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Oxfam warns of a race against time, as famine declared in parts of South Sudan

20 Febuary 2017

As the UN and the government of South Sudan have today declared famine in parts of the war-torn country, Oxfam is warning that time is running out.

This is the UN’s first confirmation of famine anywhere in the world since 2011.

Unity State is the region most affected by severe food shortages – caused by ongoing conflict and economic turmoil – with more than 100,000 people facing starvation. Reports suggest that more than 40% of South Sudan is in urgent need of food, while more than a million people throughout the country could be on the brink of famine.

Oxfam has been working there for over 30 years and is currently distributing emergency food supplies; delivering clean water to prevent the spread of disease; and providing livelihoods support. In the past year alone, Oxfam has helped over 600,000 people across the country with food and water distributions, and assisted almost 40,000 of the most vulnerable in Panyijar county, Unity State.

Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive Jim Clarken, who has lived and worked in the region, said: “This is a man-made tragedy, and we are running out of time to avoid it getting worse. 

“In over 30 years working in the affected areas, Oxfam has never witnessed such dire need. Vulnerable people, out of reach of life-saving assistance due to the conflict, are paying the ultimate price. People have been pushed to the brink of surviving on what they can find to eat in swamps. As so often in a crisis, women and children being the worst affected. We need an end to the fighting so that we can get food to those that urgently need it and provide them with support to rebuild their shattered lives”. 

“In 2011 after the famine that hit Somalia the world said never again. The declaration of famine in South Sudan reflects the collective failure to heed the countless warnings of an ever-worsening situation”. 

ENDS 

For further information or to arrange an interview: 

Phillip Graham – T: 00 44 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org 

NOTES TO THE EDITOR 

About South Sudan

Following decades of fighting, South Sudan formally became an independent state in July 2011. There was high expectation for growth and many believed they would not see another conflict in the country they fought so hard and so long for. Sadly, war erupted in Juba in mid-December 2013 and quickly transformed into a national, political and ethnic crisis. 

Since then, more than 2.5 million people have been displaced. Of these 830,000 have fled to neighbouring countries, mainly Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda. The crisis has made it hard for people to plant crops, disrupted livelihoods and markets and forced host and displaced communities to share the little they do have, leaving one in three people severely food insecure.

Oxfam has been assisting populations in South Sudan since the 1980s providing food security and water, sanitation and hygiene assistance. 

Spokespeople 

Oxfam spokespeople are available for interview now, both in the region and in Ireland:

Emma Jane Drew, Oxfam’s Humanitarian Programme Manager, based in Juba, South Sudan 

Oxfam Ireland Humanitarian Manager Colm Byrne has visited Oxfam programmes in South Sudan numerous times and is available for interview in Dublin.

Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive Jim Clarken, who lived and worked in the region, is available for interview in Dublin.

 
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Hunger Crisis Appeal: major food shortages across Africa

20 February 2017

I am Colm Byrne, Oxfam’s humanitarian programme manager. I have just returned from Niger, a country in the Lake Chad region in West Africa where already pockets of famine have been reported and large numbers of people are dying due to malnutrition and diarrhoea.  As you may have heard in the news, famine has recently been declared in South Sudan. This is another country where I have seen first-hand the scale of the hunger crisis that is destroying the lives of millions.

With household food stocks scarce and food prices rising in the absence of production, many families are struggling to survive in the Lake Chad region where some seven million people simply cannot find enough food to eat.

Across the Chad Basin region, new mothers, their children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable as a result of the hunger crisis gripping the region where currently 1 out of every 3 children is suffering from malnutrition.

Above: Aamin, who is two and half years old and badly malnourished is held by his mother Aisha, 35, at at a camp for displaced people in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State. Oxfam is helping people here with sanitation and protection issues. 

Hunger, wherever it exists, is cruel. Worst of all, its deadly. Malnutrition is one of the largest causes of child death in this region – and children in drought-affected regions such as this are most at risk.

