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.

Millions in Yemen knowingly pushed to the brink of famine, warns Oxfam

March 23rd, 2017

Fighters in the Yemen war and their international backers are knowingly pushing the country to the brink of famine, Oxfam warned today, ahead of the two year anniversary of the escalation of the conflict. Nearly 7 million people have been pushed to the brink of starvation and 70 per cent of the population is in need of humanitarian aid.

Oxfam is calling for urgent action on two fronts: an immediate resumption of the peace process and for donors to provide the additional $2.1bn the UN says is needed for the humanitarian response. Currently the appeal is only 7 per cent funded.

Colm Byrne, Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager, said: “If the parties to the conflict – and those fuelling it with arm sales – continue to ignore Yemen’s food crisis, they will be responsible for a famine.

“The people of Yemen are being starved to death and may not survive the situation much longer. A fully funded humanitarian response is vital to prevent countless people dying needlessly but ultimately what Yemenis need is an end to the fighting.All sides to the conflict need to understand that famine is the real enemy of Yemen. Preventing famine must take priority over any side’s military aims. The world cannot wait for famine to be declared in Yemen or it will be too late.”

Airstrikes and fighting have killed more than 7,600 people, including over 4,600 civilians, forced over 3 million people from their homes and left 18.8 million people – 70 percent of the population – in need of humanitarian assistance, the greatest number in any country in the world.

Ports, roads and bridges, along with warehouses, farms and markets have been regularly destroyed by the Saudi-led coalition, draining the country’s food stocks. The Houthi led authority is delaying the delivery of life-saving relief, and sometimes detaining aid workers. This, coupled with a flattened economy, has created an abyss of hunger and led 6.8 million people to the brink of famine.

A blockade has been imposed on Yemen, preventing food coming into the country. While this has been partially eased, new restrictions on shipping and the destruction of many port facilities, such as the cranes of Al-Hudaydah port in August 2015, are punishing the Yemeni population and the country’s food supplies are running a critically low.

Fighting on Yemen’s west coast escalated last month, especially around Al-Hudaydah and Mocha ports, which risks cutting off vital supplies to millions of people. In a worst-case scenario where food imports drop substantially or where conflict prevents supplies being moved around the country, famine is possible.

An Oxfam food survey of 2,000 families who have been forced to flee their homes in north-west Yemen, between November and December 2016, found that 85 percent of people were going hungry. The only options they have are to reduce the amount of food they eat or feed what little they have to their children and go hungry themselves. They skip meals and end up buying food of lesser quality, often on credit. Some have no source of food at all and only survive thanks to humanitarian aid and people’s generosity.

In order to save the lives of millions of starving people, Oxfam is urging the United Nations Secretary General to pressure all parties to the conflict to resume peace talks, to reach a negotiated peace agreement and improve the economic situation in the country.

Oxfam is calling for all land, sea and air routes to Yemen to remain open and for attacks targeting military objects related to supply routes and infrastructure to not disproportionately affect civilians in accordance with International Humanitarian Law.

Oxfam is also helping people facing starvation in East Africa, South Sudan and Nigeria. In South Sudan, Oxfam is distributing food to over 415,000 people as well as providing over 140,000 people with clean water and sanitation. The agency is also helping over 300,000 in Nigeria, 255,000 people in the Southern Somali region of Ethiopia and has begun a response to the drought in Somalia with immediate plans to reach a minimum of 10,000 people with clean water, sanitation and cash assistance for food.

The public can support Oxfam Ireland’s Hunger Crisis Appeal at: https://www.oxfamireland.org/hunger

ENDS

 

NOTES TO THE EDITOR

Oxfam spokespeople are available for interview on the ground in the region and also here in Ireland, including Colm Byrne, Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager.

