World Water Day - The longest drought on record in East Africa

22 March 2023

Last September, we visited Naipa borehole in Turkana County, Northern Kenya, where a solar pump provided precious water to people and livestock in the drought-stricken Horn of Africa.

The lines of thirsty, waiting camels had travelled long distances and their pleasure in finally getting a drink was audible and visible.

Today, we mark World Water Day by highlighting what is now the longest drought on record in East Africa. Long-awaited rains are forecasted to fail this May, making it the sixth consecutive failed rainy season that climate change has brought to the region.

This is unprecedented. In northern Kenya, 95% of water sources have dried up in pastoral areas like Marsabit and Turkana.

Last year we released a report that highlighted how one person is likely to die of hunger every 36 seconds from drought-induced hunger.

Now we must add a new deadly threat - thirst. One in five people in drought-stricken East Africa – a total of 33.5 million people across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia – don't have enough safe drinking water.

“The hungriest people in the region are also the thirstiest. People have depleted their last penny as they lost their crops and animals. They now have to pay vendors who continuously hike water prices”, said Fati N’Zi-Hassane, Oxfam in Africa Director.

In some areas in Ethiopia, northern Kenya and Somalia, the cost of water has skyrocketed by 400 percent since January 2021, making remaining water out of reach for the 22.7 million people already facing acute hunger.

Travelling in Northern Kenya last year we drove through a parched landscape, scattered with the remains of dead livestock. The river beds were almost dry but where there was water there were trucks, mostly privately operated, taking water to sell. The situation is the same throughout the region.

“Hundreds of thousands of people are now relying on emergency water trucking, or unprotected wells which are unsafe and contaminated. Without clean water, people are at risk of contracting easily preventable diseases, such as acute watery diarrhoea and cholera”, added N’Zi-Hassane.

In Somalia’s Bay region, where 76,000 people are already facing famine-like conditions, water prices have more than doubled. Families are being forced to make hard choices like selling off what little essential possessions they have left or moving in search of water.

Khadra Omar, a 26-year-old resident from Mogadishu, said, “People are now risking their lives consuming dirty water as a result of the drought. The past droughts were not this bad, we were able to get water but in this one, it has been impossible to get water, everything has dried up and the water that is available is very expensive for us to afford, people are now dying because of thirst”.

While famine has so far been averted in countries like Somalia, mostly due to an increase in humanitarian response – only 20 percent of the UN $7 billion appeal for Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia has been funded to date, which will derail efforts to help millions of people on the brink.

The world should not turn its back on East Africa. Without an urgent and major increase in aid, many more people will die of hunger and thirst.

“The worsening hunger crisis in East Africa is a harsh reminder that we also need long-term solutions beyond immediate humanitarian relief, to help people cope with the recurrent shocks. National governments must lead that change by investing in social protection, water infrastructure and supporting food producers,” added N’Zi-Hassane.



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A Day in Aleppo Post-Earthquake: How Syrians Will Survive This New Cruel Chapter.

A displaced girl from Aleppo by the earthquake, makes a meal of boiled potatoes and bread. Photo Credit: Dania Kareh / Oxfam.


Walking the streets of Aleppo right after the devastating earthquake that hit the country on 6 February 2023, I was struck by the heavy silence hanging over the city. People were wandering in the streets aimlessly in the cold morning – some have lost their loved ones, or have seen their houses pummeled to the ground in front of their eyes, others fearing their buildings could collapse on top of them. Everyone looked scared and tired.

Moving around the city, I saw rooftops brought to the ground, furniture scattered underneath, and owners of some houses desperately attempting to pull out sentimental items like old pictures or personal documents from under the heaps of rubble. The scene was heartbreaking that I felt a lump in my throat. This is the worst earthquake that hit the country in a century. Thousands of people lost their lives under the collapsed buildings, many more were injured, and tens of thousands were forced to leave their homes fearing they would collapse.

“It took us a few minutes before we realised that this was a quake. It was as if the earth was breathing and with every breath, the whole building swayed right and left. Those few seconds were an eternity,” Mariam

Nehal, 47, a displaced woman from Aleppo, holds a flashlight she uses to light the way in the corridors of the shelter where she stays with her two daughters. Photo Credit: Dania Kareh/Oxfam.


Surviving the horrors of the earthquake

In Hellok, one of Aleppo's neighborhoods, where people gathered in a park away from buildings, I approached a group of women about that 'Black night' (the night of the earthquake as they later described it). They were sitting on the floor having nothing except what they put on when they rushed out of their homes. Some children were barefooted, while others were wearing some light clothes despite freezing temperature.