I heard so many harrowing stories of the hunger faced by vulnerable people. Families like Aisha* and her young son Aamin* pictured above are an all-too common sight for Oxfam staff. Aisha is living in a camp for displaced people in Maiduguri in Niger, and two-and-a-half-year-old Aamin is severely malnourished.

By donating now, you can act quickly to make sure that people like Aisha and Aamin do not go hungry. Your support can help stop people’s rapid decline into malnutrition or famine.

We’ve already reached many thousands of people with food, water, livelihoods support, sanitation and hygiene kits in response to the hunger crisis in Niger and the Lake Chad region. We have distributed cooking equipment and provided seeds and tools to help traders and farmers. But our aim this year is to reach over 1.5 million people with life-saving assistance before it is too late.

Can you please help us reach that target?

In southern Africa, Malawi is also experiencing a major food crisis. The worst drought in decades has meant that people cannot grown food to feed their families. February is the lean time’ between harvests when typically there is little food to eat. But, today, there is barely any food at al. In a country like Malawi, where 9 in 10 people rely on farming, this drought has brought communities to the brink of catastrophe and a national state of emergency has been declared.

Oxfam is supporting people such as Julis Magawa in Malawi. The eyes of this proud and dignified man betray his sadness and the hardship this family man has endured.

He told us that his children had been crying because they were so hungry. I can only imagine how devastating it must be to know that day after day your children don’t have enough food to eat. Like so many others in Malawi, Julius has had to resort to desperate measures just to keep his family alive.

Speaking to Oxfam, Julius confessed he’d been so afraid for his wife Lucy and their children that he’d been driven to do something he hated doing. He’d been forced to break the law. Julius has again and again gone into the nearby forest and cut down trees for firewood. He’d sold this firewood for a pittance – but it was just enough as he told our staff with starting honesty. “It’s the only way I can feed my children.”

How would any of us behave in this situation? I simply don’t know. But I do know that Julius doesn’t want to break the law. He just wants to keep his children alive.

Above: Julius and Lucy struggle to feed their children.

With a targeted injection of cash from Oxfam, we can help him to buy food from the local market so he can feed his family over the coming months. We can also give him the seeds to grow new crops. That way we can help Julius earn his living safely – and keep the whole family out of poverty.

By sending a gift today, you can help Dads like Julius to support their family in a safe and sustainable way. You can help mums like Aisha to feed their children without having to resort to begging.

The displaced families and communities I visited count among the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. We now live in a world where 1 in 9 people goes to bed hungry every night. It’s obscene that while this is happening across the world today we know that just 8 men have as much wealth as the 3.6 million people who make up the poorer half of humanity.

We will not eliminate extreme poverty unless countries begin to close the gap between the richest and the rest. But in the meantime, together we can help beat the hunger crisis that has countries like Malawi and Niger in its grip.

Please don’t delay and make a donation today. Thank you.   

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Oxfam enters merger talks with GOAL

We are delighted to share an exciting new development at Oxfam Ireland – we are entering into formal discussions with the aid agency GOAL on a potential merger.

If the merger is successful it would see our two organisations come together as one, with the proposed name of Oxfam GOAL.

We’re exploring this opportunity because we believe that together we can save more lives, deliver greater impact, achieve stronger results and support more people to lift themselves out of poverty.

Joining forces will increase the scale and scope of our humanitarian and long-term development programmes and strengthen our voice as advocates for the communities we support.

Both organisations share long-standing operations in Ireland - Oxfam since the 1950s, while GOAL celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. And we already share key areas of focus and work in many of the same countries.

GOAL’s action-oriented approach and first responder ethos is core to their DNA and has saved millions of lives. Oxfam’s approach of practical action and people-led response, challenging the structures and systems that keep people locked in poverty, has led to real change across the world. We believe that a merger would create new energy and dynamism through sharing programmatic, geographic and other synergies.

As we begin a robust due diligence exercise and examine the possibility of a merger over the coming weeks, we will continue with our life-saving and life-changing work as normal. Any partnership with GOAL will retain and respect both of our unique heritages to create a better organisation rooted in the Irish tradition of social justice.