CONTACT: To arrange an interview or for more information, please contact: Alice Dawson, Oxfam Ireland, on +353 (0) 83 198 1869 or at alice.dawson@oxfamireland.org

WHAT OXFAM IS DOING IN YEMEN

  • We have reached more than a million people in eight governorates of Yemen with water and sanitation services, cash assistance, food vouchers and other essential aid since July 2015
  • We have given cash to more 205,000 people so families can buy food or livestock
  • 35,000 have taken part in our cash-for-work programmes

"We fled from our home... there were so many bodies on the streets."

 
Wafaa and her family in the half build house they now call home. Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam
 
"We fled from our home; there were so many dead bodies on the streets." Wafaa (name changed to protect identity) sits on the floor in one of three rooms in a small, half-built house her brother rents for their families in Kahlo Bazini, in Kirkuk, northern Iraq. Conditions in the house are basic at best, some of the walls aren't yet finished and until Oxfam intervened they had no facilities to wash, no toilet, and no clean water.
 
"Our living situation is difficult, but we make things work; my brother works cleaning shops so that he can earn money to provide food for us. My children and I all depend on my brother. He goes to clean the shops and then brings home vegetables, things like tomatoes, and shares them between my children and his. We have lived in this same situation for a while," explains Wafaa.
 
Before arriving in Kirkuk, Wafaa and her family moved several times trying to escape ISIS as they took control of large areas of Iraq in 2014. "When we first left out home, we went to my brother's house in Al Eshaqi. We were there for three days and then attacks, bombing and killings started in the streets, so we left to go to my sister's house; she lived far away from the places that had been captured by ISIS. We didn't stay there very long though, about 27 days, and then the fighting started there as well. There were airstrikes, missiles and bombs everywhere."
 
At one point Wafaa and her family were forced to live in an empty school building: 'The school had no appliances; there was no water, toilets or place to wash; the water we were using came directly from the river, it was dirty and polluted. It gave us a lot of infections and allergic reactions. No one came to check if we were okay and the fighting continued to reach us again.
 
"Then my son got ill; he fell on the ground and his face swelled up. My son is only six years old. I had to tell my family that I couldn't stay there any longer." But the area was surrounded from both sides.
 
 
Wafaa Derwesh* (name changed), 39, was displaced with her family when ISIS took control of her village. She now lives in a small village near Kirkuk called Khalo Bazini. Photo: Tommy Trenchard / Oxfam
 
The school where Wafaa and her family were staying was isolated and very far from any roads, "It was like we had escaped to a small empty island far away", Wafaa explains. "There was no water and no electricity. And then ISIS struck. Three ISIS fighters who were carrying guns and firing passed by us; we were so scared we ran away again.
 
"When ISIS came, there were a lot of other families at the school; many of them left the school with us to escape ISIS. They put their black flag above the school; the same school that had been like a home to us." As Wafaa sits in the dark room of the house she and her family now call home she tells the story of how they escaped from ISIS.
 
"We left the school at around 4.00am and we reached the army controlled area at 12.00pm. ISIS had destroyed all the bridges. It was a cold winter, we had no clothes with us and we were trying to escape from ISIS. We were in bad situation, but there were other families and relatives who couldn't leave because ISIS had already taken control of the area and taken them under siege."
 
Not all of her family had been so fortunate. "My sister was still living at the school. She didn't have a car, and random bombing and air strikes had already begun between the army and ISIS. She was alone in the middle of their battle. She called my mom and told her the battle had begun and that she was about to give birth to her baby.
 
"One of my sister's neighbours was her midwife at the birth. It all happened during these air strikes and bombings. We were having a very cold and rainy spell and my sister was giving birth to her new child. She had been complaining about the pain in her stomach but there was no doctor, no food, and no medicine, and no car for her to get to them."
 
Even though ISIS had surrounded the area, Wafaa and her brothers went back to the school to try and fetch their sister. They wanted to get her the medical help she so badly needed. "She was on the dirty ground that had been polluted and her stomach was too swollen, I can't describe it, we couldn't do anything for her; we were helpless and powerless. It was very difficult to see her like that; she was my sister."
 
