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Photographing the pandemic – Fabeha Monir in Bangladesh

Nur Jahan* photographed by Fabeha Monir inside her house. Nur* wears a mask to protect herself from COVID-19. Photo: Fabeha Monir/Oxfam

Fabeha Monir is a Dhaka-based visual journalist and member of Women Photograph. Her work explores themes of social development, migration, gender-based violence and forced exile in marginalised communities. Fabeha told us about her experience documenting the impact of COVID-19 on Rohingya people living in Cox’s Bazar – home to the world’s largest refugee camp.

“When I was working with Oxfam to report on the impact of COVID-19, Cyclone Amphan hit. It created fear. In most of the Rohingya refugee camps, there are no cyclone shelters.

“I have covered major disasters, but nothing like this before. The fear and grief people hold is contagious. COVID-19 is everyone’s fight.

“Upwards of 60,000 to 90,000 people are crammed into each square kilometre of the camp, with families of 12 sharing small, flimsy shelters. Everyone is breathing the same air inside that shelter, coughing and sneezing. The 34 camps have a population density more than 40 times above the average in Bangladesh.

When I interviewed and photographed Nur, it was just as the cyclone was starting to hit.

“She walked with her baby in her arms on a narrow path between the temporary homes and went to wash her hands with the contactless handwashing device that Oxfam had installed. Hunger, a lack of water and COVID-19 has made people’s lives miserable, but Nur still has strength. Nur and her daughter left an ever-lasting impression on me.

Cyclone Amphan approaching the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar in May this year. Photo: Fabeha Monir/Oxfam

“Super-cyclone Amphan left a trail of devastation throughout north-east India and the Bangladesh coast, with over 80 deaths reported. Thousands of homes and crops were destroyed, compounding the suffering for many communities already hit by COVID-19 and the impact of lockdown.

“In the camps, Oxfam, partner staff and Rohingya volunteers were on the ground making preparations before the cyclone hit, which was encouraging to see and document. I met 24-year-old Abul Alam, who was spraying disinfectant in the drains and alleys, and Md. Yusuf and Abu Nayeem, who were securing the water tanks with ropes. Their commitment to serve the community impressed me a lot.

Oxfam staff member Abul Alam (24) in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Fabeha Monir/Oxfam

Water is essential, especially during the pandemic.

“Shortages of water can cause disputes. Under these circumstances, it’s incredible to see how Oxfam is supporting the Rohingya community with their contactless handwashing devices and providing drinking water for the majority of the camp.

“I am working hard to tell stories that matter. But this fight is no more a lonely battle. We are all in this together.

“I am not on the ground to just report on the deaths. We need to highlight the struggles of people who have no access to isolation or safety. In any system of oppression, the most vulnerable will always suffer the most and be heard the least. Violence against women has increased. Homeless women and children, transgender people, sex workers and the refugee community are all suffering from this crisis.

Every time I take a photograph of someone, I become responsible for their history.

“The photographer provides the first line of ‘ethical defence’. They must follow the ethical code of practice and take responsibility for the images they capture. Photography can show the horror of war, the tragedy of an incident and the hardship of poverty, providing information that can be critical for decision-makers.

“I often ask myself how my stories can drive change. Visual journalists play an important role, providing vital information to communities affected by crisis. We have to continue to question how we tell these stories, make an impact, and minimise risks, both for our subjects and ourselves.

As a journalist and photographer, I work very closely with people.

“While this is an important story, it must not come at the expense of our health. I have to remind myself to maintain physical distance while I work. Wearing protective gear and breathing in it is hard. It can also be unnerving disinfecting myself every other minute. I must stay calm, not rush, and focus on what’s important.

“When I return from work and edit my images, I feel strange. I do not know when this pandemic will end, how people who live at the edge of society will survive. The family who have a little rice left in their kitchen; how will they continue living and dreaming for tomorrow?

Fabeha Monir on assignment for Oxfam in the Rohingya refugee camps, Cox’s Bazar. Photo: Mohammad Rakibul Hasan

There is no separation between my life and work.

