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Cycle of despair: The Syria crisis is far from over

Next month marks nine years since the conflict in Syria erupted –and the horrors that its people have suffered in that time are truly unimaginable. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed. Millions of families have been forced to flee. Hundreds of children have been maimed.

Rafik's house inHamourieh/ Eastern Ghouta has been destroyed. Photo: DaniaKareh/Oxfam

Today, more than 6.5 million Syrians are living in poverty, a third of the population doesn’t have enough to eat and 15.5 million people have no access to clean, running water.On average, every second person is unemployed, while poverty and desperation has forced children into child labour and early marriage.Almost 12 million people need humanitarian assistance while close to 6 million are displaced within their own country.

Imm stands at the entrance of her shelter in the Bekaa Valley. Photo:Adrian Hartrick/Oxfam

The conflict also sparked the world’s largest refugee crisis. Around 5.6 million Syrians have fled their homes to seek refuge in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon and Jordan. Right now, refugees are slowly emerging from another harsh winter of snow, rain and freezing temperatures in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. There, they live in makeshift structures with little more than plastic sheeting to protect them from the bitter winter winds.

Despite their desperate living conditions, they have no choice but to stay. After all, the crisis in Syria is far from over. A five-hour drive north from the Bekaa Valley, across Syria’s northwest Idlib region, the UN estimates that a staggering 900,000 people have fled renewed violence since December. As shelling and violence intensifies, this number is rapidly approaching 1 million.

Oxfam is working in Syria, where we have reached more than 1.2 million people with aid including clean water, cash, essential clothing items, and support to help make a living and grow food.

We can’t bring an end to the fighting but we can help to save lives and give hope to those trapped in this ongoing cycle of despair.

Rohingya crisis: Support Fashion Relief and make a difference

Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

There's more to Fashion Relief than bagging a bargain or spotting your favourite celeb - it can make a real difference to families bearing the brunt of war and climate change.

Shoppers at next month's events in Galway and Dublin will be supporting the world's most vulnerable communities - they include thousands of Rohingya people forced to flee Myanmar when conflict broke out in 2017. Around 700,000 people fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, settling in Cox's Bazar. With 1 million people now calling it home, it is the world's largest refugee camp.

Lorraine Keane recently visited Bangladesh to see Oxfam's work on the ground for herself. So far, we've distributed vital aid including clean water and food to 360,000 people in Cox's Bazar.

Fashion Relief at Cox's Bazar | Oxfam Ireland

We’re helping people stay healthy by installing water points, toilets and showers, and distributing soap and other essentials. We’ve recruited more than 600 Rohingya volunteers to help us reach others with hygiene information, we’ve built the biggest-ever sewage plant in a refugee camp on site and our solar-powered water network delivers safe water to families.

Oxfam staff hears Rohingya refugee opinions on new latrines
The women’s social architecture latrine user group talks to Iffat (Oxfam Senior Innovation Officer in Public Health Promotion & Community Engagement) about their first experiences using the latrine and bathing facilities. Photo: Salahuddin Ahmed

We've also provided 25,000 refugee households with vouchers that can be exchanged at local markets for fresh vegetables and ingredients. We’ve hired over 1,800 Bangladeshi locals to work on construction projects including road repairs, schools and water sources and provided almost 400 people with grants to start or expand their small businesses.

new Oxfam food voucher system for refugees
An efficient new e-voucher system enables refugees to make their purchase by simply scanning a card pre-charged with credit. Photo: Maruf Hasan/Oxfam

To help women feel safer after dark, we’ve installed more than 350 solar-powered streetlights around the camp and provided 20,000 torches and portable solar lanterns. We’ve also worked with women refugees to design more secure toilets and supplied them with fabric and vouchers so they can make or order clothes they feel more comfortable wearing in public.

Oxfam bought light to parts of Cox's Bazar
Oxfam has brought light to parts of the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. Photo: Maruf Hasan/Oxfam

Sustainability in action

Fashion Relief is a key part of our work to increase sustainability across the fashion industry and support fair pay for garment workers. According to the UN, the textile industry generates more emissions than the aviation and shipping industries combined!

