Aug 19, 2014

Aug Humanitarian work is intense and all-consuming, but I believe in what I do

19
2014

This week we celebrate World Humanitarian Day, honouring aid workers around the world who dedicate themselves to helping people to recover from humanitarian crises every day.  Here we hear first-hand from Ciara O’Malley who leads Oxfam’s humanitarian work in Juba in South Sudan:

It’s funny to think that I grew up not far from the Oxfam shop in Rathfarnham - now I’m working for them thousands of miles away in South Sudan.

I moved here from Pakistan, where I spent nearly three years working with Trócaire in communities affected by natural disasters such as floods. 

You face a number of the same challenges in going to Pakistan or South Sudan as you would going to any other country, be it Australia or Canada, in terms of trying to find your feet. It’s a new job and team you’re working with, you’re also trying to make new friends, and you have to figure it all out, from working out the currency to where to do your food shop.

Above: Oxfam's Ciara O' Malley who is leading our humanitarian work in Juba in South Sudan Photo: Sorcha Nic Mhathúna / Oxfam

Of course, there are certain things you pick up along the way. ‘Load-shedding’ is a key word that comes up frequently in conversation in Pakistan, the term for the rolling power cuts that can last for up to 12 hours a day. That was certainly something to contend with when you’re without air-conditioning in 45 degree heat!

The first month or two I was there I was convinced that I was definitely not going to stay a day longer than the planned year! But I ended up loving it. I also met my boyfriend there. He is a British diplomat based in Pakistan, so that may have been a major contributing factor for why I stayed so long in Pakistan! 

Now that I’m in South Sudan and he’s still in Pakistan, it’s the ultimate long-distance relationship but I find the key is decent internet connection so that you can Skype each other as well as having a defined end point of the long distance.

I was really interested in working in South Sudan for a number of years. Being a new country that is now just three years old, it has great potential but it has been wrecked by decades-long civil war, and now that conflict is being divided along ethnic lines. What’s unfolding here is a complex emergency where there’s ongoing conflict but also a severe food crisis. It’s a very challenging environment to work in.

South Sudan is a dusty place, but when you’re landing, you see that it’s surprisingly green (not unlike Ireland) because of all the sun and rain it gets during the wet season. I live in Juba, which is the capital but it is quite small. South Sudan is one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world. But despite having little or no proper roads, people in Juba are pretty good at following the rules of the road.

The South Sudanese are very friendly people but are initially quite reserved. Once you develop a relationship with them they’re extremely warm and caring people.

Above: Oxfam's Grace Cahill talks with Martha Nyandit (42). Martha 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. (You can read Martha's incredible story of survival story herePhoto: Pablo Tosco / Oxfam
 

Managing humanitarian programmes is a lot of responsibility. Trying to get your first break is the hardest part; it’s a mixture between luck but also a lot of hard work and you constantly have to be proving yourself. Aid work is a very competitive sector to break into with a lot of extremely well-qualified people looking for jobs.

I think the recession made it more difficult to get those jobs, as quite a few people who were made redundant from other sectors decided they wanted to transfer their skills and work for a non-profit. Moreover due to the cuts in the government overseas aid budget and the fall in public donations, many aid organizations had to reduce the size of their programmes and make a number of staff redundant.

I was one of those unusual people who always had a plan of what I wanted to do! I didn’t always know that it would be specifically humanitarian work but I always knew that it would be something in the international sector. When I was in secondary school at Notre Dame in Churchtown I was very involved with human rights campaigning and that really got me interested in this whole area of international development and humanitarianism. Then I went to study Politics and French in UCD as I thought that having a language would be an asset for this line of work and that politics would also be relevant.

After a volunteer role that turned into a paid position in development education at Suas, I went to University College London to do a master’s degree.  I came back to Ireland to finish my thesis and started working in Trócaire in their humanitarian department as an administrator. Of course my passion was programming so when I got a job on their trainee scheme in Maynooth head office, I jumped at it. After doing that for almost a year, I was itching to spend time working overseas so when a position on their trainee scheme in Islamabad came up, I didn’t hesitate to apply!

In South Sudan, I live with 19 of my colleagues in a shared Oxfam house. I’m the only Irish person. My colleagues come from Portugal, Spain, the UK, the United States- it’s quite a mix. We each have our own bedroom and bathroom but we share a kitchen and living space so it can be quite crazy. Aid work is very full on. You work, live and socialize with your colleagues; it’s a very intensive and definitely not a ‘9 to 5’ job. Thankfully my colleagues are fantastic and we get along really well!

