Emergencies

  • When an emergency hits, Oxfam is there. We work with local partners on the ground so we can save lives during times of crisis and reduce future risks. We help people caught up in natural disasters and conflicts by providing clean water, food, sanitation and protection. At any given time, we’re responding to over 30 emergency situations, giving life-saving support to those most in need.

The lean face of drought in Wajir county, northern Kenya

By Blandina Bobson – Oxfam Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, Wajir, KENYA

The face of drought in Wajir County, in Kenya’s north, is ugly. The land is bare and expansive, multiple whirlwinds sweeping across every now and then, which local myths call ‘the devil’. It is scrawny animals feeding on what seems like invisible grass on the ground or camels browsing on thorny remains of what used to be green leafy bushes. Masses of evidently emaciated livestock hurdling to quench their thirst around water points, after hours-long treks in search of the same. Women will wait patiently in line to fill their jerry cans to take back home.

Dead livestock are a common sight in many parts of Wajir, in northern Kenya, which is in the grip of a severe drought. Photo: Katie G. Nelson/Oxfam

Families have become increasingly vulnerable. Men are struggling to provide for their families, their faces are sad and strained as they stare into the unknown future, while the eyes of women and children dart about in hope whenever ‘visitors’ drop by their villages.

In July, an assessment of the drought crisis in the country revealed that 3.4 million people in Kenya are now severely hungry and need urgent food assistance. Of these, 800,000 were projected to be in a more serious food situation by September.

“I used to buy my children milk but I can’t afford it any more because business is really down. The livestock owners who used to be my customers have migrated with the little livestock they have left,” said Rukia, a widow and a mother of 5 children who runs a small business in Dambas village.

Rukia Billow (24) at a Water ATM – an electronic meter, which makes water available 24 hours a day – in Hadado Town, Northern Kenya.  Photo: Katie G. Nelson/Oxfam

Oxfam – supported by ECHO, the humanitarian arm of the European Union– is providing cash assistance for food, water and other essentials to 3,000 families in parts of Wajir. This assistance complements that of the Kenyan government through the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA), which is now helping over 54,000 families with similar aid. But really this is only a drop in the ocean given the fast deteriorating situation.

Despite offering a reprieve, this aid does not come without its fair share of challenges. Oxfam has spoken with families who have been forced to share part of their monthly cash assistance of KES 2,700 (€25/£23) with those in their communities not directly targeted by the programme, yet are in critical need of help. This is a strong indication that even those that were thought to be less vulnerable have also lost the little muscle they had to deal with the effects of the drought.

Helping the most vulnerable

“We are illiterate and vulnerable, if we raise complaints we might not get our cash,’’ said Kasim Makala, 46-year-old mother of eight, who has previously received similar help.

While we must recognise the efforts of those who are responding to the crisis, there is certainly more that should be done now to ensure that affected communities get the help they need. More resources are urgently required to reach the rising scale of need.

Everyone must play their part. Local, national and international actors must complement the efforts being undertaken by the Kenyan government and humanitarian agencies and ensure that affected communities are able to cope with the effects of the prolonged drought.

Across East Africa, Yemen and north-east Nigeria, some 30 million people are experiencing alarming hunger, surviving only on what they can find to eat. Famine is already likely happening in parts of northern Nigeria, while Yemen and Somalia are on the brink. This is the largest hunger emergency in the world.

Oxfam is there

Oxfam is on the ground in all areas, reaching the most affected with the emergency help they need to survive. We are:

·         Working with local partner organisations who provide emergency food distributions and work with vulnerable people to produce their own food and other income;

·         Providing emergency water and sanitation, to stop the spread of diseases like cholera and diarrhoea;

·         Providing cash and vouchers so people can purchase the food they need to survive;

·         Trucking in urgently-needed water to the worst drought-affected areas;

·         Constructing showers and toilets for those who have been forced to flee their homes.

What you can do now

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Haiti and Dominican Republic face the aftermath of Hurricane Irma

People in the Dominican Republic and Haiti are facing the aftermath of Hurricane Irma which caused widespread damage overnight. Oxfam teams will immediately assess the needs of the most vulnerable people in the heaviest-hit areas, mainly in the north of both countries.

Overnight, Oxfam's Regional Communications Coordinator Tania Escamilla – who weathered the storm in Haiti’s second city, Cap Haitien – said: “We believe the worst of the hurricane has passed and people here hope to have escaped the worst.”