Mariam, a fifty-two-year-old woman, talked about the chaotic night with all the pain. She described the faint sound she heard when the earthquake hit. At first, she thought it was the sound of a shell landing nearby, but the sound soon became more deafening as it got louder. "It took us a few minutes before we realized that this was a quake. It was as if the earth was breathing, and with every breath, the whole building swayed right and left. Those few seconds were an eternity," says Mariam as a tear broke free, to be followed with more tears in an unbroken stream.

Mariam and her family had to spend that night outdoors under the heavy freezing rain. They first moved to a nearby mosque and then to a shelter, and they never got back home ever since. Six weeks after the earthquake, I can still see people like Mariam sitting in parks or in small tents, with no idea what they will do next. For them, the future is bleaker than any time, and their home, which was once a 'safe haven', is no longer a place of comfort or safety.

What is it like to stay in a shelter?

People escaped their unsafe or even collapsed buildings to stay in nearby hastily set up shelters that are massively overcrowded. In one school-turned-shelter I visited in Aleppo, 52 people were crammed into one small room, without enough blankets, mattresses, or even separations to give a bit of privacy to each family. "We're only receiving one meal a day," little Samira told me. The eleven-year-old girl had to move out of the rented apartment she's been living in with her mother and two sisters due to serious cracks in the walls and now shares a room with other families. Water isn't always enough to cover the needs in the shelter. "We have not taken a shower for almost twelve days," Samira explained. And even if water was available, women told us it is incredibly unsafe for them to use a facility without a door lock and doesn't have enough lighting, "This will leave us vulnerable if someone else walks in," they said.

A long battle ahead

The shock of the earthquake piled on top of 12 years of brutal war marked by crumbling infrastructure, financial collapse, Coronavirus, soaring food prices, and a recent cholera outbreak, forcing more and more people deeper into the bridge of poverty. No one really knows when the ramification of this quake will be over, but what we do know is that it can engulf entire communities and can last for months if not years if Syrians were not offered enough support that can help them live with dignity.

Our Oxfam team, together with partners, is already providing safe drinking water and installing water tanks to increase the storage capacity in shelters. We are repairing damaged water systems and distributing hygiene items in affected communities. Oxfam teams have also supported safety checks to buildings and fixed water taps and toilets in shelters. While we are stepping up efforts to support vulnerable people, much more support is still needed to help Syrians get back on their feet. We know that this will be a long journey before people rebuild their lives again.

This blog post is a contribution to the conversation Crisis in Syria Anniversary, views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent Oxfam International’s position. 


Blog by Dania Kare, Media and Communications officer Oxfam International

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Oxfam reaction to the ‘IPCC’s Synthesis Report (SYR)’ – a blog on a mouthful of acronyms!

Oxfam Ireland’s Simon Murtagh responds to today’s publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Synthesis Report (SYR).

Today’s IPCC Report makes clear that this is literally the last chapter. The science shows that limiting global heating to 1.5°C is still possible - but only just. Unless we pull the emergency brake on deadly carbon pollution, ‘unheard-of’ heatwaves, storms, droughts and floods will continue to become more frequent and hit more places and people.

People living in poverty are bearing the brunt of these climate-induced crises, including mass hunger happening now in East Africa, with a rise of just 1.1°C.

There is vast inequality in our world and also in how much climate damage we do – the richest 1% of society create more emissions than the whole of the bottom half of humanity, and their share of global emissions is growing rapidly. So, we’re all in this together - but some of us have a much greater contribution to make.

To stay within the 1.5°C ‘guardrail’ that the IPCC urgently recommends, every person on earth would need to stay below an average of 2.2 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year by 2030. The richest 1 percent use up this remaining ‘carbon budget’ in just 12 days each year, while the poorest 50 percent of humanity doesn’t even emit half of their carbon budget over an entire year. This inequality is absolutely ridiculous.

In Ireland, our climate strategy has been described as “kicking the can down the road”, and this IPCC report shows that our leaders are acting like much of the rest of the rich world - burying their head in the ‘business-as-usual’ of fossil fuel subsidies and a blind faith in mystical ‘technofixes’ that will save us from our fate - some day.

The outcome of this will be ‘overshoot’ – a scenario in which we have used up all our carbon budgets before their term, resulting in irreparable damage to people and planet. We are failing to live within our current national carbon budget in Ireland of 295 million tonnes (megatonnes, or mts) of greenhouse gases per year and we have already spent 23.5 per cent of the five-year budget before the 2022 figures have even emerged. We must resist this trend and frontload our climate and biodiversity actions now.

For more, the IPCC’s website is something I’d really recommend – their reports are really clear and beautifully illustrated with graphics and graphs.

Check it out here and, if we can link you to them and you can read the science for yourself, that’s one good job Oxfam Ireland has done today.