For updates, keep an eye here and on our Twitter and Facebook.

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Our taxes are not meeting our basic needs and rights

Wanjiru Kanyiha is a Kenyan tax activist from Oxfam partner Inuka [Rise Up] Kenya Ni Sisi. Wanjiru is visiting Ireland to share her first-hand experience of how rising inequality and tax avoidance is harming communities in Africa. 

As Wanjiru says: "It is perverse to witness high-rise apartments and superhighways… while people in many parts of the country live without the dignity of a proper toilet.”

Come and meet Wanjiru at our free public events later this month in Belfast  and Dublin. 

Photo: Wanjiru Kanyiha is in Ireland to raise awareness about the impact of inequality on people like Barbara from Zambia, pictured above. Each day, Barbara faces a stark choice – going hungry or facing crocodiles. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/OxfamI live in Nairobi, Kenya. 

The story from Kenya 

I live in Nairobi, Kenya. A beautiful city. A city of many contradictions. A city of the haves and have nots. A drive around Nairobi demonstrates just that – from the leafy and upscale neighbourhoods of Karen, Lavington, Muthaiga and Gigiri, which houses the UN headquarters, to the sprawling slums of Kibera, Mukuru, Mathare, Kawangware and Kangemi, just to mention a few, where the majority of the Nairobians live. 

Nairobi can be deceptive – so much inequality can lie in such a small area. For example, take Kawangware, a slum which sits juxtaposed in sharp contrast to the paved and well-lit streets of her neighbour Lavington, a suburb located towards the North West part of Nairobi’s Central Business District. 

In Lavington, water is scarce and sanitation extremely poor. It is densely populated and the residents have little or no access to essential public services such as hospitals and schools. 

Then there’s Kibera – the largest slum in Africa. A badge Nairobi has to wear alongside that of being East Africa’s fastest growing economy. Contradictions.

Inequality is stark in Kenya. According to UN statistics, 46% of Kenya’s population lives below the poverty line. The number of people living in poverty is increasing as the cost of living rises. Children, youth and women have it particularly hard. The Kenya Youth Survey Report indicates that 80% of the Kenya population are young people. The median age is estimated at 19 years old, and about 80 percent of Kenya’s population is below the age of 35. 

The survey revealed that unemployment among young people aged between 18 and 20 was a staggering 80%. With little work to go around, both in the formal and informal labour markets, young people today in Kenya find it hard to feed themselves and access basic services. This will continue the cycle of poverty and inequality if we don’t do something about it.

Rise up and mobilise 

I work with Inuka Kenya Ni Sisi! Limited, one of Oxfam’s partners in Kenya. Inuka means ‘Rise Up’ in Kiswahili. Our job is to mobilise Kenyans, particularly young people, and get them active about tax and other social issues that affect them. It doesn’t sound like the most exciting topic but when you start thinking about it, having a fair tax system is crucial to fighting inequality. 

We engage on the ground, within communities and via online social media platforms. We form and host both online and offline conversations [#MaskaniConversations] that raise awareness on social and tax justice issues and get the communities to mobilise amongst themselves and seek solutions to the various problems that face them.

On a fundamental level, the average Kenyan pays numerous taxes. There is income tax, VAT, excise duty, among other taxes. But after all these taxes, are we getting access to quality, basic essential services? The answers is no – and for as long as I can remember this has been the case for many ordinary citizens in Kenya.

For example, Kenyan doctors have been on strike for two months over pay, benefits, working conditions and other terms for almost two months. Kenyatta National Hospital, Kenya’s largest public referral hospital, and many other county government hospitals have been paralysed by the strike. They have had to turn away patients as there are no doctors to offer services. The stalemate between the doctors and government continues and the Kenyan people are left to their own devices. 

This is just one way in which we can see that our taxes are not meeting our basic needs and rights. They aren’t going to the services that will help close the gap between the rich and the rest. The Kenyan government needs to demonstrate that it cares about the doctors because this shows that they care about the citizens, through investing our taxes in our public services, equipping public hospitals and providing better terms for doctors and staff that work in these hospitals. 

