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Yemen still starved of food and fuel despite month-long suspension of blockade

Ireland donated €4.8 million last year to world’s worst humanitarian crisis

18th January, 2018

Despite last month’s temporary lifting of the Saudi led-coalition blockade of Yemen’s northern ports, in the past three and a half weeks only 18 per cent of the country’s monthly fuel needs and just over half its monthly food needs have been imported through these ports, Oxfam said today.

These ports provide most of the goods the country needs to import with 80 per cent of all goods coming through Hodeida, one of the northern ports. Ninety per cent of the country’s food has to be imported. The arrival of much-needed new cranes in Hodeida is very welcome and crucial to speeding up supplies through the port. But the continued restrictions of vital supplies further endangers the 8.4 million people living on the brink of famine.

Last November, Irish Aid announced additional funding of €750,000 to the UN Yemen Humanitarian Fund. This brought Ireland’s total direct humanitarian support to Yemen to over €4.8 million for 2017, and almost €11.3m since the conflict began. In addition, last year, Ireland is the fifth largest donor to the UN Central Emergency Response Fund, which has allocated USD $25.6m to Yemen.

Oxfam warned of a catastrophic deterioration in what is already the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and the site of the largest cholera outbreak on record. The organization said that the lives of 22 million people in need of aid will continue to deteriorate if there is not a significant rise in the imports of the vital food, fuel and medicine. On the 19 January the blockade will have been lifted for a month and Oxfam is calling for all ports to remain open to the uninterrupted flow of commercial and humanitarian goods.

Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland’s CEO said; “The wanton disregard on all sides of this conflict for the lives of ordinary families struggling to cope after more than a 1,000 days of war is nothing short of an international scandal. This is a war waged with 21st century hi-tech weapons, but the tactic of starvation is from the Dark Ages. The international community must come together and take a stand against barbarism. Shane Stevenson, Oxfam’s Country Director in Yemen, said “There should be an immediate UN Security Council resolution calling for a full unrestricted opening of ports to commercial and humanitarian goods, an immediate ceasefire and redoubling efforts for peace talks.”

While the blockade has been temporarily lifted, 190,000 tonnes of food arrived at the main northern ports between 20 December and 15 January, compared with the estimated monthly food needs of 350,000 tonnes, according to the UN, shipping agencies and port authorities. Fuel imports over the same period were 97,000 tonnes compared with an estimated monthly fuel needs of 544,000 tonnes.

Fuel tankers and bulk cargo vessels of grain have docked but no container vessels have arrived, meaning that foods essential for survival, such as edible oil, have not entered the ports for some time.

Last month the price of imported cooking oil went up by 61 per cent in Al Baidha, 130 miles south east of the capital Sana’a. The price of wheat rose by 10 per cent across the country over the same period. Food prices have been rising since the conflict started. In Hodeida in the west of the country, the price of barley is three times higher than it was before the conflict, maize is up nearly 140 percent in Hadramout over the same period and the price of sorghum has doubled in Taiz.

Due to the fuel shortages and uncertainty of imports, one of Yemen’s major food companies has reduced its grain milling operations and another is struggling with milling and distributing food inside the country.

Companies face arbitrary restrictions by parties to the conflict when moving food around the country.

The food and fuel import crisis is exacerbated by a collapse in the country’s currency which has seen a dramatic drop in the exchange rate from 250 rials per US dollar to 500 in recent weeks. This will put more pressure on prices and hit the poorest and the families of the estimated 1.24 million civilian servants who have not received, or only occasionally received, a salary since August 2016.

Oxfam said that not only should the blockade be permanently lifted but there should also be an end to unnecessary restrictions on cargo ships coming into port. It called for an immediate ceasefire, an end to arms sales that have been fuelling the conflict and called on backers of the war to use their influence to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table.

ENDS

Daniel English

086 3544954

Rohingya Crisis

As the year draws to a close, the traumatic events of 2017 are still very raw for the Rohingya people. Hundreds and thousands of them have fled to Bangladesh since the summer, many wearing nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Their journeys from Myanmar were laden with misery and terror. Refugees witnessed pain and suffering on a massive scale – nightmares they will relive for many years to come. They spoke of rape and sexual violence, of young children being maimed and abused. They fled landmines and bullets and saw their loved ones die in cold blood.

By the end of November, the number of refugees in the Cox’s Bazaar district of Bangladesh had passed 836,000. Living in overcrowded camps with overflowing latrines and contaminated water, they face heavy rains and the 2018 cyclone season which threatens to wash away shelters and spread water-borne diseases.

Oxfam is on the ground providing safe drinking water, food and other essentials, and is ramping up its work before cyclone season hits.