We would all usually work six if not seven days a week. I recently worked for 30 days straight without a break and a number of those were 14-hour days. I was completely exhausted by the end of it. 

Above: Oxfam has been distributing charcoal in the camps in Juba. It is unsafe for the residents of the camp to leave to collect firewood so have been struggling to cook food due to lack of fuel. Photos: Kieran Doherty / Oxfam

During a typical day, I get up around 7ish and I arrive to the office at 8.10am. I spend the first few hours catching up on office work, such as signing off on financial requests and budgets, looking at team plans, recruitment, logistics, funding, and working on our programme strategy etc.

Then I usually head to the camps at around 12.30pm, which are around a 30 minute drive away. I manage Oxfam’s humanitarian response in a place called UN House in Juba, which is a UN base and has three big camps in it with 25,000 people who have fled the conflict. As I am the external representative for Oxfam’s response in UN House, I attend coordination meetings with other aid agencies, the UN police and peace-keepers in order to represent Oxfam’s work. There are several of these per week. 

Then I pop in to the camps, check on the activities the team are doing and troubleshoot issues on the spot. This can be anything from supply issues, to queries from the community leaders about our work and selection of beneficiaries. The other day I was out with some of our new charcoal vendors and we went around the camp to map out the site selection of where they were to build their charcoal shops, marking out the site in the mud and with stones- not a very sophisticated way of site-mapping but it did the job!

Every month food distributions take place in the camps over 10 days. At a food distribution, Oxfam provides people with vouchers for charcoal (used as a fuel to cook food) that they can redeem with various vendors who have set up in the camp. We also give people vouchers to use milling machines, so they can mill the grains given to them by the World Food Programme to make flour, etc. Another reason why access to a milling machine is so important is because grain that is unmilled can make small children very sick. If there is a distribution going on that day, we head in early to get set up- usually we arrive at 9am. I help make sure the distribution goes smoothly, everyone receives assistance and the team are kept safe. When you’re out in the camps under the hot sun it can be exhausting. Distributions are particularly hectic due to the volume of people so lunch is always missed!

At around 5pm it could be back to the office where I would be working with the finance and logistics teams making sure we have our supplies in and everyone is being paid, working with the funding team to make sure we are up to date with our donor reporting, and the policy team on any messages that we need to advocate certain stakeholders on. These days a lot of time is spent on recruitment as we’re scaling up our team because the needs are growing even greater and we are now entering in a new phase of our response where we are doing more activities in the camps.

Clockwise from top: The majority of Oxfam staff are locals: Lam Jacob, Susan Angwech, JAcob Achiek, Mayok Ayuen Garang Photos: Kieran Doherty / Oxfam

Since December, we have reached 261,000 people at several locations across South Sudan with food, clean water, sanitation, hygiene materials and other essentials from fuel to solar lamps.

Around four million people need urgent humanitarian support now – including 200,000 children suffering severe acute malnutrition. The conflict meant that people couldn’t plant crops earlier this summer and the country is on the brink of a massive food crisis, with a total of 7 million people facing hunger in the months ahead. 

I try to finish up in the office at around 7pm. I then grab a bite to eat back at the house and then it’s back onto the laptop for more emails in the evening. One of the main dominating factors for expats here is the 9pm curfew which is pretty standard among the NGOs. If we do get time to go out after work, we usually have to down our drink and get our food to go as we are always rushing to leave to make sure we are home in time for 9pm! 

All of us working here have security training, access to equipment such as satellite phones, and follow a number of security procedures. When we’re working in the camps we have to be clearly identifiable as working for Oxfam and have our car on standby during distributions in case we have to evacuate from the camps if an incident broke out.

The majority of Oxfam staff are locals. We also have one or two staff members who are among those living in the camps, highly educated people who have like over a million others been forced to flee their homes because of the conflict that broke out in December 2013. It’s great to be able to give people who have been through so much the opportunity to be part of the team and the emergency response work.

There are a lot of people who had good lives before the conflict happened. They had a home with their family, they earned a living, some are highly educated and skilled. Life as they knew it was destroyed when this crisis began. When the fighting broke out they either had to just leave everything behind or else their goods and homes got looted or destroyed so they have nothing to return to. 

I imagine my family home in suburban Dublin and then suddenly military start rolling in, bombs start dropping down on you, and your house and everything you had was destroyed, and you find yourself living in a camp overnight sometimes in cramped conditions and perhaps sharing your tent with total strangers, many not knowing where their family members are. It’s a highly distressing situation for these families.