Our project with Oxfam in Kenya not only focuses on raising awareness among Kenyans of their duty to pay tax, but also their rights to demand that these taxes go into financing essential services that benefit them, that help them lead a better and more dignified life. 

The middle class in Kenya ends up paying for the services that the government isn’t delivering. Kenya’s middle income earners have to plunge deeper into their pockets for private healthcare, education, security, water and almost every other social amenity one can think of. They are lucky because they have the means to find private solutions for public problems. But they are effectively paying twice. They pay their taxes and then have to pay for private services that the government fails to deliver. 

However, the crucial question is what about those at the bottom who can’t afford to pay for these private services? They are the ones who suffer the most. They are paying taxes but they don’t get the services they need and they are pushed further into poverty.

Meanwhile, the rich corporations and individuals are not paying enough in taxes. This deprives the governments of tax revenues which could be pumped into our national budget. But the big multinational corporations are given incentives and tax breaks and other incentives while the local entrepreneur doesn’t get those incentives. 

According to a report by Tax Justice Africa, tax incentives to big corporations cost the Kenyan coffers 100 billion Kenyan shillings a year. That could cover the 2016 budget for primary and secondary education in Kenya twice over. That’s not fair. What’s worse is that those who don’t pay enough are often protected by those in government who make the decisions.

Dignity before development

At Inuka, our mantra is dignity before development. It is perverse to witness high-rise apartments, superhighways and multi-billion infrastructural developments going on, while people in many parts of the country live without the dignity of a proper toilet. This isn’t only about tax justice and inequality; it’s about our lives – the lives and dignity of the Kenyan people. It’s about holding our duty bearers to account to uphold the rights that are in our constitution. 

By highlighting some of these issues through our social media platforms, we are able to paint the real picture of what it means for the ordinary citizen not to have access to these services, while at the same time lobbying to the relevant stakeholders to do something about it.

It is this that makes me do what I do and dedicate my time to this cause. It is saddening that Kenya has been independent for over fifty years but we are far from liberating ourselves. We aren’t able to speak up and speak out when we see injustices. Some places, like Turkana in the northern part of Kenya and one of the counties where we are implementing the tax justice programme, still don’t have access to water after more than half a century of independence. 

We need to rise up as one people and one voice but this is hard when there are so many inequalities and divisions. We need to make sure our leaders do right by us, to make sure these taxes are paid and pumped into the services Kenyans so badly need.

I am always trying to mobilise my friends. To do this I try and break it down – what does this mean for you? Just because you have food in your belly, it doesn’t mean that your neighbour does, it doesn’t mean that they have access to the services that you are able to enjoy. It’s my job as a campaigner and as a citizen to offer solutions to those problems – or at the very least direct them to a space where the people can seek adequate resolution. The tax justice programme does just that. Fixing the skewed tax system is a concrete way we help to solve economic inequality.

If our freedom fighters or Wangari Maathai, a famous Kenyan environmentalist, gave up or declared the fight hopeless, Kenya wouldn’t be where it is today. Wangari was often beaten and brutalised by the government but she never stopped fighting. We might not win this war today but that does not mean we stop fighting. My little contribution is talking about these issues. Whether the government of the day listens or not, the important thing is not to be silenced. Keep talking, doing, mobilising, pushing.

Then we will know we are on the right side of history.

Wanjiru Kanyiha 

Wanjiru will be speaking at our free public events in the MAC in Belfast on 27th February and in the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) in Dublin on 28th February. Find out more and come and hear her in person..

This webpage has been produced with the financial assistance of the European Union. The contents of this webpage are the sole responsibility of Oxfam and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union.

Find out more and take our tax action: https://www.oxfamireland.org/tax 

 
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West Africa Crisis: food shortages threaten millions

The devastating conflict in West Africa is continuing to cause severe food shortages, plunging the region into a serious humanitarian crisis, and leaving nearly 11 million people in need of emergency aid.