In the meantime, the voices of those who have fled Myanmar are being heard – and their stories are harrowing.

Razida* (35) carries her 10-month-old son Anisul* through Unchiprang Camp in Bangladesh. Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam

“They burned my home and shot my husband dead,” said Razida* who spent six days walking to Bangladesh with her eight children. “The women and children ran away – we were safe, but the attackers surrounded the men and killed them so they couldn’t bring us anything. We had to even borrow money to cross the border.

"I left with all my children, I had to leave. How can I feel anything at all now? I’ve got shelter but no clean water and nowhere to shower. My children are sick and I am sick from worrying."

Fatima takes a rest in Dhokin Para school in Shah Puri Dwip after crossing over from Myanmar by boat two nights ago with her husband and young son. Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam

When Fatima’s house was burned down, she, her husband and their young son fled for their lives. Fatima was heavily pregnant when the family made their escape – but the lengthy journey was an ordeal for the expectant mother.

“Our house was burned down so we ran and we hid from village to village,” she explained. “I’m eight months pregnant and my feet are swollen. Yesterday when I arrived, I was in a bad condition. The locals fed me and gave me a wash.”

Elsewhere, others spoke of the horrific scenes they witnessed while fleeing to Bangladesh.

Setara* (47) with her daughter Nur*. Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam

Setara (47), who made the journey with her parents and seven of her children, said: “We had to walk for three days without food. My girl was almost dying, I thought she would die on the way. We passed so many dead bodies on the way.”

“When I left I only had my children and the clothes on my back,” added Setara, who also revealed how her eldest son had been beaten and had disappeared.

These are the voices of just some of the Rohingya people who have had to flee unimaginable violence in recent months. This new year must offer these refugees a sense of security and hope for the future.

Please give what you can to help mothers like Razida*, Fatima* and Setara* and the families they will do anything to protect.

Thank you.

We must act to protect thousands from the freezing winter on the Greek Islands

As December arrives, more than 15,000 refugees – both young and old – are facing into a cold and uncertain winter on the Greek islands. Inadequate shelter, water, sanitation and medical access has led to a humanitarian crisis within the EU’s borders. This will only worsen over the coming months unless 7,500 people are transferred from the islands to the Greek mainland immediately.

Greek Prime Minister Tsipras and the EU could end this suffering, and ensure vulnerable women, children and men are warm and safe over the winter period.

Tell the Greek Prime Minister Tsipras and your government to protect those fleeing from war torn conditions in search of safety and #OpenTheIslands

The reason these refugees are not being allowed onto the mainland is as a direct result of the EU-Turkey deal. Under the deal, the Turkish government are taking refugees to Turkey, but only those people who land on the islands. Therefore refugees are being kept on the islands at all costs. While the Greek people have shown enormous solidarity and welcome to those fleeing persecution, the Greek Government now needs to play a stronger role.

EU member states should immediately and publicly call on the Greek government to transfer at least 7,500 people from the islands to the mainland. No one should be kept on the islands without accommodation or access to services, especially when there is space for them elsewhere.

Since the EU-Turkey deal came into effect, the Greek islands have been transformed into places of indefinite confinement. Thousands of refugees have been trapped in abysmal conditions, some for almost two years.

Asylum seekers live in abysmal conditions in Moria Reception and Identification Center (RIC) on the Greek island of Lesvos. Photo Credit: Giorgos Moutafis/Oxfam 

A number of hotspots have emerged – the worst being Moria refugee camp on Lesvos, which is home to more than 6,500 people, of whom 1,000 or more are children. Conditions are unhygienic and dangerous and the mental health of these people  is deteriorating.  

Poor lighting in the camp means that women are scared to go to the bathroom at night, and there aren’t enough police to protect them. A lack of sanitation also poses major health risks to thousands of people, with toilets overflowing with faeces and urine. 

With the arrival of rain and plummeting temperatures, thousands of refugees, including children, are still living in tents. Some could freeze to death this year if they are not immediately moved to proper accommodation.

This is not an unavoidable crisis. These refugees are being kept in inhumane conditions when there are alternatives. The Greek government must transfer these people to the mainland and allow them to live with dignity.

Please also join us in asking Greek President Tsipras to lift the containment policy and move 7,500 people off the islands before the official start of winter on the 21st of December. 

 

Digging in the dust

The soft soil falls away easily as the sharp metal hits the ground. Again and again Falah Abiya raises the axe above his head and brings it down on the compacted earth. Two of his colleagues stand waiting beside him, stepping in with shovels to remove the soil he has loosened.