It’s outrageous that after six massive IPCC reports, 27 climate change conferences and the eight hottest years on record —with emissions still rising— governments continue to encourage the oil and gas industry to drill deeper and wider for fossil fuels. More than 600 fossil fuel lobbyists were at COP27 and an oil boss will lead the next climate talks in Dubai.

Oil giants raked in record profits in 2022. They are extracting these riches from a stricken planet. Their statements of ecological concern ring hollow. If governments had clawed back the massive profits that oil and gas producers funneled to their rich shareholders last year, they could have increased global investments in renewable energy by nearly one-third.

We can tackle the climate crisis and end poverty. This is not an either or. If the richest 1 percent stopped squandering so much carbon on private jets, big polluting cars and investments in fossil fuels, the poorest half of humanity could grow and flourish, and suffer fewer climate disasters, and look to the future with much greater confidence.

Notes to editors

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the past eight years were the warmest on record globally, fueled by ever-rising greenhouse gas concentrations and accumulated heat.

At least 363 fossil fuel lobbyists were granted access to COP27.

Big Oil more than doubled its profits in 2022 to $219 billion, more than the GDP of many countries. According to Janus Henderson Investors, the dividends of oil and gas producers totaled $151.8 billion in 2022. The IEA reports that $472 billion was invested in renewable power in 2022. (151.8/472)*100 equals 32.2 percent.

Oxfam’s research found that the investments of just 125 billionaires emit 393 million tons of CO2e each year —the equivalent of France— at an individual annual average that is a million times higher than someone in the bottom 90 percent of humanity.

According to the World Inequality Lab, eradicating global poverty below $5.50 would entail an increase in carbon emissions of approximately 18 percent. This is roughly equivalent to the emissions of the richest 1 percent (15 percent between 1990 and 2015).


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Syrians need support both to deal with the devastation of the earthquake and to recover from the impacts of 12 years of conflict.

Almost three-quarters of displaced Syrians surveyed in Aleppo say they are having to skip a meal every day since the earthquake

Three in every four people in Aleppo have had to reduce daily meals since the earthquake and near all of them say they have taken on extra debt or their children out of school in order to cope, says Oxfam.

Oxfam surveyed 300 people displaced in Aleppo, and living in collective shelters, in the lead-up to Ramadan. It found that many have nothing left after the earthquake and from the effects of 12 years of conflict.

Many told Oxfam they had used up their last resources. 90% of them say there are unable to make any plans to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan. Across the entire country, four in ten Syrians – or nearly 9 million people – were affected by the 7.7 magnitude earthquake that hit last month, compounding an already acute humanitarian crisis.

Nearly 70 per cent of those surveyed said their homes had been partially destroyed. More than 65 per cent said they were relying on aid from NGOs to survive. Twenty-two per cent had lost their jobs or sources of income and 37 had borrowed money to cover their families’ needs.

Moutaz Adham, Oxfam Syria country director said: “people who have been made homeless by the quake have been forced to rely on harsh coping mechanisms to survive and they will face a tough and uncertain Ramadan.  

“The data is stark and gravely concerning. People told us the earthquake has pushed them over the edge.  For almost all families we talked to, this was at least the second time they had been forced out of their homes over the years of conflict. Almost half of them are now spending the vast majority of their income on food, leaving very little to cover all their other basic needs.

“Syrians have faced too many shocks for too long. It will be months, even years, before those who have lost everything after this latest disaster can rebuild their lives,” said Adham.

Jaydaa, from Aleppo, told Oxfam: “Before the quake, we only got to eat one meal a day, but at least we had a roof over our heads. Now we are left behind in a small tent to fend for ourselves against hunger and freezing temperatures at night.”   

“Either from fleeing the conflict, the impacts of the earthquake or both, Syrians just want to live with dignity and look towards a future with hope. This earthquake, on top of 12 years of war, has devastated millions of people who were already having to live a hand-to-mouth existence,” said Adham.

Oxfam delivered clean drinking water to 46 locations and installed 40 water tanks in shelters. we distributed over 2,250 hygiene kits including soap and sanitary pads. We are also fixing taps and toilets in shelters and supporting safety checks to buildings.

“Syrians need support both to deal with the immediate devastation of the earthquake and to recover from the impacts of 12 years of conflict. We cannot allow Syrians to face another Ramadan like this,” he said.

Learning Lessons from COVID-19 Global Vaccine Inequity

Oxfam Ireland today published a report ‘Everyone for Themselves How Ireland Undermined Efforts to Fully Vaccinate the World against COVID-19' showing how Ireland undermined international efforts to make vaccines available to low-income countries. There is an opportunity now to make sure that future pandemics don’t repeat this disastrous outcome: Countries of the World Health Organisation have begun negotiations on a Pandemic Treaty.