“We can’t unplug from the suffering we are also experiencing while covering the pandemic. I look to the courage and strength of the people I photograph – this gives me the ability to wake up each day and continue reporting.

“Without any warning, our lives have now shifted from order to chaos. We cannot make plans. We are restless, not knowing what will happen next. But the astonishing part of covering this historic time is the acts of solidarity.

“We are more united mentally and spiritually than we have ever been before, though we have to distance ourselves physically.

“We are unique. We haven’t given up hope. While working closely with health professionals, humanitarian workers and security personnel, I have learned we must continue our work.

“When I document the lives of refugees, or the struggle of a single mother working to feed her children, it reminds me how we have to hold on to hope. If we let the pandemic take that away, there will be no way we can come out of it alive.”


*Name changed to protect identity.
 

How Ireland can Build Back Better Using the Economic Stimulus Plan

Now that the incidences of COVID-19 have greatly decreased, due to the collective efforts of the Irish people, the new Government is rightly starting to focus on ‘renewal and recovery’. In his acceptance speech as Taoiseach, Micheál Martin stated that the COVID-19 pandemic “is the fastest moving recession ever to hit our country and to overcome it we must act with urgency and ambition… to secure a recovery to benefit all of our people”.

One of the first major actions of the new Government will be to unveil a major stimulus plan for the economy. There is a growing consensus that we need we need swift and transformative system change to address the many crises we face, that we can’t go back to the old ways of doing things.

Despite all the pain this crisis has caused, it presents a unique opportunity to put us on the path to a more sustainable, just and feminist future. A just approach to tackle underlying multiple inequalities. A sustainable approach, using the “doughnut economics” approach developed by Oxfam, to ensure that we live within the Nine Planetary Boundaries – scientific “tipping points” that focus directly on environmental wellbeing. And a feminist approach to challenge patriarchal structures and put women’s leadership front and centre. History has shown that gender inequality holds back progress on economic performance, health, wellbeing, environmental protection and social progress. The security and stability of our nations literally depends on the status of women.

The response to COVID-19 so far has shown that we are able to mobilise collectively on a huge scale. It is making the impossible possible. It is revealing that what truly matters is human lives. It has forced us to reconsider what is essential to keeping our economies and societies functioning, and is shedding a light on the role of care in terms of our healthcare, nursing care and childcare systems. Yet many workers in the care sector are still paid poverty wages.

The crisis has also highlighted the important role of low-wage workers in terms of the provision of essential goods and services. Most importantly, it has revealed the vital role women play in our economy, despite the unequal rewards and recognition they receive. A study of essential workers by the ERSI has found that the majority (almost 70 percent) of essential employees in Ireland are female. This trend is replicated worldwide, with more than 70 percent of healthcare workers worldwide being female. If not all heroes wear capes in this crisis, most cape-less heroes are women – their voices and considerations should now become central to how we plan for the future. The stimulus plan for the economy must not be gender blind and needs to take the above considerations into account.

In stimulating the Irish economy, we need to make sure that it works for everyone. A recent report by Oxfam noted that Ireland has the fifth-largest number of billionaires per capita in the world. Overall, the world’s 2,153 billionaires own more wealth than the 4.6 billion people who make up 60 percent of the entire population of the planet.

The global value chains of numerous businesses operating from Ireland often involve exploitative working conditions, gender discrimination and violence; violations of trade union and workers’ rights; corruption and tax evasion; land-grabs and evictions of indigenous peoples and local communities; and violent attacks on human rights and environmental defenders.

Oxfam’s Ripe for Change report exposed the economic exploitation faced by millions of small-scale farmers and workers in food supply chains. Our surveys of people working in supermarket supply chains found that a large majority struggle to adequately feed their families. Women bear the heaviest burden – overwhelmingly concentrated in the least secure and lowest-paid positions in food supply chains, shouldering most of the unpaid work on family farms, and routinely denied a voice in positions of power. Our modern food system is built on squeezing women’s labour hardest of all.  While frontline supermarket workers in Ireland have been rightly recognised as essential workers during the COVID-19 crisis, the essential labour of workers who actually produce our food through global value chains remains hidden.