That's no surprise when 225,000 tonnes of clothes end up in landfill in Ireland each year. That's 225,000 tonnes of clothes not getting a second chance at life.

On top of that, cheap production and plummeting prices means the items we buy often end up in landfill before they should, while garment workers survive on low wages and more often than not experience poor working conditions [Source: Irish Tech News].

Join us on a journey to a more sustainable lifestyle, starting with the clothes you wear. We're proud to be a solution to "throwaway fashion" by reducing the amount of clothes and textiles that end up in landfill and giving pre-loved clothes a longer life. We also work with retailers, encouraging them to donate their end-of-line or excess stock to us instead of sending it to landfill. That's a more sustainable solution for people and planet!

Oxfam among finalists for EU's €1m Blockchains for Social Good prize

At Oxfam Ireland, we have our eyes on the prize – the prize being a €1 million award for an EU competition entitled Blockchains for Social Good. Our innovative UnBlocked Cash Project was one of just 24 projects picked from 178 applications for the finals. Last week, Oxfam staff and our technology partners – Sempo and ConsenSys – delivered their pitch to a jury in Brussels, with the winners to be announced in the coming weeks.

presenting blockchain findings
Oxfam staff and representatives from ConsenSys and Sempo recently presented their findings of the project.

The project uses a decentralised platform to improve the delivery of cash aid in emergencies, allowing us to make transfers in the form of vouchers to communities caught up in disasters. What’s different, however, is that these are blockchain-powered smart vouchers, making it easier and faster to get aid to the areas where it’s needed most.

This suite of blockchain-based, stable cryptocurrencies enables efficient cross-border transactions. It is also fixed to the price of the local currency to enable people to spend as they would in their local shops and markets.

people use Oxfams new blockchain application for aid
Local store owner Melika at her store with a customer using the blockchain-powered technology. Photo: Keith Parsons/OxfamAUS

The project has been piloted in the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu, where users have shown not only is it a speedy and efficient way of transferring vouchers in an emergency, but also how the smart system updates in real time. This helps to reduce the number of resources needed to be devoted to transparency, accounting and monitoring.

Sandra Hart from Oxfam in Vanuatu described the island nation as being “the most, or the second most, disaster-prone country in the world. Because it’s a country of over 80 islands, disaster assistance takes ages to get to people. We did a nationwide study and the average time it took for people to receive assistance after a disaster was four weeks or more.”

Oxfam staff involved with this project
Oxfam's Pacific Cash and Livelihood Lead Sandra Hart. Photo: Keith Parsons/OxfamAUS

But with the help of the blockchain pilot, Oxfam was able to deliver cheques to more than 13,000 volcano-affected households between December and March. “They… didn’t have to go through the process of lining up for a bag of rice,” said Sandra. “They were able to go shopping right away in their local markets.

“The key one for us, is that this will greatly reduce the timeframe, not just to deliver disaster assistance in Vanuatu, but to deliver vouchers… For the first time in Vanuatu, a community is familiar with a disaster relief system, familiar with a whole distribution system, meaning they are now well placed to design their own response and participate in that process. We really have community and tech-driven disaster assistance in the preparedness phase before something happens.”

Get ready for Fashion Relief 2020: Sustainable fashion extravaganza

Attend in style, Get your tickets today

Fashion Relief is back, offering you a unique opportunity to bag a bargain from the wardrobe of your favourite style icon or brand, boutique or designer, all while raising crucial funds for Oxfam's work worldwide.

Don't want to wait in long agonizing queues away from the buzz of fun and fashion? Then get your gal pals together and skip the queues on the day by grabbing your tickets now!

HINT: The earlier you get inside, the more amazing bargains you could find!

Fashion Relief 2020 Galway and Dublin | Oxfam Ireland

When & Where

The Galmont Hotel, Galway – 1 March

RDS Dublin, Dublin 4 – 28 & 29 March

Who & Why

You! You’ll grab unbelievable bargains on the latest styles and trends while helping raise vital funds for communities at the sharp end of climate emergencies and major conflict in places like Yemen, Ethiopia and Bangladesh.