Violent acts by militant insurgency group Boko Haram over the last seven years, along with military operations to counter them, have displaced around 2.6 million people in the Lake Chad Basin region, which is made up of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. This is Africa’s fastest growing displacement crisis.

The number of displaced people in the most affected areas has tripled over the last two years. Most of the displaced families are sheltered by communities that count among the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.

Food insecurity and malnutrition in the affected region have reached alarming levels. Thousands of people are estimated to have died already, many of these young children. There is a strong likelihood that at least 400,000 people could currently be experiencing famine in North East Nigeria.

FORCED TO FLEE

Since Boko Haram kidnapped Kadija* and forced her to marry a fighter to whom she bore a child, Kadija* faces stigma from her community, as does her child who is seen to carry ‘bad blood’. She currently lives in a camp for people displaced by the conflict with Boko Haram because her father disowned her. Kadija* was taken to the bush where she gave birth with no medical facilities. Once she deemed the baby strong enough she made her escape.

After fleeing from Boko Haram she was detained by the Nigerian military. She said: “I was kept with other women who had been forcibly married. We were tortured and dehumanised by the military. We were called wives of Boko Haram and we spent one month in detention. It was a harrowing experience. Then they released me.”

Kadija*, 18, holds her baby at a house in Maiduguri, Nigeria. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

Kadija and her baby aren’t the only ones struggling in north-eastern Nigeria right now. Brothers Digma* and Omar* (pictured below) are helping their father Hassan* in a field he rents on the outskirts of Maiduguri, Nigeria, as it’s the school holidays. Their father Hassan* was a prosperous farmer before fear of violence from Boko Haram forced him to flee his village.

Hassan* said: “We were so afraid, even if we had food we couldn’t eat what was put on the table. It was terrible. We couldn’t even come to the farm. If we came to the farm Boko Haram would come on motorcycles and kill or abduct you. We had to leave our farm and our livestock and run to the city. Before Boko Haram attacked I had a bigger farm but now I am too scared to farm it – maybe next year.”

While Hassan’s* old farm previously left him with surplus to sell, he now has to work as a labourer in order to make up the shortfall in food for his family. He said: “I have to feed my six children, my wife, my grandmother and two grandsons. How many days will [this food] last us? It’s just not going to be enough. The government have not supported us. We have to do things ourselves.

“This land has been worked on for so many years. At the other farm we had millet, sorghum, groundnuts and beans and the harvest was great. The fields there are much denser and much richer compared to this farm. The soil at the other farm is loamy. This is just sandy.”

Brothers Digma* (aged 8, and Omar* (10) stand in a field their father rents on the outskirts of Maiduguri, Nigeria. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

The conflict between Boko Haram and governments in this region has affected some of the world’s poorest people. Most of them in rural areas are farmers, and many like Hassan* have not been able to grow any crops for three years. They are in urgent need of food, water, and medical care. They are living in camps for displaced people and among host communities and are struggling to survive.

WHAT OXFAM IS DOING

The situation is dire across this region. People are in urgent need of food, water, medical care, shelter and safety.

Oxfam has helped more than 250,000 people in Nigeria, Niger and Chad since it began responding to the crisis two years ago.

In Nigeria Oxfam is distributing emergency food support food and cooking equipment, providing people with clean water and better sanitation, as well as seeds and tools to help traders and farmers. We have also set up community protection groups for women to give them information about access to support facilities if they have suffered from sexual violence and exploitation.

In Niger, Oxfam is rehabilitating and constructing boreholes to provide safe, clean water to people who have fled their homes and communities, and we are delivering life-saving food assistance to families severely affected by the crisis.

In Chad, Oxfam is distributing cash and tarpaulins for shelter, and providing clean water to help prevent the spread of diseases.

We are ramping up our programmes and are seeking funds to expand our response to help 1.5 million people in the next 15 months.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Oxfam is urgently seeking funds to help where it’s needed most.

Please help the people of West Africa – give what you can and get food and clean drinking water to people who urgently need it.

* All names have been changed to protect identities.

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