Oxfam teams reported heavy rain and flooding in Ouanaminthe district and in Fort Liberte city at the Dominican Republic border, and a broken bridge at the Massacre River which links the country with Haiti. Thousands of houses have been damaged in the Dominican Republic and people displaced.

Escamilla continued: “Our main concern remains how much damage Irma’s rains and flooding have caused to sanitation and water infrastructure. We’ve heard that there is flooding up to a metre high in poor neighbourhoods here in Haiti.

“Many people didn’t evacuate their homes so there is still a risk from the rain. We are seeing a lot of trash and waste out in the flooded streets in Cap Haitien which is exactly the type of condition that heightens the risk of cholera and other deadly diseases.”

Oxfam teams in Cap Haitien, Ouanaminthe and Gonaive, in the northern part of the country, have stock ready to go to prevent the spread of cholera. 

Irma is now moving north and will severely impact Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas. Oxfam is continuing to monitor the progress of Hurricane Jose closely following behind, which threatens even more damage, including to islands already wrecked by Irma.

A third hurricane – Katia – is forming to threaten Veracruz in Mexico. Oxfam is also prepared to assess and respond there with essential supplies and emergency aid.

ENDS

CONTACT: Spokespeople are available for interview. To arrange an interview or for more information, please contact:

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Alice Dawson on 00353 (0) 83 198 1869 / alice.dawson@oxfamireland.org

NORTHERN IRELAND: Phillip Graham on 0044 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org

 

Oxfam responds to the urgent needs of people fleeing conflict to Bangladesh

Friday 8th September 2017

Statement by Lan Mercado, Oxfam in Asia’s Regional Director:

“Oxfam is deeply concerned about the plight of more than 160,000 civilians who have crossed the border into Bangladesh, and countless others caught up in the conflict in Rakhine State, Myanmar resulting in a large-scale humanitarian crisis.  Every day, thousands of people are taking the dangerous journey across the border, and due to access restrictions in northern Rakhine, it is unknown how many more are missing or trapped.

“Women, children, older people and persons with disabilities are among those taking shelter in the two South-Eastern districts of Cox’s Bazaar and the Bandarban. They are facing extreme difficulties with many living without protection and under open skies. They have little or no access to clean drinking water, food supplies, sanitation facilities, and other basic needs. A significant number were wounded while crossing the border, are physically and emotionally traumatised, and are in urgent need of life-saving humanitarian assistance.

“In Myanmar, humanitarian operations in Rakhine State have been severely disrupted through administrative restrictions, security constraints, and heightened tensions. While ongoing humanitarian operations for displaced people in Central Rakhine are now resuming, humanitarian access for people affected by conflict in northern Rakhine is severely restricted.

“In Bangladesh, Oxfam has started to respond to the immediate needs of the people fleeing conflict by working with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).  We are providing containers for clean drinking water, portable toilets and sanitation facilities, plastic sheets, and other essential Non-Food Items (NFIs). 

“Oxfam calls on all authorities to guarantee humanitarian access to all civilians and ensure their protection from ongoing conflict. There is an urgent need to scale up humanitarian assistance for the people.

“We recognise the efforts of the Bangladesh government in providing access for the people fleeing the conflict in Myanmar and responding to the urgent humanitarians needs.  We urge the Bangladesh government to extend free and unimpeded access to all humanitarian agencies willing and able to deliver essential life-saving assistance to Cox' Bazaar and Bandarban districts. 

“In Myanmar, Oxfam is ready to provide life-saving relief to people, and we call on the authorities to guarantee the safety and security of humanitarian workers and for an immediate cessation of violence and conflict.

“We also underline that special attention must be paid to the needs of women and girls. The protection, privacy, health, and hygiene needs of women, girls and nursing mothers must be met and measures must be taken to prevent any form of sexual or gender based violence.” 

ENDS

CONTACT:

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND:          Alice Dawson on 00353 (0) 83 198 1869 / alice.dawson@oxfamireland.org

NORTHERN IRELAND: Phillip Graham on 0044 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org

Hurricane Irma: Oxfam in Haiti focuses on likely damage to water and sanitation facilities

Some areas in Haiti have not recovered from Hurricane Matthew - and now they face Irma

Thursday 7th September 2017

Many supermarket shelves in northern Haiti are now empty and people in coastal areas are being evacuated inland to schools and public buildings in preparation for the worst of Hurricane Irma today and tomorrow.