A lot of people in the camps are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. I find sometimes that the kids are a lot more reserved and easily frightened than children from outside of the camps, which is definitely a sign of everything they’ve been through. People are frightened and not considering going home yet because they don’t feel it’s safe. There are a number of threats such as violence, unlawful detention, theft that happens for people who even just leave the camp to go the local market in Juba which can be dangerous if you are from a particular tribe. 

Clockwise from top: Elizabeth and baby Swampy. Elizabeth was heavily pregnant when she fled the conflict in South Sudan, forced to hide and then give birth in a swamp. A water tanker filling up an Oxfam bladder tank. This will supply families living in Mingkaman with clean water. Children wash their hands at an Oxfam health training session Photos: Kieran Doherty / Oxfam
 

The work here is very intense and all-consuming, but at the end of the day that’s also why I’m here. As cheesy as it sounds, I do really believe in what we’re doing here and I believe in the team doing it. I work with some amazing people who are also equally passionate about what we do. It can be quite an inspiring environment to work in.

We get one week off for every 10 weeks in country to help compensate for the intense hours. My plan for next R&R (rest and relaxation) later this month is to go to Ireland and England so I’m very excited about that and I’m going to tag on some annual leave days so I have a two week break in total. There are so many things I’m excited about for my holiday home- of course seeing family and friends are at the top of my list, but also home cooking, brown soda bread, cinema, cocktails and definitely hot showers!

I wouldn’t encourage friends or family to come and visit me here in South Sudan. At the end of the day it’s a conflict zone and I wouldn’t want to put them in a situation they’re not prepared to deal with. 

There are a couple of Irish people here in Juba working for other NGOs, there’s one or two I’ve met and then you hear rumors ‘there’s more Irish people around!’, so I need to try and track them down, in a non-stalker way!

It was nice to have colleagues from Dublin over recently – when you meet another Irish person you automatically have a lot of in-jokes which other nationalities don’t necessarily understand, in terms of slang, the banter, and also references to Father Ted jokes that get lost on other people!

So where to next? I will be here in South Sudan for another several months working on the emergency response with Oxfam and after that it all depends on what opportunities comes up and also where my boyfriend gets posted to next. We will look at somewhere overseas where we can both work like a developing country or else we might go back to London for a few years and then go overseas after that for a while.

At the moment if I could pick anywhere, I would love to work in Palestine – a place I’ve always been interested in and I’m watching what’s going on in Gaza there at the moment- it is something we talk about a lot here in the Oxfam house in South Sudan. Otherwise I love East Africa so ideally I’d like to stay working somewhere near here but at the same time if I do end up in London next for the next few years I’d be very happy with that. It would be nice to be back, closer to home, and have a sense of normality for a while, because it is very intense working out in the field, especially when you are doing postings like Pakistan and South Sudan back-to-back. It might be nice to have more of a normal life and working hours before venturing back out overseas again.

If you'd lke to support our work in South Sudan, please donate online to Oxfam Ireland’s emergency response or visit your local Oxfam shop.

South Sudan: From the Other Side of the War

Aug 14, 2014

Aug Kellogg stepping up to tackle climate change

14
2014

Kellogg announced it is stepping up to address climate change in a very big way. It has committed to reduce harmful emissions across both its supply chain and operations, help smallholder farmers adapt and push for real advocacy across the private sector and government.  Thanks to your voice, and those of 238,000 other consumers, Kellogg is doing the right thing. 

This is a swift response and it is due to the supporters who stepped up to take action.

Specifically, Kellogg has agreed to:

  1. Define and disclose total supply chain GHG reduction targets, including agricultural emissions by December 2015
  2. Require key suppliers to measure and publically disclose their emissions and reduction targets. 
  3. Create a climate adaptation strategy that incorporates the needs of smallholder farmers by December 2015
  4. Achieve zero net deforestation for soy, palm oil and timber by 2020
  5. Deeply engage peers and other industry sector leaders to take action on climate change
  6. Join the industry and government initiative Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP) to push forward climate legislation in the USA
  7. Disclose top three suppliers of palm oil, soy, and sugar cane, key drivers of deforestation and land use change.
  8. Participate in the Carbon Disclosure Project, including annual reporting on Scope 3 emissions data and responding to the Forests Information Request. 
  9. Regularly review company statements and policies to ensure they are aligned with mitigation targets, plans, and adaptation initiatives. 
  10. Include climate and deforestation policies in Supplier Code of Conduct and supplier expectations. 
  11. Address issues raised by Oxfam and its partners about its palm oil suppliers in Indonesia and Liberia.
  12. You can read how Kellogg intends to deliver on these promises over the next few years in our Kellogg roadmap. 