Join Lorraine Keane and other big stars showcasing rail after rail of premium pre-loved clothes and accessories starting at just €5, with donations from the stars and the public as well as brand-new items from high street designers and retailers across the island.

HINT: Don’t miss the free fashion show and fashion advice and styling tips from leading Irish stylists and social influencers on the day!

Lorraine Keane invites you to join her!

“We’re so excited to bring Fashion Relief back to fashion-savvy shoppers in Galway and Dublin this year. Over the last few weeks, items have been pouring in from a host of amazing designers, retailers and the public, as well as of course, celebrities and influencers.  

“This year, we have a particular focus on sustainability and we’re inviting people to join us on a journey to a more sustainable lifestyle, starting with the clothes we wear. We’re proud to be a solution to ‘throwaway fashion’ by reducing the amount of clothes and textiles that end up in landfill and giving pre-loved clothes a second lease of life.

“In December, I visited the world’s largest refugee settlement in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, home to almost one million Rohingya refugees who fled unimaginable violence in Myanmar. While safe from the conflict that took the lives of many of their loved ones, they now face new threats and challenges in their makeshift home.  

“I saw first-hand the devasting impact the climate crisis is having on people affected by poverty and disaster right now. Cox’s Bazar is extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels and extreme weather events like cyclones and monsoons - and when you live in a flimsy shelter made of tarpaulin and bamboo that is particularly catastrophic. The Oxfam staff in the camp told me how during storms and flash flooding, homes and even little children are at risk of being washed away.  

“The are many reasons to join me at Fashion Relief in Galway and Dublin, but the most important is that we’ll be raising crucial funds for Oxfam’s work in places like Bangladesh where they are providing life-saving support like shelter, food, water and safe sanitation. Get your ticket today.”

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Inside East Africa's massive locust infestation

Taking advantage of favourable breeding conditions, locusts hit farmers and herders in areas already reeling from climate shocks.

Desert locust infestations have moved across Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, and are now entering areas of northern Uganda. The insects are also threatening Sudan and South Sudan, and there are reports of locust swarms now in Tanzania.

map of affected areas
Map of affected areas. Credit: UN Food and Agriculture Organization

The desert locust is among the most dangerous migratory pests in the world: A large desert locust plague can contain up to 58 million individuals per square mile, with half a million locusts weighing approximately one ton. One ton of locusts eats as much food in one day as about 10 elephants, 25 camels or 2,500 people.

"We depend on livestock and if there is no fodder for our livestock, life will be difficult for us, we ask for help urgently," said Mohammed Hassan Abdille, a farmer from Bura Dhima in Tana River, Kenya. This is the worst locust crisis in 70 years for Kenya alone.

The locusts have hit the region after countries there were affected by huge droughts and in some areas flash floods. There are currently 22.8m people facing severe food insecurity in these countries following consecutive failed rainy seasons, unusual floods, and storms.

The fast-moving locust swarms have been made worse by the climate crisis because they are feeding on new vegetation, the result of unusual weather patterns. They are devastating pastures and grasslands and could ruin new food crops during the March-to-July growing season.

Oxfam's Response

Oxfam is gearing up its humanitarian operations and will work closely with local partners and communities. Program staff in the region report they aim to reach more than 190,000 of the most vulnerable people with cash assistance, livestock feed, seeds, and health services.

In Somalia, together with local partners, Oxfam intends to assist 11,670 households of the most vulnerable people. In Kenya, Oxfam will work in seven of the 13 affected counties to assist 3,000 households in the first phase of operations, and another 5,000 in the second. In Ethiopia, Oxfam aims to reach another 5,000 households with similar aid. Oxfam will need to secure more than €4.6 million (£3.8 million) to mount this response.

Unusual rains advance breeding

This outbreak has been exacerbated by climate change. Cyclones that struck the Arabian Peninsula last year created ideal conditions for desert locusts to multiply. The swarms crossed to the Horn of Africa, where unusually heavy rains late last year created favorable breeding conditions. Heavy rain leads to growth of vegetation in arid areas, providing locusts with more food, and the conditions needed to develop and reproduce.

You can help Oxfam respond to the locust crisis in East Africa.

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