In Cap Haitien, Haiti’s second city with a population of 280,000, Oxfam’s 27-person team is urgently working with authorities to assist the evacuation. The government has prepared 793 temporary shelters across seven departments and, together with Oxfam and other agencies, is trying to move as many people away from the coast.

Tania Escamilla, Regional Communications Coordinator with Oxfam who arrived in Cap Haitien on Wednesday, said: “I get the sense that people here are used to hurricanes and no-one seems frantically scared, but I’ve heard from many that some areas of the country haven’t even fully recovered from Hurricane Matthew last year – and now they’re facing this.

“While many are moving, there are quite a few people who have decided not to evacuate but to stay put instead, afraid to lose their belongings and home.”

The Oxfam team in Cap Haitien is already preparing to mount emergency repairs to water and sanitation facilities, under the DINEPA division of the Ministry of Public Works.

Escamilla continued: ““Overall, we fear that half-a-million people could be affected even in the best-case scenario – or as many as 3 million in the worst.

“My engineering and humanitarian colleagues tell me that although cholera cases are considered low and under control at the moment, the disease remains their biggest concern should the storm wreck infrastructure.

“Haiti’s geography and environment – and level of poverty – make people extremely vulnerable to flooding and landslides. The damage that could likely happen from the winds and storm surge would be devastating for a large part of Cap Haitien and surrounding towns”

In Haiti, Oxfam has moved emergency aid into five locations across the country, three of which are in northern areas that will be the most exposed to the hurricane’s impact. Already four teams, made up of five or more specialists in emergencies, have been mobilised in Cap-Haitien, Ouanaminthe, Anse-Rouge and Gonaives. Oxfam also has nine cholera response teams now ready to deploy.

Oxfam teams in Dominican Republic and Cuba are also preparing to respond. Oxfam has worked in the Caribbean region for over 30 years and has expert teams in providing safe water and carrying out sanitation and hygiene work to prevent the spread of deadly diseases among those most vulnerable when an emergency strikes.

ENDS

CONTACT: Oxfam spokespeople are available. To arrange an interview or for more information, contact:

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Alice Dawson on 00353 (0) 83 198 1869 / alice.dawson@oxfamireland.org

NORTHERN IRELAND: Phillip Graham on 0044 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org

Helping a Yemeni village fight hunger

Yemen is on the brink of famine after two years of devastating conflict. So far thousands of people have been killed and over 3 million forced to flee their homes. More than half of the country is without enough to eat. We are delivering emergency aid but we urgently need your help to do more.

We drive west through steep rocky terrain, dotted with ancient mountain-top fortresses studded with tall circular towers of rough-hewn stone. Rural Yemen is serene, isolated and medieval. We are heading from Oxfam’s emergency humanitarian office in Khamer, in the northern tribal heartland of Amran governorate, to Othman village on its western edge. 

Othman’s 200 families are battling hunger, like many others across Yemen.

Othman village, in Yemen’s Amran district, where 200 families are fighting hunger. Credit: Mohammed Farah Adam/Oxfam

A perilous drive

The drive is nerve-wracking. Our driver Abdullah says pointedly he has been driving for 10 years around these hairpin turns and vertical cliff-face drops. I think he’s noticed how scared I am.
We wave to some men and women working the tiny cultivated terraces, and to curious child shepherds moving goats and sheep through the sun-baked mountains. 
 
We lose mobile phone reception and modern-day communication. After one and a half hours of a perilous ride over 27 kilometres, we descend into a valley dotted with fields of sorghum (a type of cereal), and to a hamlet of scattered stone dwellings in the cliffs high above the valley floor. 
 
This is Othman village.

Food is scarce

Othman’s people eke out life in stricken conditions. Food is mostly home-made bread and a boiled wild plant known locally as Cissus or Hallas. We’re here to measure how Oxfam’s cash assistance project of €81/£76 per month for each extremely poor family has helped put food on their tables and avert starvation.
 
Boiled, the wild plant Cissus – or Hallas as it is locally known – is the main food along with home-made bread that people eat in Osman village. Credit: Mohammed Farah Adam/Oxfam
 
There were 80 severely malnourished children in Othman. Oxfam set up cash assistance projects around the Khamer district, with other agencies, to buttress their battle against starvation. The children got health treatment from our partners, while Oxfam gave cash to the most desperate of the families here. We also ran a programme to raise their awareness about malnutrition and good hygiene. 

No teachers for the schools

At Othman school, a frail old man whirls black prayer beads through his fingers, leaning against the wall of a classroom. The school rooms are now only used for community meetings. There are no teachers in Othman. 
 