Although some businesses and financial institutions are already taking steps to meet their responsibility to respect human rights and the environment in their global operations, too many others are linked to serious abuses. At present, there is no legally binding business and human rights regulation to stop this exploitation and abuse – this needs to change. Voluntary measures have failed to prevent abuses and are simply not strong enough. A recent report published by the Centre for Social Innovation at Trinity Business School in Dublin, Business and Human Rights in Ireland: Benchmarking compliance with the UN Guiding Principles, paints a very poor picture of Irish company engagement with business and human rights. 

The corporate world also has a huge impact on sustainability. Every decision can affect the most vulnerable people and ecosystems. It can threaten livelihoods and exacerbate poverty. For example, the fast fashion industry has shaped the way that we consume clothes. Due to overconsumption and lack of regulation we are buying vast amounts of low-quality textiles. Not only are these garments unfit for long-term use, they cannot be recycled, resulting in a worldwide waste problem that is detrimental to the environment. The wages and working conditions of clothes producers in countries like Bangladesh, who are usually women, often fall well below basic human rights standards. Textiles have been identified as one of the waste streams with the highest untapped potential to implement circular practices. Throwaway fashion is unsustainable and is stretching the planet’s resources beyond its limits. Every year Irish people dump 225,000 tonnes of clothing – a huge waste of water and energy considering that it would take 13 years to drink the amount of water needed to make one t-shirt. 

It is therefore welcome that support to the circular economy features strongly in the Programme for Government. The circular economy concept brings a holistic perspective to the lifespan of a product from design, material choice, sustainable production processes, product use, reuse and recycling. Circularity benefits the environment and helps to fight the climate crisis. It also generates innovative and sustainable economic opportunities. Oxfam Ireland works with a wide range of companies committed to sustainability. These business partnerships directly improve the lives of millions of people worldwide by making it easier to keep excess stock out of landfills. The economic stimulus plan needs is a good place to start to develop the potential of the circular economy in Ireland.

The nature of Ireland’s planned economic stimulus should underpin a new social contract between people, governments and the market – one that radically reduces inequality, gender inequalities and lays the foundations for a just, equal and sustainable human economy that works for all throughout their lives.

The European Commission has provided guidance for any State Aid to private businesses through a Temporary Framework that includes a ban on payment of dividends and share buybacks and an obligation for large companies to report on their investments in terms of commitment to the Paris Agreement and digital transformation. This week the Commission added to these guidelines by recommending that states do not support companies with links to the EU’s tax haven list. It is important that Ireland introduces these minimum conditions. However, it can go a lot further.

Priority must be given to supporting small businesses who have the least ability to cope with the crisis. Bailouts of big corporations should be conditional on measures to uphold the interests of workers, farmers and taxpayers, and to build a sustainable future. For those corporations receiving company-specific assistance, financial support should take the form either of interest-bearing loans or of the government taking a stake in the company. Governments should ensure proper oversight of all bailouts, including being represented on boards, to prevent corruption and mismanagement.

The response to the COVID-19 crisis has also shown the incredible power of government-led solidarity and collective action. While governments have started to act decisively domestically, international solidarity has yet to materialise on a grand scale. After the financial crisis of 2008, few lessons were learned. A decade of austerity and failed economic policy has undermined our societies and led to the rise of dangerous right-wing nationalism, a regression of democracy and a violent backlash against feminist movements. It does not have to be this way.

We can rebuild a better world. A fairer world. A more sustainable world. One that radically reduces the gap between rich and poor. One where we do not jeopardise the lives of our children and future generations. One where the richest pay their fair share to contribute to collective solutions to the challenges facing humanity. One where feminist principles are central. One where governments are held accountable by their citizens and where we are all enabled us to take action to stop climate breakdown. Together we can learn the lessons from this unprecedented crisis, to build a more human economy and a fairer world.