 
Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam
 
Wafaa managed to get her sister out of the school but she died soon after that. 'That's how I last saw her; it was very tragic; we all suffered and felt sad about losing her. We had become displaced in one way, and her daughters who are very young became displaced in a different way.' After her sister died, Wafaa took in her nieces and now provides for them as well as her own children.
 
There are currently over 3.2 million people displaced in Iraq, and even after their village or town has been recaptured from ISIS, families like Wafaa's aren't able to go home due to the level of destruction, number of mines left behind and the slow vetting process that ensues. "Our area was liberated a long time ago," Wafaa explains, "but they won't allow us to return because there are mines that have been planted, explosive devices and bombs in our farms and houses. Behind our home ISIS planted many bombs and explosive devices.
 
"I'm not afraid of anything. I'm waiting for the checkpoint at Balad to open and then I'll return to my house. My home was small but nice, and I was living happily in it. We left because ISIS attacked us; missiles were falling everywhere and my children were crying. It was a difficult situation and it was hard on my children. I couldn't make them understand that we had left because of the bombing and the battle between the army and ISIS. My children were afraid of ISIS.
 
"My young children are always saying that they miss their games and our house. They ask me when will we go back? All the displaced people here want to return to our homes because we are exhausted."
 
WHAT OXFAM IS DOING IN IRAQ
 
On Friday October 7th Irish Aid delivered 80 tonnes of aid to Iraq for Oxfam to distribute to vulnerable people fleeing the conflict in Mosul and beyond. Items being sent include blankets, jerry cans, cooking sets, water tanks, tarpaulins and shelter kits.
 
 
Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said he is gravely concerned up to 1.5 million people in the city of Mosul have been living under siege for more than two years, with a further 1 million in surrounding areas currently under ISIS control.
 
Oxfam has been working in 50 villages and towns across Diyala and Kirkuk governorates in northern Iraq since 2014. We are providing safe water in camps and in communities where people who have fled the fighting are sheltering, and enabling people to earn a living so that they can support their families. We have also been helping families as they return home once it is safe to do so.
 
We are now scaling up our response in the Mosul Corridor, operating in Salah Al-Din and Ninewa governorates. Oxfam is also working in the key strategic area of Qayyarat, which is 80km south of Mosul and sandwiched between ISIS-controlled territories. We are providing clear water and sanitation and essential items like blankets and hygiene kits.
 
Oxfam works across Iraq including in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
 
As military operations begin to retake the city of Mosul and surrounding areas from ISIS, we are expecting to help 60,000 people.
 

Building back stronger in Nepal, one year on

Oxfam has provided water and sanitation in temporary schools in Gorkha, Nepal, after many were destroyed in the 2015 earthquake. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

On 25 April 2015, Nepal was struck by the first of two major earthquakes that left nearly 9,000 people dead and destroyed or damaged more than 850,000 homes.

I was in Nepal in the immediate aftermath of the first quake and saw first-hand the difference your donation made as we were able to provide clean water, sanitation, emergency shelter materials, food and other vital relief.

Your donation has helped not only provide immediate aid like shelter, blankets and clean water but also now the hope of a return to normality.

Critically, your support also means that Oxfam can continue to support affected communities throughout what will be a long road to recovery.

Over the last year, Oxfam’s response has benefitted 481,900 people in seven of the worst-hit districts of Nepal with:

  • 49,978 emergency shelters
  • 13,097 winter kits including blankets and thermal mats to provide protection in freezing temperatures
  • 54,365 hygiene kits to enable people drink and wash safely Installation of more than 150 large clean water storage tanks
  • Over 7,000 toilets or latrines
  • 2,300 cash grants, tools and training to help families rebuild their livelihoods
  • Cash-for-work programmes for over 20,400 families

Bimala, Gana and Netra are just some of the thousands of people supported at the most challenging of times. Their stories are powerful examples of how your support has enabled Oxfam to rebuild communities, restore livelihoods and help people return to normality, stronger and better prepared than before. 