Kellogg did the right thing for millions of farmers worldwide who are coping with the effects of erratic weather caused by climate change. Now we can all feel better about sitting down to a bowl of Cornflakes knowing that Kellogg is helping to stop climate change from making people hungry. 

In addition to the speed of these back to back campaign wins on climate change, we’re also making progress protecting farmers worldwide from land grabs. Nestlé recently announced a zero tolerance  for land grabs policy. 

And we aren’t done yet: we’ll continue to push the Big 10 to make sure that the way they do business is good for people and the planet. But for now, we say thank you and onward! 

Share this great news with your friends and ask them to join our campaign. 

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Jul 31, 2014

Jul Oxfam in Gaza: "the most difficult work I have ever done"

31
2014

Waseem is Oxfam Food Security and Livelihoods Officer in Gaza, where more than 200,000 people have fled their homes with nowhere safe to go. Oxfam is there providing vital water and sanitation, and food vouchers to help people cope with the crisis.

"I had to flee my house in Shujaiya in eastern Gaza two days before the terrible killing and massive destruction that happened there. I received three phone calls from the Israeli military warning me to leave the area but there was no safe place to go to in Gaza. I took my wife, children, brother and mother to a relative's house.

Above: Waseem at the food voucher distribution centre (left). Oxfam and local partner YEC are delivering safe water to more than 40,000 people who were forced to flee their homes. More than 215,000 people have now fled and have nowhere safe to go. Many are sheltering in schools - more than 100 of which have also been damaged by Israeli shelling and airstrikes. Oxfam teams deliver water to this school in Beach Refugee Camp. Photo: Iyad al Baba/Oxfam 

I've been working with our local partners to distribute food vouchers. Our partners have been exerting tremendous effort to deliver aid despite the dangers. This has been the most difficult work I have ever done. Imagine you are travelling in completely empty streets with only the sounds of explosions everywhere. I saw a tank shell falling on a house and completely burning it. My thoughts were shared between my family that I left behind and the people waiting for me to help them get food. We are talking about food, the most basic need for people to survive in dignity."

Last weekend a brief 12 hour cessation of hostilities was announced in Gaza. Oxfam teams were able to deliver more vital water and aid to people who have fled their homes and lost everything in the violence of the past few weeks. Soon afterwards, the violence resumed. A permanent ceasefire, and an end to the blockade of Gaza, is urgently needed before countless more lives are lost.

Oxfam's Arwa Mhanna travelled around Gaza City in the brief window of calm:

I went to see my family for the first time since the start of this crisis. They live just five minutes drive away, but it has been too dangerous to visit. My mother was so happy to see me. My niece (6) and nephew(9) jumped for joy. But when I asked them about the past few weeks they fell silent and just stared. 

So many children have been killed, injured or fled their homes these past weeks. Tens of thousands of children in Gaza will need psychological care for many years to deal with the horrors they have witnessed. I fear whole generations will be scarred for life.

Clockwise from top: During a brief cessation of hostilities, families returned to Shujaiya in eastern Gaza, scene of some of the heaviest Israeli bombing. Rescue workers and paramedics at the scene of an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. A young girl collects water for her family, surrounded by debris from the latest airstrikes. Photos: Iyad al Baba/Oxfam

And not only the children. I saw one of my Oxfam colleagues... it's only three weeks since I saw her last, but I hardly recognized her pale and exhausted face. She was still in shock as she told me how she fled the Israeli bombing around her home, running through streets of dead bodies and homes turned to rubble.

More than 215,000 people across Gaza have fled and sought refuge in schools, mosques, churches and hospitals. I went to Al Shifa hospital, where Oxfam and our local partners are delivering safe water to families sheltering there. They are in desperate conditions and have almost nothing - little food, water or shelter. But they have no other option. It's the safest place they could find, even though many hospitals and health clinics have also been bombed and shelled. I spoke with one of the doctors, who was completely exhausted after days treating dozens of injured civilians. His eyes were full of tears as he told me of the casualties and the conditions people are living in, and how he wished he could help them more. I had no words to express how I felt. 