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Between war and coronavirus, the double crisis for Syrians is too much to bear

Louay (45) feeding chickens he and 434 other families received from Oxfam. He lives with his family of six in Hamouriyeh/Rural Damascus. Photo: Dania Kareh/Oxfam.

By Dania Kareh, Media and Communications Officer, Oxfam in Syria

Edited by Roslyn Boatman, MENA Regional Media and Communications Advisor

“I often wonder what childhood memory my kids will take with them when they are grown? Is it the memory of piles of rubble they stumbled over so many times on their way to school? The nights they had to go to bed with empty stomachs? Or memories of our destroyed neighborhood?  All of it will be a reminder of a happy childhood they should have had, but didn’t,” says Louay, a 45-year-old father of four, close to tears.

Louay and his family live in Hamouriyeh, an agricultural town in Rural Damascus, once home to nearly 14,000 people who suffered through several years of brutal war and displacement.

“We haven’t been able to have a normal life during nine years of violence and now the coronavirus crisis is exacerbating all of the other issues we had before it came. This is too much to bear.”

Othman Akeed, an Oxfam team member, delivers a fodder bag distributed to one of the families as a part of a poultry kit distribution in Rural Damascus. Photo: Dania Kareh/Oxfam.

The difficulty of living in a double crisis

Even before coronavirus hit, four out of five Syrians lived below the poverty line. For millions, the almost decade-long war has been a time of fear, confusion and huge loss; of livelihoods and belongings, homes and family members and, for too many, the loss of dreams.

Now, the coronavirus has brought a double humanitarian crisis to Syria, bringing even greater challenges to people’s lives and pushing them into extreme measures of survival.

Louay says that to cope, his family has had to cut back on the number of meals they eat each day.

“I’ve worked as a carpenter ever since I was a boy. It was once a thriving business, but not anymore. Since the war began, and now with coronavirus, things went from bad to worse. Who would think about buying furniture now with the increased prices, when most households can't even afford their basic living expenses? People cannot afford to buy items unless they are daily essentials.

“When costs are increasing, you buy fewer things. We need to forget things like meat and fruit now.” Louay turned to farming to help make ends meet. He owns a small plot of land and by planting a part of it, he hopes that he will give his family some returns by the end of the season.

Marwan (52) lives in eastern Ghouta with his family. He and 434 other farmers have benefitted from Oxfam’s seed distribution response to help them retain their lands and livelihoods. Photos: Dania Kareh/Oxfam.

Livelihoods gripped by the pandemic

For Marwan, a farmer from Rural Damascus, the situation is no different

“Two months ago, we started to feel the impact of the coronavirus crisis. Our income was dwindling, and food prices continued to skyrocket. What we earned from last season’s harvest couldn’t cover my family’s basic expenses, even rent, and setting some money aside was something we could no longer do. Purchasing new seeds, after prices have increased dramatically, was out of the question, and so, for us, preparing for next season’s harvest was out of reach,” he told Oxfam.

Marwan lost his house during the violence and is now leasing an apartment with his family. Rent is expensive, and as prices continue to rise, his livelihood, like so many others, is at stake.

Millions of Syrians need humanitarian assistance

Oxfam has delivered chickens, tomato and aubergine seedlings, and cucumber and courgette seeds to around 2,200 people in eastern Ghouta. For Marwan, the seedlings and seeds have saved his family. “Without them, our only option would have been to sell some of our land to survive,” he says.

All over the country, the situation for Syrians is sharply deteriorating. Millions of Syrians like Marwan and Louay need humanitarian assistance for clean water, food, shelter, healthcare and more.  For hundreds of thousands of families, it is life-saving.  It is vital that families across Syria continue to receive the assistance they need.