BIMALA’S STORY

Bimala Balami can piece her life back together after participating in an Oxfam cash-for-work programme in Kathmandu Valley. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

Bimala Balami’s life was devastated by the earthquake, which destroyed her home in Dachi Nkali municipality, in the Kathmandu valley. Bimala recalls: “My mind went completely numb. I couldn’t think. I only cared about my baby. I just wanted to protect my child.

“After the earthquake people didn’t know what they would do or how they would earn. Oxfam came in and now the women in the village know they can provide for their families.”

On the hillside fields where her local community grow rice, wheat, mustard, peas, cucumber and other vegetables, the irrigation channel that provides water for the crops was badly damaged as a result of a landslide triggered by the earthquake.

Oxfam has responded with your support by paying groups of 30 women, including Bimala, to construct a new irrigation channel. This provides the women with an income and the community with prospects of a substantive harvest.

Bimala is part of the group working on the new channel. “I like the job that I am doing because I know it is for the welfare of my entire village. People do need proper irrigation for their fields and I know that. If I don’t do this work people won’t even be able to eat.”

For people like Bimala, trying to piece their lives back together after the earthquake, cash-for-work projects such as this make the critical difference between hope and despair. It creates opportunity to rebuild not only individual lives but also that of whole communities at the same time.

In all we have organised 25 similar cash for work programmes in the area where Bimala lives involving 600 people, including clearing debris and repairing roads damaged by the earthquakes and subsequent tremors. Across our response, over 20,000 households have benefitted from such schemes.

GANA'S STORY

Gana Butrai received livelihood support in the form of a small business grant from Oxfam. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

We have supported women across four districts with financial support in the form of cash grants to enable them to restart their businesses and get their livelihoods back on track, including shop-keeper Gana Butrai.

“The day the earthquake happened I was actually in my shop,” she recalls. “The only thing I was thinking was will I live or will I die. I didn’t look at my watch but it felt as though it went on for at least half an hour. The ground felt like it was shaking for almost an entire day.

“The building was damaged in the earthquake; it used to have a top floor but it fell down and the wall on the left fell down as well.

“I had to ask people to come and help me but I couldn’t retrieve all of the items and lots of them expired. So I had to start again, reconstructing the entire space. Things have become a lot easier since Oxfam has helped.

“The first help that Oxfam gave me was a grant of 4,000 rupees and since then they have helped me with material support. I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart.” 

NETRA’S STORY

Business is now booming for trader Netra Parajuli after Oxfam’s support. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam.

We are distributing vouchers so people can buy what they need to restart their farms, businesses and kitchen gardens – which is good news for traders like Netra Parajuli. Before the earthquake, Netra ran a thriving shop in Lamosanghu, but like thousands of others, his livelihood was destroyed in the disaster.

“Everything started moving and we all started running towards the door. Slabs of concrete were falling all around us. I thought they would kill me.

“I couldn’t breathe; there was dust everywhere. I tried to see someone around me but I couldn’t see anyone. I thought I was dead. Suddenly a wall broke and I saw light. I ran towards it.

“Everything was under the debris. We couldn’t even dig the dead people out. I started breaking the concrete so that we could pull people out. That day I pulled four people alive from the rubble. They were trapped and I could hear them crying. I had no idea how many people had died then.”

With the stock he salvaged, Netra has managed to set up a temporary shop, and thanks to Oxfam’s voucher scheme, business is now back on track.

“I’ve had almost 900 people come to my shop because of the vouchers being distributed. The most popular items have been the spade, then hoe and then the watering can. If people’s tools are damaged, I repair them. I make the hoes myself.”

Oxfam has distributed over 6,000 vouchers to help people buy agricultural tools and supplies, with each voucher worth 2,000 rupees (around €17/£13). The distribution supports not only the people receiving the vouchers, enabling them to restart their kitchen gardens and farms, they also support local traders and store owners like Netra and reignite the local economy.

