service providers and government representatives with people with disabilities to pool funding and resources.

‘A country is as good as it treats its most vulnerable citizens,’ an Irish mother of a child with disability once told me. The AIDS community, in particular donors, researchers and practitioners, must continue on the path of achievements made so far to ensure people with disabilities who are living with HIV get the support and services they need. This means more research, evaluations, application of the five-prong approach and a 10% participation rate of people with disabilities in all HIV interventions. This might go some way in helping to protect one of the most vulnerable groups in our society and honouring those who have died so needlessly, including those who perished on flight MH17.

Dr. Enida Friel is Oxfam Ireland’s HIV Programme Coordinator

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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 9, 2014

Jul Keira Knightley shines spotlight as crisis spirals in South Sudan

9
2014

This week, on the third anniversary of South Sudan’s independence,  actress Keira Knightley has called for support for Oxfam Ireland’s appeal for South Sudan after witnessing first-hand the desperate plight of families struggling to survive.

Here, Colm Byrne, Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager, explains how the humanitarian crisis is spiralling out of control as funds dry up.

Year in and year out the subsistence farmers of South Sudan, the world’s newest state, pray for the timely start of the rainy season. Without it, there is no water for them or their animals to drink, the land hardened by the preceding dry season cannot be cultivated, seeds cannot be sown, nor food produced or surplus food sold for a small profit.

Above: Keira Knightley visits Bor Camp in South Sudan. Upper-left: Keira meets Rebecca age 25 in Bor Camp, South Sudan. Rebecca ran from Bor in December when fighting broke out. She was caught in an ambush, questioned about her husband and beaten. She lost her children but was reunited with them in the camp.One of her children had measles and nearly did not survive. She lost her husband in the April ambush. She is alone and scared of how she will bring up her children without her husband. Lower-right: Keira meets with Nyandow Nhial Khor, 18 years old. With her first child, of two months old Buomkuoth Gatkuotch, who she gave birth to in the camp. The baby is being treated for malaria, which they caught from the water in the camp. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith
 

For Elizabeth, who has sought refuge from fighting in a camp for people who are displaced in the northern town of Malakal, the onset of the rains have still greater significance following six months of conflict between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and those of his former Vice-President Riek Machar.

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 so stalling, even if peace talks haven’t done so yet, the movement of heavy military equipment and any ambitions either side may have of making new ground.

But while the rains may have quelled the guns somewhat and provided hope of some temporary respite, they have now also served a still further blow to Elizabeth, flooding the meagre shelter she must now call home in the camp. She beckons us over to look more closely…..no easy task as we struggle to travel the short distance through thick sticky mud that threatens to spill over into our boots. Bring wellington boots, they said... fisherman’s waders would have been more appropriate.

Above: Internally displaced people queue inside the camp at UN House in Juba, South Sudan. Oxfam, alongside other agencies, is distributing food and charcoal vouchers for over 13,000 people across a two week period. Photo: Kieran Doherty / Oxfam

We make no graceful entrance as our stumbling efforts are met with a mixture of humour and anger, both welcoming of our enthusiasm but anxious that we too should understand what it is to have challenged that most basic of rights, human dignity.

Atop a single spring bed sit under a sagging tarpaulin sheet her two young children clinging on as though cast adrift at sea. Just inches below, the thick grey stagnant water threatens while all around the family’s simple belongings are stacked on whatever objects can stand alone or be combined to raise them above water. It seems more accurate to say not that the house is flooded but that it in effect stands in water. Life incredibly goes on despite everything, but nobody deserves to live like this.

As we stand aghast, we are joined by Elizabeth’s neighbours, all anxious that we should bare testimony to their plight too. The smell they tell us is intolerable, we can only but agree, and we are invited to visit more shelters at which point we realise our feet are stuck and cling on to anything we can to provide leverage. Our humiliation at least is only temporary…

Above: Colm Byrne, Oxfam Ireland's Humanitarian Manager working in Malakal, South Sudan. Photo: Sorcha Nic Mhathúna / Oxfam

As we leave, adjacent to us, two women and a man hoist their clothing and move thigh deep to higher ground. Ahead of them a small boy has somehow made the same journey carrying his younger sister. Not all are so able bodied or feel sufficiently secure to even consider attempting such a trip especially at night when the risk of attack is great.

This is where thousands just like Elizabeth and her children displaced by the conflict have come for protection by the international community yet to provide more than half of the aid promised to address South Sudan’s humanitarian crisis.

This is where they have come to seek food as a food crisis threatens to turn into a catastrophe affecting some 7 million people.

This is where they have come to wait in safety for news of separated family members.

This is where they have come for hope that soon their political leaders will act in their best interests to provide a swift political solution to end the fighting.

And this is why we at Oxfam are responding to humanitarian needs in South Sudan now and calling for all those with influence to help end this suffering now.

South Sudan: From the Other Side of the War

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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 26, 2014

Jun South Sudan's hope for a peaceful future

26
2014

30-year-old Nyoruop Puk has been a resident of the UN House refugee camp in Juba, South Sudan, after conflict broke out in December 2013. 