Without access to this crucial aid, thousands more will be forced to abandon their livelihoods, bringing them closer to financial ruin. We must ensure we do everything we can to ensure Syrians are protected and supported, otherwise dignified and safe lives will fall further from their grasp.

This disease knows no borders and does not discriminate. For the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, the worst is yet to come as the coronavirus begins to establish itself and spread quickly through communities powerless to stop it, without access to water, sanitation or healthcare.

Together, we can save lives.

Ireland must address large-scale corporate tax avoidance despite Apple ruling

Oxfam media reaction

Wednesday 15th July 2020

Today, Oxfam Ireland called on the Irish Government to urgently address continued and extreme corporate tax avoidance. Oxfam’s call is in response to the General Court of the European Union’s ruling this morning that the European Commission was incorrect in its decision that €13 billion in unpaid taxes by Apple constituted illegal state aid from the Irish government. The General Court ruling relates to an appeal by Apple and Ireland against a 2016 EU decision that required the US company to pay Ireland 13 billion euros in unpaid taxes.

Michael McCarthy Flynn, Oxfam Ireland’s Senior Policy and Research Coordinator said: “Despite this ruling there is no disputing the fact that Apple received significant tax reductions through tax rulings made by the Irish tax authorities.

“The Apple case highlights the extreme nature of corporate tax avoidance facilitated by Ireland, for which there is clear and growing evidence outside of the Apple case alone. A recent Oxfam review of the EU Tax Haven List showed that royalty payments sent out of Ireland amounted to more than are sent out of the rest of the EU combined, making Ireland the world’s number one royalties’ provider. High levels of these payments, far above normal economic activity, indicate that a jurisdiction is facilitating tax avoidance. In addition, the 2020 European Commission Semester Report on Ireland found that Ireland’s tax rules are used by companies ‘that engage in aggressive tax planning’.

“These repeated cases of tax avoidance point to the need for more fundamental tax reforms at EU and global level. These include a digital service tax, a minimum effective tax rate, effective measures against tax havens and new rules that require companies to disclose where they generate their profits and where they pay their taxes, for each country they operate in. This would give governments and civil society the ability to hold companies to account.

“In the wake of COVID-19 and the devastating economic fallout already being felt, governments must not continue to spurn the chance to raise vital revenue in corporate tax income for the benefit of their citizens. Corporate tax avoidance costs governments hundreds of billions of euros every year – money that could be used to deliver essential services, such as health and child care, which are even more critical in the wake of the global pandemic.

“The billions raised through corporate tax has the potential to benefit all citizens of Ireland at a time when need has never been greater, while clear and transparent tax systems would go someway towards restoring people’s frayed trust in a global tax system that favours large multinationals.”

ENDS

CONTACT:

For interviews or more information, contact:

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org | +353 (0) 87 912 3165

Alice Dawson-Lyons | alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org | +353 (0) 83 198 1869

Notes to editors:

  • The European Commission’s investigation into Apple’s tax deal with Ireland shows that, since the early 1990s, Apple has received significant tax reductions through tax rulings issued by the Irish tax authorities. According to the Commission, Apple’s subsidiaries in Ireland in some years paid as little as 0.005 percent of their annual profit in taxes. The Commission ruled in 2016 that Ireland had granted Apple an unfair advantage over other companies through its tax deals with two Apple subsidiaries, and it ordered Apple to pay 13 billion euro in so far unpaid taxes. Ireland and Apple challenged the decision in court.
  • According to the European Commission, tax rulings may involve state aid within the meaning of EU rules if they are used to provide selective advantages to a specific company or group of companies. Tax rulings are used in particular to confirm transfer pricing arrangements. Transfer pricing refers to the prices charged for commercial transactions between various parts of the same group of companies, in particular prices set for goods sold or services provided by one subsidiary of a corporate group to another subsidiary of the same group. Transfer pricing influences the allocation of taxable profit between subsidiaries of a group located in different countries.
  • Today (Wednesday 15 July 2020) the EU plans to launch a Action Plan for fair and simple taxation to support Europe’s strategy for the coronavirus recovery, a communication on tax good governance in the EU and beyond, and a proposal to revise EU rules on automatic exchange of tax information.
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COVID-19: The Hunger Virus