‘Everyone for Themselves How Ireland Undermined Efforts to Fully Vaccinate the World against COVID-19'

The report, “Everyone for Themselves - How Ireland Undermined Efforts to Fully Vaccinate the World against COVID-19” was launched in the Oireachtas today. This report details Irish government opposition to a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. This runs contrary to the government’s claims that they were a very strong supporter of global vaccine equity.

Oxfam’s detailed analysis of Irish government actions during the pandemic is under three key main headings.

  1. The failure to support the TRIPS[ii] waiver, against advice from the WHO, over 100 countries, two Irish parliamentary committees and the Seanad. The government’s position instead aligned with the pharmaceutical industry’s interests and stance. The report contains an analysis of the lobbying records from the pharmaceutical industry.
  2. Their preferred option was vaccine donations, and this was problematic. For one, the hoarding of more vaccines than was needed limiting access to low-income countries. Oxfam’s analysis also found donations were 20% short with 12% of vaccines close to expiry[iii]. In addition, we did not supply the most effective vaccines for the recipient countries[iv].
  3. They failed to provide adequate funding to strengthen health care systems in poorer countries to aid distribution of vaccines.

Overall, the WHO, World Health Organization, calculated that Ireland provided just 6% of our “fair share” of funding to support the response to COVID-19 globally.

“Happily, the worst effects of COVID are behind us in Ireland but we have to remember that over 6,000 people are still dying every week from COVID 19 . In low-income countries, just 23% of people are fully vaccinated. The cost of COVID continues to be enormous. It is estimated that it pushed 163 million people into poverty and set global development back by at least a decade,” -Michael McCarthy Flynn Oxfam Ireland's Head of Policy and Advocacy.

“Our report shows Ireland actively contributed to a human rights violation and we’re calling today for the government to turn this appalling record around with a set of recommendations. The most immediate of which is that Ireland’s global response should be included in the upcoming State inquiry into COVID 19,” said Oxfam Ireland’s Head of Policy and Advocacy (and report co-author), Michael McCarthy Flynn.

“This is far from a matter of historical interest,” said Michael McCarthy Flynn. “Future pandemics are a certainty, and we have to learn from past mistakes and do better for all our sakes.”

Pandemic Treaty – A Chance to Avoid a Repeat of the Deadly Inequalities of COVID 19

Oxfam Ireland’s report was launched a week after the Irish negotiators returned from Geneva, where the WHO countries met for the fourth round of meetings to negotiate a pandemic treaty.

WHO Member States have been negotiating a new legal instrument (often called a ‘pandemic treaty’) since late 2021 so that countries can effectively, and equitably address future pandemics.

Negotiations on the draft will continue over the next year with the aim of adopting the instrument by 2024. Ireland is engaging in negotiations as an EU member state and through officials in the Department of Health working with Ireland's Permanent Representation to the UN in Geneva. 

Oxfam, as a founding member of the People’s Vaccine Alliance has been putting forward proposals for a people-centred pandemic treaty with commitments and practical mechanisms for pandemic prevention, preparedness, response and recovery based on human rights and equity principles.

Our proposals cover key issues that must be addressed in the treaty including: innovation and equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics and treatments; sharing data and technology; building resilient health systems; transparency; and financing pandemic preparedness and response.

On 1 February, The WHO’s Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB) published a ‘zero-draft’ of the pandemic treaty. This formed the basis for negotiations on the final document. The zero-draft contains key principles for achieving a better and more equitable way of preventing, preparing for and responding to pandemics, addressing critical issues on access to technologies. However, the negotiations have so far failed to produce concrete commitments and enforceable measures for vaccine sharing in future pandemics. Accord language must require governments to take specific actions to ensure equity, otherwise it would be difficult to implement it in practice. It must include concrete commitments and practical mechanisms, obligations, requirements and enforceable measures, rather than being limited to promotions and encouragements. 

We need more than just words. The pandemic treaty must include commitments by Governments to sharing medical technology and knowhow. The intellectual property rules that upheld the devastating vaccine inequity of COVID-19 must be waived automatically when a health emergency is declared. Governments must place conditions to ensure that publicly funded innovations are available to manufacturers in the Global South. Oxfam’s report shows that vaccine donation doesn’t work. Manufacturers in the Global South must be able to make the necessary vaccines and medical countermeasures. This is critical to controlling pandemics, which will ultimately save lives everywhere and make sure that people in lower-income countries aren’t forced to wait at the back of the line for vaccines, tests, and treatments.

[ii] TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) is a World Trade Organisation Agreement that protects intellectual property, including patents on medicines produced by pharmaceutical companies.
[iii] The above figures are correct as of Nov. 2022.
[iv] See footnote 13 in the Report.

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