Since then at least 10,000 people have lost their lives and more than a million people have been forced from their homes, while the number of South Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries has risen to over 360,000. In total, 4.9 million people now need urgent humanitarian support. 

Nyoruop is balancing a large sisal sack on her head. It contains grain that will feed her family. She hands a voucher to the charcoal vendors and smiles, waiting patiently for them to give her the bags of charcoal equivalent to that voucher, which has been provided by Oxfam. 

Above: Nyoruop Puk, carrying a sack of grain. Photo: Mackenzie Knowles Coursin/Oxfam

Nyoruop continued: “I came here to protect myself and my family. When my we heard about the fighting, we knew that we had to leave so that we are not targeted. I was nine months pregnant at that time.”

She was not only running for her life, but for the unborn baby she was bringing into the world. 

“We had to walk to UN House first before thinking about anything else. After arriving here, we found a space and were given things like canvas sheets, some food and also water.”

Nyoruop gave birth the next day. It was as if the baby knew that it was safe to leave the comfort of his mother’s womb. It did not matter whether it was at home or at the UN House. Events as big as the one that occurred in Juba are not enough to stop nature’s course. 

“It was difficult but my friend Nyapeth Khor located the health workers and they helped me deliver my baby. He is healthy and doing well.”

After Nyruop receives the charcoal, she walks briskly to her tent in block four of the UN House compound. Waiting for her are her new born baby and her sisters, visibly excited to see her. She reaches for the heavy load on her head and lays it down on the ground, at the same time she sets down the bags of charcoal. It’s time to prepare lunch. She sits down and reflects on her life when canvas sheets were not her home. 

“We came here together and six of us share this tent. It’s very hot and we’re grateful that we at least have some kind of roof over our head. I used to live with three of my sisters in Kor Williams in Juba, Nyabok Madit, Martha Nyalam and Mary Nyalong. My sister, Martha Nyalam, has one child, and I have another. 

Clockwise from top: Ayak Majok, 20, carries home water from an Oxfam water point in Mingkaman settlement. Photo by Mackenzie Knowles Coursin/Oxfam Firewood is becoming more scarce in Mingkamen camp, Awerial County, South Sudan. Photo: Oxfam/Aimee Brown Oxfam staff distribute vouchers to be exchanged for charcoal at UN House. Credit: Oxfam/Aimee Brown 
 

With the help of her sisters, Nyruop gets the fire going. Dying embers on a metal stove near the tent are revived as she adds fresh charcoal and blows the flames to life. The first steps to preparing today’s lunch, yellow lentils. Although a very limited meal, it keeps her family nourished through the day. However, it’s not a sustainable and a healthy option. 

“I am happy that organisations are supporting us but grains are not enough for a healthy meal. We also need some vegetables and some meat if possible,” she says. 

“The charcoal vouchers provided by Oxfam really help. Before that, we had to walk outside to fetch firewood and that could take time and could also be risky. Old people, if they did not have help, would struggle to fetch wood. Some would not go and collect at all because they were too old and could not do it. Now that it’s close by and quite easy to get, it’s really relieved some of the stress. Cooking or boiling water has become easier.”

Finding safe water to drink was also challenging when they arrived. Before Oxfam set up its water supply system, clean water for cooking and drinking had to be bought. Sanitation was poor as organisations were scrambling to respond to the situation. This paid off because Nyoruop and her family now have unlimited access to clean water and sanitation facilities. 

“There is a water point close to our tent and also latrines and bathrooms. We feel safe in here.

Clockwise from top: Oxfam is helping to purify 1m litres of water a day. Photo: Oxfam/Aimee Brown. As a public health promoter for Oxfam in Mingkamen camp, Martha Nyandeng teaches children how to use latrines and properly wash their hands. Martha escaped from Bor with no savings or possessions, but the small amount she earns as a public health promoter with Oxfam means she has enough to buy food for her children. Photo: Oxfam/Aimee Brown. Mary Ajak Maluk shares her thoughts with Oxfam staff during a community meeting in Mingkaman. Oxfam regularly holds meetings with community members in order to better understand what’s working well and what needs to be improved. Photo by Mackenzie Knowles Coursin/Oxfam
 

Leaving her home behind was a painful experience for Nyoruop and the rainy season is now bringing additional problems. “This house will not protect us from the rains. The material itself is not strong enough to shield us. We sleep on mats on the ground, so the water flowing on the ground is terrible, especially for my new born child and the other children in the camp,” she says. 

The effects of the conflict have been devastating for many families in South Sudan. Nyoruop and her family now live in a small makeshift tent in an overcrowded, squalid camp where poor sanitation increases the risk of disease. Although it’s temporary, she does not know how long they will have to stay.

“I don’t know what caused the fighting, so I don’t know what will end it. I just hope it ends soon. I would prefer to be at home – but not in Juba. My only hope is to go back home to Unity where we’re from and where my husband is. I will feel the safest there.”

Our Humanitarian Manager, Colm Byrne, on Morning Ireland

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