Outside, the streets that have been empty for the past few weeks were full of people rushing around. Gaza's streets are always busy at this time of year as people prepare for the Eid Festival at the end of Ramadan, buying new clothes and chocolates and toys for their children. This time it was different. People took advantage of the brief calm to visit family and buy supplies before the bombs start to fall again. People searched for the dead and checked on their homes. In one area, dozens of dead bodies were pulled from beneath the rubble of destroyed buildings - they have been there for days as medical teams have been unable to access the area. I received heartbreaking news that an old colleague was killed when his ambulance was hit by an airstrike.

The death toll has now passed 1,000, with thousands more injured - the vast majority of them civilians. The numbers are huge, but they are more than statistics - these are real people who had families and friends, jobs and dreams. Everyone in Gaza is affected. 

There is such pain in my heart to see so many people going through so much suffering, with no chance to escape. But I still hope that this will end soon. The ceasefire lasted only 12 hours, and as I write the violence has returned. On Monday, Al Shifa hospital - where I met so many brave people - was hit, with many casualties being reported. I don't know if the people I met are alive or dead. 

The killing must stop for good.  I hope the world is listening to the mothers, fathers and children of Gaza and will help bring peace before more of them are killed. 

Oxfam's Arwa Mhanna on Eid in Gaza

Jul 28, 2014

Jul Here's how you convinced General Mills to act on climate change

28
2014

After 2 months of campaigning we are thrilled to announce that General Mills — once ranked last on climate change policies on our Behind the Brands scorecard — has committed to setting targets to reduce emissions, participate in real climate advocacy, and become a true climate leader. And we have you to thank!

There is no way General Mills - the maker of brands like Old El Paso, Häagen-Dazs and Green Giant - would have made these commitments without your support: The new policy comes after more than 230,000 people like you signed petitions and took action as part of Oxfam’s campaign to urge food and beverage companies to help stop climate change from making people hungry.

The fact that so many of us came together makes this victory that much sweeter!

As one of the 10 largest food and beverage companies in the world, General Mills took a bold step forward today as the first among the Big 10 to agree to cut emissions from both its operations and its agricultural supply chains. That’s huge!

And as a global player, General Mills’ action will be felt across the food and beverage sector—serving as a model for what others can do. In fact, General Mills has agreed to take on a leadership role to push for strong climate policy changes with governments and within the industry.

Specifically, General Mills has pledged to:

  1. “Know and show” by disclosing their emissions as well as their suppliers of sugar cane and palm oil.
  2. Set emissions reductions targets by 2015 and put in place stronger safeguards against deforestation.
  3. Advocate by taking a leadership role in addressing climate change with businesses and governments.

In the coming months we will continue to work with General Mills to make sure they reach their goals; you can follow their progress with us on our Climate Roadmap. These commitments will make a real difference in the lives of farmers around the world.

Soon more companies will have to act too. And we have our eye on just who is next: Kellogg.

Kellogg, one of General Mills’ main competitors, has not yet stepped up their game. They need a wake-up call.

 

Give Kellogg's a wake up call!

 
Now, it's time for Kellogg's to step up and make similar commitments to help stop climate change from making people hungry. Will you pick up the phone and call Kellogg's today? 
 
Kellogg Customer Care Repuclic of Ireland: 1800 626 066
 
Kellogg Customer Care UK: 0800 626 066
 
If Behind the Brands supporters from around the world make these calls, Kellogg will really feel the pressure. It's quick and easy to make this call - and so important. Everything you'll need is here: the phone number, a script to guide your conversation, and other tips and tricks. Please call today! 
 
With 25 million more children at risk of going hungry by 2050, Kellogg has to take responsibility and cut their emissions. If General Mills can do it, they can too. 
 
It's quick and easy to make this call – and so important. Everything you'll need is here: the phone number, a script to guide your conversation, and other tips and tricks.
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Jul 23, 2014

Jul A child killed every hour in Gaza

23
2014

Gaza – a place where a child is being killed every hour, where 600 Palestinians have died and where 3,500 have been injured. Of the dead, 74% are civilians, including 147 children. More than 120,000 people have fled their homes but the borders are shut and people have nowhere safe to go.

44% of Gaza territory has now been declared areas that people must leave. The remaining 56% is also dangerous and faces frequent airstrikes.

Around 1.2 million people – two thirds of Gaza's population – have no or very limited access to water and sanitation services. At least 18 medical facilities have been hit by airstrikes and shelling, including hospitals, ambulances and health clinics, while 90 schools have been damaged by shelling.

