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.

Gaza is dying in front of everybody

Tim Holmes, Oxfam Program Manager, reports back on his recent visit to Gaza and reflects on the challenges people living there face in their daily lives.

A powerful smell hit me as I entered Gaza a fortnight ago. Not the smell of burning tyres from the ongoing protests, or the tear gas that has been used in response, but the smell of raw sewage. As I walked the few hundred meters through the wire cage corridor from the Israeli border security across the ‘access restricted area’ to the Palestinian border control, I crossed over a small stream of sewage slowly oozing from the Gaza Strip, under the huge turreted border wall, into Israel.

Why is this happening?

Well, a bunch of reasons. Without sufficient electricity or fuel, sewage treatment plants cannot function. What is left of the sanitation infrastructure that wasn’t destroyed by the last Gaza war in 2014, was designed for far fewer people than are now living in this small enclave. Expansion, operation and maintenance is difficult when there are multiple and severe Israeli restrictions on goods, including spare parts, entering Gaza.

The financial resources available for authorities responsible for sanitation in Gaza are woefully inadequate.

If people only had to cope with the smell of sewage and a collapsing sanitation system, perhaps life in Gaza would still be bearable. However, many people I met didn’t even refer to the sewage problem – there were too many other challenges to talk about.

Water is a key issue

More than 96% of water from the coastal aquifer where Gaza gets most of its water is undrinkable due to salinity. To access clean water, people often have to pay private water truckers who distribute water from small desalination plants – this costs six times as much as the regular water supply.  Part of Oxfam’s work in Gaza involves providing safe water by rehabilitating damaged water systems, but the task is ongoing.

Electricity has been a problem in Gaza for many years, but now it is out for 20 hours a day. This could be dismissed as an inconvenience but just imagine the stress and frustration of having to live without lights, refrigeration, access to the internet, or elevators in apartment buildings, let alone the far more serious disruption to hospitals, clinics, schools and water and sanitation services.

I was struck that the streets were so much emptier than when I was last in Gaza five years ago. I was told that this was because those who have cars couldn’t afford fuel and anyway people didn’t have enough money to go out for shopping beyond the basics. The Economist has estimated that people in Gaza are 25 per cent poorer today than they were at the time of the Oslo Accords, 25 years ago. More than 80% of the two million people in Gaza are currently receiving humanitarian assistance.

Staggering unemployment

I spoke to parents whose children are recent university graduates but they are sitting around at home getting more and more frustrated. According to the World Bank, unemployment in Gaza is at 44% – for those below 29 years, it is at a staggering 60%.

Oxfam is working with local partners to help people have better access to livelihoods, and with local farmers and producers to improve the quality of their produce and help them get it to market to improve their incomes. I spoke to the owner of a dairy processing unit that Oxfam has supported as part of its work to improve the dairy sector across Gaza.

I was told that the years of occupation, wars and blockade, combined with a new low in the economic and humanitarian situation in recent months, has meant that this is ‘now the worst time in our history’.

The level of despair and the lack of hope in the future was also striking in many of the conversations I had, and was much more pronounced than on my previous visits. As a result, I wasn’t surprised to learn that United Nations medical staff have recently referred to an ‘epidemic of psycho-social conditions’ in Gaza.

End the blockade

The people I spoke to shared with me their anger that the world is doing nothing to help them. I was told that even when help does come it is only in the form of insufficient albeit needed humanitarian assistance, rather than a resolution to the conflict, the end to the protracted occupation, the end to the illegal blockade of Gaza and having their right to self-determination fulfilled which is what people in Gaza really want.

Human rights organisations in Gaza told me of their exasperation that the Government of Israel and other parties to the conflict are not held to account under international law by the international community.

People I spoke to explained that because of this apparent impunity and the lack of alternative options, and despite the large number of deaths and injuries, they were generally supportive of the current protests continuing.

Some specified that they would only support non-violent demonstrations. I was told that ‘people in Gaza are doing their best to survive’ but that, despite this, ‘Gaza is dying in front of everybody’.

Violence in Gaza: Civilians are not targets - Alaa Aldali's Story

Oxfam’s policy positions on Gaza in general and regarding the recent protests:

•The blockade – now in place for more than a decade – has devastated Gaza’s economy, left most people unable to leave Gaza, restricted people from essential services such as healthcare and education, and cut Palestinians off from each other. Israel must end the blockade on Gaza, which is collectively punishing an entire civilian population.

•There must be a long-term solution to the crisis. The international community needs to redouble efforts to achieve a just and lasting peace based on international law, that brings security and development to all Palestinians and Israelis.