2020 will go down in history as the year of the global pandemic. COVID-19 is a global public health crisis: millions have been infected worldwide, and hundreds of thousands of people have died. The disease is not the only deadly threat the pandemic has highlighted, unfortunately. COVID-19 has worsened the hunger crisis in some of the world’s worst hunger hotspots – and even created new ones. By the end of this year, as many as 12,000 people could die every day from COVID-19 related hunger. To put it in an Irish context, it would equate to the entire population of Galway city dying in just one week. It is critical that all governments work to end the hunger crisis and build fairer, stronger and more sustainable food systems.

Even before COVID-19, hunger was on the rise with nearly 820 million people estimated to be food insecure in 2019. Of that figure, 149 million suffered crisis-level hunger or worse. However, in the wake of the pandemic, the World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that the number of people experiencing crisis-level hunger will reach 270 million – an increase of 82 percent on last year. This crisis is being felt most acutely in 10 extreme hunger hotspots: Yemen, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Afghanistan, Venezuela, the West African Sahel, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Haiti. These 10 countries and regions alone host 65 percent of the people facing crisis-level hunger.

The pandemic is not only worsening conditions in established hunger hotspots but creating new ones in countries including Brazil, South Africa and India, where instability has been exacerbated by the pandemic and restrictions to control its spread. The situation in both emerging and established hunger hotspots is worsening because of pandemic-triggered mass unemployment, restrictions on food producers and a broken food system, diminished humanitarian aid, the climate crisis and systemic extreme inequality, and ongoing conflict.

In the face of the pandemic, a common thread across the globe has been a dramatic slowdown of the economy. This coupled with movement restrictions has resulted in mass job losses and lost income, particularly in the informal economy. The ad hoc social measures frantically implemented by governments in wealthy countries cannot be replicated in lower-income countries to protect their populations from the financial impacts of the virus. The same movement restrictions put in place to stop the spread of the virus are hindering the ability of food producers to manage crops, access markets and sell their produce. Women make up a large percentage of the informal economy; many of them are also small-scale farmers. Not only are they being heavily impacted by the loss of income due to the pandemic, they are often the first to go hungry in a family unit.

Diminished humanitarian aid is a symptom of both the economic slowdown and the movement restrictions around COVID-19. To date, just 24 percent of $7.3 billion Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19 has been funded. In practice, this means that the WFP halved their rations for 8.5 million people in Yemen, while Afghanistan has received just six percent of the money it needs to fund food programmes. Along with diminished aid from other countries, the climate crisis has made farming increasingly difficult. Higher-than-average annual temperatures and extreme weather negatively impact crop yield, putting an estimated 183 million at risk of climate change-related hunger.

Conflict and inequality are systemic issues which exacerbate the growing hunger crisis. Eight of the 10 established hunger hotspots are affected by high levels of violence and insecurity. Those who are forced to flee violence often leave without food, and find themselves in areas where farming is dangerous and travelling to markets potentially fatal. Additionally, hunger can be weaponised and warring parties can use food as a tool of submission and power. For example, Yemen relied heavily on imported food before the war. Now it is experiencing massive food shortages due to a blockade and its food supply system is broken.

As the world works to bring the number of those infected with COVID-19 to zero, we must also work on bringing those affected by hunger to zero. While thousands will starve because of the virus, the biggest food and drink companies have paid out over $18 billion to shareholders since the beginning of the year.

Inequality is at the root of the hunger crisis and Oxfam is urging governments to:

  1. Provide emergency assistance to save lives now
  2. Build fairer, more resilient, and sustainable food systems
  3. Promote women’s participation and leadership
  4. Cancel debts to allow developing countries to scale up social protections
  5. Support the UN’s call for a global ceasefire
  6. Take urgent action to tackle the climate crisis

 

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