Half of Gaza's bakeries are not operating and have stocks to last one more week. More than 135,000 people need food assistance. And at least 116,000 children need psychosocial care after their homes have been destroyed or they have had to flee or had family members killed.

These stark figures show how the conflict in Gaza and Israel is having particularly devastating consequences for civilians in Gaza, affecting every aspect of life. Gaza has been under Israeli blockade for the past seven years, which has devastated the economy, left most people unable to leave, and restricted access to essential services. The latest violence is making a dire situation even worse, and will have an impact on people's lives and livelihoods for a long time to come.

Oxfam condemns all attacks on civilians by all sides, and is calling for an immediate ceasefire. Long term peace and security for Palestinians and Israelis alike will only come with a lasting solution that ends the blockade and ensures people in Gaza can have basic rights. The below photos by Mohammed Al Baba show what life is now like for people in Gaza:

The ongoing airstrikes have destroyed everything from family's homes to fishermen's boats, water systems to health centres. These agricultural greenhouses in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, used to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and pumpkins. They were destroyed in strikes earlier this week.

Dozens of fishing boats and more than 1,000 nets have been destroyed. Sabri Bakr's family has been fishing for generations and it is his only source of income. "Before this military operation started, the situation was already very bad. Now my boat is totally burnt and I have nothing at all. I really do not know what will I do now, or how I will even provide food to my children.” 
 
Years of restrictions on fishermen's movement have left them struggling to make a living. Under the blockade they are only allowed a maximum of six nautical miles out at sea, and are frequently shot at or arrested by the Israeli navy even within the so-called "fishing zone." Oxfam supports fishermen in Gaza with equipment and technical advice.
 
 
Doctors at the Oxfam-supported Al Awda Hospital in northern Gaza treat a young boy. The hospital is struggling to cope and faces chronic shortages of fuel, with Gaza suffering 12-16 hour daily power cuts under the blockade. "About 40 percent of the casualties we've treated are children, and our medical staff are working 24-hour shifts. If more fuel is not available the hospital will have to shut down many of its services," said Ahmed Manna, Al Awda's Medical Director.
 
 
One of Gaza's busiest streets stands empty. Many shops and factories have closed and people are scared to go out. Su'ad, a mother of six, works at a food processing unit supported by Oxfam, producing pastries and other baked goods. 
 
"My children and I are barely able to sleep due to the continuous airstrikes. We are in the middle of Ramadan – the holy month – which is usually our busiest and most profitable time of the year as people spend more money on food and gifts for relatives. This time last year we made $1,000 a week. But since the bombing started we haven't been able to sell anything. Three of my children go to college and their tuition fees depend on the money I make during Ramadan." 
 
 
Amid the rising casualties, the Oxfam-supported Al Awda Hospital continues to deliver babies. The hospital is the only one in north Gaza with a specialized obstetric unit for pregnant women. Abeer Al Madhoun gave birth to a healthy young boy this week: "I was so scared to be targeted on my way to the hospital. During the delivery I heard bombs falling around the hospital. I was scared that my baby would be hurt. I'm thankful to the medical teams who are doing everything possible despite the danger surrounding them. My happiness is mixed with fear and sad feelings for the children who have lost their lives." 
 
 
Children in Rafah, southern Gaza, collect water from one of the working public taps. Numerous water systems and wells have been badly damaged in the airstrikes. Sewage plants have also been damaged, with millions of litres of raw sewage spilling into streets, farms and the sea. Even before the current escalation around 90 percent of water in Gaza was already unsafe to drink. The outflow of sewage risks further contaminating water supplies, increasing the threat of disease. Oxfam teams are running public health campaigns to try and reduce the risk.
 
 
Meleh Al Shaer grows pumpkins on his farm in the southern Gaza Strip. The farm was completely destroyed a few days ago. Thousands of farmers like Meleh have lost large amounts of land and produce – something it will take a long time to recover from. Oxfam supports farmers in Gaza with agricultural equipment and specialist advice. 
 
 
Some shops have managed to stay open. Oxfam is providing food vouchers to hundreds of families who have been forced to flee their homes – so that they can buy food to eat and to support local businesses and trade.

'The drones never leave Gaza skies...'

Listen to Oxfam's Arwa Mhanna daily diaries on living under the shadow of drones in Gaza. Recorded: 15 July 2014

"I hope everyone will be able to spend the rest of Ramadan in peace..."

Listen to Oxfam's Arwa Mhanna in Gaza on the struggle to observe Ramadan under siege. Recorded: 16 July 2014

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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