•Oxfam condemns the deaths and injuries of unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza. Unarmed Palestinians have the right to make their voices heard and the right to freedom of assembly and expression. Israel must abide by its obligations under international law to protect life and exercise the utmost restraint in accordance with law-enforcement standards on the use of force.

◦According to OCHA, 104 Palestinians, including twelve children, have been killed by Israeli forces during the course of the Gaza demonstrations since March 30. As of May 14, the latest rounds of protests at Gaza border resulted in 60 fatalities (including 8 children) and 2,770 injuries as a result of live fire. The number of injuries since the beginning of the protests has been 12,600. Fifty-five per cent of these have required hospitalisation. One Israeli soldier was also lightly injured. This entry posted by Tim Holmes, Program Portfolio Manager at Oxfam GB, on 23 May 2018.

Photo: Destruction in Gaza. Oxfam and our partners’ humanitarian and development work helps around 350,000 people in Gaza impoverished by the Israeli blockade. Credit: Iyad al Baba/Oxfam

Rohingya refugees: Finding hope amongst the hopelessness

The impending monsoon rains are bearing down on the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh and there's no getting around it - it’s going to be a really tough time.

I've just finished three weeks working for Oxfam's Rohingya crisis response team in Cox’s Bazar and can remember one moment, standing in the pouring rain in the Rohingya refugee ‘mega-camp’.

Everywhere I looked, ramshackle shelters made of bamboo and tarpaulins stretched into the distance.

People old and young were trying to find shelter from the downpour, and large puddles were quickly forming across the narrow brick road, with water running down sandy hillside paths.

As I was trying to take photos of a deep tube well Oxfam was drilling to provide clean water, numerous Rohingya refugees offered to take me into their shelters to stay dry, or brought me umbrellas.

Such was the kindness of people who had endured unspeakable horrors that forced them from Myanmar into neighbouring Bangladesh.

The camps are in what they call the pre-monsoon rains at the moment, where every couple of days a ferocious storm will hit for an hour or so.

This rain is nothing like I’m used to.

The falling water has an almost physical quality, beating down on you, and the rain can be so heavy you struggle to see the other side of a road.

Trees are often blown over in the wind, and almost immediately, huge puddles form everywhere, slowing cars and trucks on the sandy, brick roads and draining into refugees' flimsy shelters.

It's estimated that more than 600,000 people are living in the Rohingya refugee mega-camp alone - a bigger population than all of county Cork in Ireland.

How the full monsoon is going to impact this many people in such desperate living conditions is what’s top of mind for aid workers.

Yet despite this, I was struck by the way in which Rohingya refugees could find hope in what appeared to be a hopeless situation.

They are denied citizenship in their country – they feel they have nowhere they belong and have nowhere to call home right now. No-one knows what their future holds.

They're awaiting monsoon rains likely to bring floods, landslides and potentially deadly water-borne diseases. The United Nations (UN) estimates up to 200,000 people are living in at-risk areas of the camps.

As much as 2.5 metres of rain could fall on the camps over the next three months.

But, the refugees I met certainly weren't hopeless or despairing.

Parents were working hard to strengthen their shelters or volunteering for charities like Oxfam as community health trainers or with the UN as camp labourers helping prepare the camps for the coming heavy rain.

This included a young woman I met called Ayesha*, who was 18 years old. She fled to Bangladesh with her mother and three siblings after their father was killed in the violence in Myanmar.

Ayesha (pictured left). Photo: Dylan Quinnell/Oxfam

It took them nearly 5 days to get to Bangladesh by boat and foot; others weren’t so lucky and drowned when their boats sank.

Life is tough in the camps without a father or husband - women can get missed or sidelined at aid distributions, and culturally, young women are not supposed to go out alone.

None of this had dampened Ayesha’s spirit. She put up her hand to volunteer, and now runs community health trainings with her neighbours and other women. 

She told me, "Now I work as an Oxfam volunteer, I teach people how to maintain good hygiene and I tell people what to do to have a good life. I feel good about it".

As for the children, they played football wherever they could find space, and ran through the camps in happy bunches and practised English with aid workers - "goodbye, how are you, I am fine."

Oxfam is in Bangladesh, providing food and life-saving clean water to those fleeing Myanmar and the host communities that have opened their doors to them. But we desparately need your support as more and more traumatised men, women and children arrive in Bangladesh every day.