A further distribution is planned to commence soon, supporting local communities with livestock and grain storage through cash grants. In addition to direct assistance, Oxfam is advocating with national and local authorities in Nepal for the roll-out of a recovery process and plan that ensures no-one is left behind – especially women and other marginalised communities with limited resources or opportunities even before this crisis and who are now only more vulnerable.

We are urging a reconstruction effort that builds back better, creating a fairer, more equal and inclusive society than before.

Colm Byrne is Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager.

Eyewitness – Cyclone Pam

Photo: Isso Nihmei/350.org

We have launched an emergency appeal to help people in the island nation of Vanuatu where Cyclone Pam have wreaked devastation. This is likely to be one of the worst disasters ever seen in the Pacific. The scale of humanitarian need will be enormous and the people of Vanuatu are going to need a lot of help to rebuild their homes and their lives. 

Clean water, sanitation and hygiene supplies are a major issue for those left homeless and also those in evacuation centres, where there simply are not enough toilets or clean water for the amount of people in those facilities.

 

Here is a personal account of what it is like to experience the destructive forces of a Category 5 Cyclone from Colin Collett van Rooyen, Country Director, Oxfam in Vanuatu.

It was a dark and stormy night…no, seriously, it really was! Okay, so it never had a chance of being the perfect night in Vanuatu did it? We knew that Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam (we just call her Pam for short) was on her way. We knew (almost) exactly where she was and what her most likely next move would be and we knew that she would only reveal to us her secrets as she arrived over us.

Radios on, candles at the ready, water set out, lock down level red announced and cyclone tracking maps and pens on the table. Nothing unusual for cyclone season in Vanuatu really. This is a country so prone to cyclones that we have tracking maps in the early pages of the telephone directories. What was unusual was not knowing how strong Pam was going to be; how dark and stormy it would all get given that she was a category five cyclone. A rare beast.

Regular radio announcements in calm tones; traditional Vanuatu string band music in-between statements of how harsh things may be when she gets to us. All a bit surreal really. The cyclone shutters boarding up our windows and doors start to shudder, at first gently and irregularly and then faster and constant. Pam is now moving in, getting closer to us at a rate of 10, 15, 20 kilometers per hour. Her eye moves at an astounding speed, creating wind forces of unimaginable speeds.

Can you imagine ‘over 200km an hour’? I couldn’t at the time. But I could hear it. I now know the sound of 200km per hour or more, and I don’t think I would willingly subject myself to it again. Pam arrived announced by the drum roll of our shutters. Then she roared, she squealed, she hissed. She spat and cursed in deep bass tones, and at the same time she whistled and screeched in ways that messed with our senses. What was that we just heard?

Someone outside screaming? The high-pitched string band notes we had heard earlier on the radio? No, the radio was off and people had taken shelter. It was Pam in her many voices. She spoke a language of essential fear at its most primitive and we understood it instantly.

I could also ‘see’ what more than 200km per hour looked like. It was dark, the lights went out, it had that wobbly candle lit orange to it (not the romantic one you may be used to). It had pictures in my head of houses falling apart, metal sheets ripping of roofs, yachts in the bay turned upside down, trees tearing themselves into shreds, people cowering in dark corners and animals confused and wild. I could see 200km per hour in our eyes where we reflected the fear we were feeling so transparently despite our attempts to do the “I’m cool, you cool” act.

And of course we could feel it too. Pam’s special brand of 200km per hour or more shook us to the core. Our sturdy home rattled a bit at first and then at Pam’s most powerful moments she shook it. Just to remind us that she was in charge. Just to add to that already sharp edge that had moved us to huddle on the floor closest to the strongest walls and as far as possible from windows and doors that felt like they may not hold.