The village announcer shouts out over the loudspeaker: “Oxfam is here to monitor the conditions of the malnourished children.” Curious folk join us. Parents have dressed their children, who before had been on the brink of death, in their very best clothes. They seem well on the mend. Over the four-month duration of our cash assistance project in Othman we’ve reduced malnutrition by 62%.
 
Though pale, these children are no longer on the verge of starvation.

You’ve saved our lives

Nine-month-old Mohamed Amin, the youngest of five siblings and still tiny, is cradled by his father. He has certainly been saved from an early unnecessary death, by a small assistance.
 
Crammed into a classroom, we ask about Oxfam’s work. How many times do you eat a day? How is the baby’s condition? What do you do for a living? And so on.
 
Rabee Qassem holds his young daughter while worrying for her future. He's one of thousands that used to receive Oxfam's cash assistance in Amran governorate. Credit: Mohammed Farah Adam/Oxfam
 
Children smirk at my Arabic as their parents take turn in answering. Others nod along.
 
“Your assistance saves our lives,” says Rabee Qassem, holding his young daughter.

The effects of war

Many of these villagers used to work on small farm plots along the valley but their incomes were so meagre they could no longer afford their essential needs when the price of basic commodities skyrocketed due to the conflict and the de-facto blockade of Yemen.  
 
Since the war exploded open in March 2015, more than 10,000 Yemenis have been killed and 17 million people – 60 percent of the population – do not now have enough to eat. More than 7 million of them are a step away from famine. 
 
As they were here in Othman. 

Hope for peace

I ask the mother of 10-month-old Marwan about her hopes. She takes a deep breath, a moment of silence as she gathers her thoughts, and tears well up. “Peace! My only hope is peace,” she says. Others nod. 
 
At the end of our meeting, I had to announce the news. “We have run out of money to continue the cash assistance.” 
 
Their banter dies down to silence. “But why? Our situation is still miserable,” Mohamed Amin’s father says. 
 
“The cash assistance project was funded by donors for only a specific period of time, which has come to an end. We are still looking for more donor funds but we haven’t secured any yet,” I explain. “We know your situation and we are doing our best.” 
 
“Thank you. God will help,” says the old man with the beads.
 
An Oxfam water distribution point. Photo: Moayed Al.Shaibani/Oxfam
 
It is a wretched time. Our programme was funded for four-months and – although this was made clear at the start – the people of Othman are dismayed now and afraid. It’s my job to start winding-down this part of our work now that we only have a month left of funding toward it. 
 
We hoped to maintain it. We tried. It saved their lives. But the cruel truth is that earlier this year, the big aid donors made the tough decision to triage their money only to governorates that were at “level 4” emergency status – that is, one level below famine. 
 
Although still itself in an emergency situation as a village, Othman is part of a governorate – Amran – that is classified overall as “level 3”. Therefore, there are other governorates which are, overall, in worse straits. 
 
Othman no longer makes the cut. 
 
This is exactly what we mean when we say Yemen is an “overwhelming” crisis. Our unconditional cash transfer projects are immediate life-savers; last year Oxfam ran cash transfer projects worth nearly €3.3 million/£3 million, to more than 7,100 families in Yemen (the Othman project cost about €27k/£25k, by way of example). 
 
But these are typically short-term and irregular projects, and with the constant funding pressure we’re forced to keep tightening our criteria of people we can help to only the most desperate.

Stand with Yemen

Over the last two years, Oxfam has provided humanitarian assistance to more than 130,000 people in the most dire humanitarian needs in Khamer and in three other neighbouring districts. We enable vulnerable communities to access water through the rehabilitation of rural and urban water networks. 
 
We’ve invested in rain-water harvesting, repaired water networks, and provided fuel, sanitation services, solid waste management and hygiene promotion. We’ve given out winter clothes to families living in open displacement camps, helping their children to survive freezing weather. 
 
With heavy hearts, we leave Othman and its children and their parents.
 
Oxfam is still running a cholera response project there, including distributing hygiene kits, but our cash assistance work in Othman is done – at least for now – decided for us, because there are “worse” priorities elsewhere.
 
I hope Othman’s people survive. I hope they can eventually thrive. I hope that donors can find more funding and expand the humanitarian work to the scale it needs to be, including back into the pockets of desperation like Othman. 
 
I hope Yemen can achieve peace. 

What you can do now

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