The blue skies, dotted with clouds and the mid morning autumn sun do not match the tough work that Falah and his team have to do in Mosul today. They are digging graves in a large cemetery in the west of the city. “We have twenty-two to dig today”, Falah comments in between swinging his pick Axe.

Falah’s team work for the department of Forensic Pathology, which is being supported by Mosul General Hospital. Although they usually spend their days digging graves for people who have just died, today their work is of a different kind. They are working on a special programme to help the state identify bodies that have already been buried.

“The work we are doing here is very sensitive but very necessary”, says Dr Aziz, who works at Mosul General Hospital. “It’s important we know who has died and why. We must make sure the people buried in those graves are the people we have been told they are. Once we have recovered a body we run DNA tests to check.”

Today Hamid Hassan Jassim stands watching Falah’s team at work; the grave belongs to his brother Mahmud. “He died in a suicide bombing at a checkpoint. His head was missing when we buried him,” he says. Suddenly Falah’s axe hits something hard and he uses his hands to expose a wooden plank which he then pulls from the hole. Three of the team carefully lower themselves into the hole and slowly pull out a black plastic body bag.

Everyone is quiet as the team unzip the plastic bag and reveal what is left of Mahmud’s body, wrapped in a red blanket. The forensic examiner pulls on rubber gloves and carefully opens the blanket before inspecting its contents. He immediately confirms the head is missing and through his examination he also suggests that the man did in fact die in an explosion. He takes samples and zips the bag back up.

“Oxfam has supported the hospital in a lot of ways since Mosul was retaken.” Says Dr Aziz. The axes Falah and the team are using were donated to Oxfam and then the hospital by Irish Aid. As were other essential items such as mosquito nets which are being used to keep the flies off of burns patients and those with extensive wounds. “We hope we will continue to receive support from Oxfam so that we can keep doing this essential work and taking care of people who need urgent medical care.”

Mosul General Hospital sees an estimated 800 patients a day. As well as providing the pick axes, Oxfam has supported the hospital with essential items such as water tanks, bottled water, emergency food rations, blankets and mosquito nets.

Hamid stands and watches Falah and his colleague Sadam Hamadi carefully lower his brother Mahmud’s newly wrapped body back into the ground, re-covering it with the soft soil. They then throw their shovels and pick axes over their shoulders and make a move to the next grave. They have twenty one more to dig today.

 

 

Two weeks into the Yemen blockade – Fuel, Food and Medicines Running Out

19 November 2017 

Two weeks since land, air and seaports in Yemen were closed, aid agencies are appalled by the complacency and indifference of the international community regarding the historic humanitarian disaster now unfolding.

Aid agencies are gravely concerned about a new outbreak of cholera and other water borne diseases. UNICEF warns that they only have 15 days’ left of diphtheria vaccines. They are due to receive a new shipment late November but still have not received clearance. If this vaccine is not brought in, one million children will be at risk of preventable diseases.

The fuel shortage in Yemen means clean water in the country is more and more scarce. Water networks are closing by the day as fuel for the pumps runs out and pipes run dry. The lack of water poses grave risks to young children most of all. Schools will become centres of disease rather than centres of knowledge.

With no fuel, hospitals are closing wards and struggling to operate intensive care units and surgical operation theatres. Refrigeration units for essential medicines are being turned off for periods of time to save fuel. Doctors, some of whom have not been paid for ten months, are asking INGOs and UN to share their small supplies of fuel to run their life-saving generators; INGOs are citing one month fuel supply only.

Agencies are starting to double the value of the cash distributions to the most vulnerable people. This will enable people to buy and stock food for the coming cold winter months before prices rise beyond their means. This means agencies will exhaust their funds allocated for next year. Additionally, aid agencies have grave concerns for wellbeing of people that are currently inaccessible.

The country’s stocks of wheat and sugar will not last for longer than three months if cargo vessels are not allowed to discharge in Hodeidah, the country’s only deep water seaport, in the next few days. Even if they are allowed, food distribution systems have been severely disrupted and may collapse within weeks. Moreover, having incurred so many additional costs and in a highly volatile environment, international traders may decide that importing to Yemen is too risky a proposition to continue.

The international community must break its shameful silence and use all possible means to lift the blockade on Yemen immediately. Hodeidah port, that serviced 80% of all imports, and Sana’a airport, needs to be reopened to let in urgently needed shipments of food, fuel, and medicines. Every day the blockade lasts means thousands of Yemenis will suffer from hunger and preventable diseases. Millions could die in a historic famine if the blockade continues indefinitely. This is not the time for carefully balanced statements. The choice is between resolution, or complicity in the suffering; there is no third option.

 

Daniel English

Oxfam Ireland

086 3544954 

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