We could feel it too in another way. In wondering about family far away, in thinking about friends close by and those less fortunate to have a sturdy home, and in trying to reconcile this ugly yet astounding moment with the beautiful and gentle Vanuatu we love so much. And then after dragging us around with such aggression she decided to move on, to try her power games on anther small island of Vanuatu, and then another and another.

And at the end of this ‘dark and stormy night’ we were left wide awake, unable to sleep a wink in case she came back, wondering if what we saw in our mind’s eye, what we felt and heard, would be real when we eventually cracked open the doors after the all clear in the morning.

And it was.

Colin Collett van Rooyen, Country Director, Oxfam in Vanuatu. Follow Colin on Twitter here.

You can help support Oxfam’s Cyclone Pam response by donating here.

Cyclone Pam leaves ‘unprecedented disaster' in Vanuatu

 

Stories of devastation emerge from Oxfam staffers.

Cyclone Pam, possibly one of the worst ever seen in the Pacific region, has now passed over the island nation of Vanuatu, and reports are emerging of the devastation left in its wake as Oxfam prepares to launch an emergency response.

 
Packing winds of up to 160 miles per hour, the storm slammed directly into Port Vila, Vanuatu’s capital on the island of Efate, where about 65,000 people live. Oxfam staffers there are reporting the complete destruction of homes: Winds have uprooted trees three stories tall, and in some of the smaller communities, barely any houses are left standing.
 
Power and water have been knocked out and people are still not able to move around freely.
 
“The scale of this disaster is unprecedented in this country and the proud people of Vanuatu are going to need a lot of help to rebuild their homes and their lives,” said Colin Collett van Rooyen, Oxfam’s Vanuatu country director. He said residents have told him that they have never seen a cyclone of this intensity and were scared about the devastation that will likely unfold as emergency teams make their way into hard-to-reach areas.

Slightly smaller than Northern Ireland, Vanuatu is a Y-shaped chain of four main islands and 80 smaller ones made up mostly of mountains with narrow coastal plains. Though many of the islands are uninhabited, the total population of the country is estimated to be close to 267,000 - that's around twice the population of Cork city.

Port Vila, the capital, has been named in the Natural Hazards Risk Atlas as the city most exposed to natural disasters in the world because of the risks it faces from earthquakes, tsunamis, flooding, and cyclones like Pam.

 

Wake-up call for disaster risk reduction

For the president of Vanuatu, the terrible reality of those risks reportedly brought him close to tears as he delivered his opening statement Saturday at the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan. The event is aimed at tackling the devastating impacts of disasters.
 
“I speak to you today with a heart that is so heavy,” said the president, Baldwin Lonsdale. “I stand to ask you to give a lending hand to responding to this calamity that has struck us.”
 
Ben Murphy, the humanitarian advocacy lead for Oxfam Australia who is attending the conference, said Lonsdale’s words are a wake-up call for the international community which is not doing enough to help reduce the risk of disasters like this and the impact they have on the world’s most vulnerable people.
 
“With Cyclone Pam and Typhoon Haiyan scale events likely to increase in severity, including due to the effects of climate change, current disaster risk reduction, preparedness, and response capacities from the local to the national and international levels will increasingly be pushed to the breaking point in the future,” said Murphy. “That’s why delegations meeting in Sendai need to have President Lonsdale’s words ringing in their ears as they negotiate new international framework on disaster risk reduction.”
 

Oxfam in Vanuatu

 
Oxfam has been working on disaster preparedness at both the local and national level in Vanuatu for the past four years. We have been funding communities to build cyclone-proof classrooms and coordinating the Vanuatu humanitarian team while working closely with governments and donor agencies to strengthen disaster preparedness across the country.
 
Following disasters like Cyclone Pam, Oxfam’s first step is to assess where the greatest needs are and then make determinations about shelter, clean water, sanitation, and food supplies.
 
The Vanuatu Humanitarian Team, coordinated by Oxfam, is now in action. As we learn more, we will continue to provide updates on the situation.

 

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