You can support Oxfam’s Rohingya Crisis Appeal at: https://www.oxfamireland.org/bangladesh

Dylan Quinnell was media manager for Oxfam’s Rohingya Crisis Response for three weeks in April/ May. He is senior media coordinator for emergencies at Oxfam Australia.

*not her real name

 

Kutapalong Rohingya refugee camp: preparations for monsoon season

Oxfam fears worsening humanitarian needs in Gaza

 

Oxfam today warned that prolonged closure of crossings into Gaza could cut Palestinians from essential goods such as fuel and food and threatens to further deteriorate what is already a dire humanitarian situation. 

Israel’s 10-year blockade of Gaza has caused infrastructure and services to collapse, provoking a humanitarian crisis for nearly two million people, mostly refugees, who have been effectively trapped inside. 

Some forty percent of Gaza's population struggle to get enough to eat.  Unemployment is over forty percent and over 23,500 have been displaced from their homes due to the aftermath of the last war in 2014.

Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland’s Chief Executive, said: 

“The vital Karem Shalom crossing, one of the only entry points for goods in and out of Gaza, was damaged three days ago and is now closed, or opening for limited goods. If this continues, this could spark a further fuel shortage which would hit agricultural irrigation. Oxfam is working to rehabilitate a number of irrigation wells in Gaza but we don’t have a Plan B at this stage. The knock-on inflation on food prices would hit poor families hard and quickly.” 

Any sudden fuel shortage would also hit Gaza’s vital desalination plants which ninety percent of the people of Gaza depend on. 

Mr Clarken said: "Oxfam condemns the killings of at least 58 demonstrators in Gaza. The international community must take strong and urgent action to end the violence and ensure restraint from all sides.  The killings should be investigated – independently and immediately – for any breach of international law and those found guilty be brought to justice. " 

Oxfam is currently helping 258,000 people in Gaza providing food and vital water and sanitation. 

-ends-

 

For more information or interviews, please contact Phillip Graham, Oxfam Ireland, on +44 (0) 7841 102535 or at phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org 

TV presenter Lorraine Keane explains why she's teamed up with Oxfam Ireland for Fashion Relief

Over the past eight years, my work with Irish and international charities has taken me to some of the world’s poorest countries. My most recent trip was to East Africa, where millions of people are facing a devastating hunger crisis. I’ve seen mothers who can’t feed their babies and small children who go to bed hungry, knowing there’ll still be nothing to eat when they get up in the morning. It’s absolutely heartbreaking – something that no man, woman or child should have to go through. 


Above left: Lorraine Keane with baby Emilia Rodrigues in Marracuene, Mozambique. Above right: Lorraine with pupils from the Amazon School in Insiza, Zimbabwe. Photos: Jeannie O'Brien

Right now, people in East Africa and elsewhere are dying of hunger. But I don’t think the public realises how bad the situation is because this hunger crisis isn’t being reported in Ireland. At least, that’s what I discovered when I got home. How can millions of people dying from something preventable not be big news?

The other thing I realised when I returned to Ireland was how much stuff we all have. Many of us have too much while other people have nothing. It got me thinking about all those I know who’d be happy to part with a few pre-loved items if they thought it could save lives. 

With that thought it mind, I approached Oxfam Ireland to see if they’d be interested in teaming up for a fashion fundraiser. If we were able to encourage celebrities and members of the public to donate their high-quality clothes, bags and accessories, we could hold a massive sale and raise funds to fight the hunger crisis. Oxfam Ireland was the obvious charity partner. Not only does it work with communities on the brink of starvation, its 48 shops nationwide make ideal drop-off points for stock from the public. 

Once we’d agreed on the concept – now called Fashion Relief – I got out my contacts book and started to get in touch with friends and colleagues in the entertainment business. As I’d expected, they all agreed to help. Not only were some happy to give their designer clothes, they offered to man the stalls for the event on Sunday 13th May at Dublin’s RDS.  As for donations, not one person has said no. 

Miriam O'Callaghan, Bono, Cillian Murphy, Kathryn Thomas, Lucy Kennedy, Andrew Trimble, Amanda Byram, Don O'Neill, Brian O'Driscoll, Rob Kearney, Rosanna Davison, Aisling O'Loughlin, Sonya Lennon, Brendan Courtney, Brian Kennedy, Glenda Gilson, Brent Pope, Karen Koster, Niall Quinn, Deborah Veale, Helen Steele, Lisa Cannon, Louise Kennedy, Colette Fitzpatrick and Ryan Tubridy as well as jewellery designers like Aria-V, Melissa Curry and Juvi Designs – the list is endless.

They all want to help those suffering from extreme hunger. We’d love if you could join us – because together we can make a difference. 

For more details on tickets, donations or volunteering for FASHION RELIEF, see www.fashionrelief.ie 

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Typhoon in the Philippines: the power of local people to save lives

When a deadly storm struck Mindinao, Oxfam’s work to strengthen local humanitarian leaders was put to the test.


Left: “No one here could afford to lose the things that were destroyed,” says organizer Ruth Villasin. “But these communities knew what they had to do to save lives, and they did it. They lost a lot, but in some ways they are stronger than ever.” Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam. Right: “We were all shocked,” says Pricarda Malinao, who lost her shop to the Davao river flood, along with much of the land it stood on. Despite a heart condition and a fear of the water, Malinao rescued two toddlers from a nearby home and carried them to safety. Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam

The Davao is not a tame river. For all its glassy surface and gentle curves, it is capable of rising 20 or 30 feet with breathtaking speed, overwhelming the communities perched on its banks. That’s what happened in December 2017, when Typhoon Vinta struck the Philippine island of Mindanao.

“We were all shocked,” says Pricarda Malinao, who lost her shop to the flood, along with much of the land it stood on. Thirty-five houses in her village—a third of the total—were destroyed. But when community members gather to talk about that day, there is an unmistakable tone of pride in their voices: they were well prepared for a flood emergency, and the actions they took saved lives.

Families who live on the banks of the Davao eke out a living by taking in laundry, hauling carts from door to door to collect garbage, or scooping sand from the bottom of the river to sell as construction material. In other words, they are poor, and around the world it is the poorest people who suffer most when disaster strikes. Of course, vulnerable doesn’t mean helpless; in communities where resources are scarce, the ethics of sharing and protecting one another often runs deep, and stories abound of heroism in the face of disaster.

But it takes more than good will and spontaneous acts of courage to ensure that every family in harm’s way makes it to safety: it takes knowledge, skills, practice, and a few resources.

We follow their lead

In April 2015, Oxfam joined forces with Tearfund and Christian Aid in a three-year pilot project aimed at strengthening the ability of local organizations and communities in the Philippines to handle disasters without significant help from international agencies. It is called the Financial Enablers Project, or FEP.

“We set out not only to strengthen local knowledge and capacity,” says Jane Bañez-Ockelford, who led the project for Oxfam, “but also to build local leadership—to help develop effective, confident, proactive decision makers.”

There is nothing new about international agencies supporting capacity-building efforts in countries prone to disasters. What’s different about the FEP is that the international agencies didn’t tell the Filipinos what to do with the money.

“The partners we work with define their own needs and gaps and design their own capacity-development plans,” says Bañez-Ockelford. “We follow their lead.”

Some organizations needed to improve their financial systems; others needed to sharpen their skills in carrying out assessments and providing clean water in emergencies. Each underwent a rigorous self-assessment and came up with a proposal that the FEP then supported.

It’s all part of a plan to shift power and resources traditionally held by international organizations to the humanitarians working closer to home.

“At the heart of our humanitarian ethos is the power of people,” says Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International. “It pushes us to move decision-making and power to where it should be: in the hands of people most affected by crises.”

Zero casualties

In the months before the typhoon struck, a group of FEP-funded organizations worked with 15 riverside communities to prepare for just such an emergency. They helped villagers set up an early warning system in which upland communities would warn people living downstream of impending floods, and where painted markers along the river would enable residents to monitor the water as it rose. The agencies encouraged communities to form emergency committees, and trained them in everything from evacuation planning to first aid to health and hygiene in emergencies. They provided the local teams with rescue equipment, and carried out simulations to help everyone understand what to do and when to do it. When the real emergency hit, evacuations were timely and effective.

The price tag for training and equipping 154 community-level responders? Less than $20,000.

Community team leader Armando Amancio experienced a similar flood in 2013. Last time, he says, “there had been no training in advance and we had no equipment. Our response was completely disorganized. There was no monitoring of hygiene and sanitation and no immunizations, and there were serious health problems afterward. People came down with leptospirosis, dengue, flu, and diarrhea. One person died of tetanus from a puncture wound. This time, the health problems were mild.”

And while more than 200 people died in Typhoon Vinta, in the areas where Oxfam’s FEP partners were working, there were no casualties.

“These communities knew what they had to do to save lives, and they did it,” says Ruth Villasin, an organizer from one of the local aid groups. “They lost a lot, but in some ways they are stronger than ever.”

Typhoon in the Philippines: the power of local people to save lives

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