Food & Hunger

  • In a world full of food one in eight people goes to bed hungry every night. Small farms around the world put food on the plates of one in three people on this planet. Yet extreme weather and unpredictable seasons are affecting what farmers can grow. Food prices are going up. Food quality is going down. Nearly a billion of the world’s poorest people are finding it even harder to feed their families. We demand a fairer and sustainable global food system so everyone has enough to eat. That means investing in small-scale food producers, helping farmers adapt to climate change, and securing and protecting their access to land.

What is famine, and how can we stop it?

By Chris Hufstader
 
A mother and her child eat unprocessed sorghum in Rann, northeast Nigeria. Ongoing conflict here has constrained food supplies as two million people have been forced to flee their homes and farmlands. Humanitarian organizations estimate 7.7 million people in Nigeria are in need of assistance. Fati Abubakar/Oxfam
 
Millions of people are at risk of starvation and death in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen. Organizations such as Oxfam and the United Nations are struggling to find the resources to respond to the catastrophic humanitarian situations in these countries in an attempt to head off outright famine. 
 
If you’re wondering, “what is a famine anyway?” here are a few things you need to know.
 
Famine is not just a lack of food
 
Dan Maxwell and Nisar Majid’s 2016 book Famine in Somalia has a good definition: “Famine is broadly understood as ‘an extreme crisis of access to adequate food, manifested in widespread malnutrition and loss of life due to starvation and infectious disease.’”
 
In technical terms, a famine is a situation where one in five households experience “an extreme lack of food and other basic needs where starvation, death, and destitution are evident.” More than 30 percent of people are “acutely malnourished” and two out of every 10,000 people die from starvation. This set of conditions is the most severe case in a range of classifications monitored by something called the “Integrated Food Security Phase Classification” (IPC) that tracks the availability of food for people and helps governments and aid organizations anticipate a crisis before people experience famine, what the IPC calls Phase 5. (Phases 2-4 are not very nice situations either, by the way, and as you can see in this graphic, when people get to the famine stage, they typically have few or no resources to sustain them.)
 
Famine looks like a lack of food, and most people think it is brought on by a drought, a war, or an outbreak of disease. And some still believe in debunked 19th-century theories about “overpopulation” causing famine. But famines are usually caused by multiple factors, compounded by poor (or even intentionally bad) policy decisions that make people vulnerable. When no one addresses this vulnerability, it leads to famine.
 
This is why political scientist Alex de Waal calls famine a political scandal, a “catastrophic breakdown in government capacity or willingness to do what [is] known to be necessary to prevent famine.” When governments fail to prevent or end conflict, or help families prevent food shortages brought on by any reason, they fail their own people.
 
 
What causes famine?
 
There has been a dramatic decline in famines in the last 50 years. So why are we seeing famine and near-famine conditions now? The World Peace Institute recently released a statement on ending famine that summarizes currents trends as resulting “from military actions and exclusionary, authoritarian politics conducted without regard to the wellbeing or even the survival of people. Violations of international humanitarian law including blockading ports, attacks on health facilities, violence against humanitarian workers, and obstruction of relief aid are all carried out with a sense of renewed impunity. Famines strike when accountability fails.”
 
In Nigeria, the threat of famine is due to conflict between armed groups and the Nigerian military and has prevented farmers from growing any food in some northeastern areas for almost five years. Civil war in South Sudan and Yemen has also displaced families and cut off food supplies, as well as people’s access to aid. A lengthy, serious drought in Somaliahas killed off most of the crops and livestock, the main assets for many families. The situation in Somalia is compounded by climate change and the effects of long-term conflict, which continues to make it difficult to get help to some of the hardest-hit communities.
 
If we wait to respond until a famine is declared, it’s too late
 
The conflict in South Sudan started in 2013, so it’s no surprise famine was declared there in Unity State in early 2017, and that people in these areas continue to struggle to survive in near-famine conditions.
 
The conflict in Nigeria is going on eight years now. Aid groups such as Oxfam and UN agencies (including the Famine Early Warning System) have been warning the world about these deteriorating situations for some time. Humanitarian organizations have been seeking funds to head off a famine, but without the resources and successful efforts to end wars and help people withstand drought, we now have millions of people in four countries without enough food.
 
We (governments, the UN, aid organizations) know what to do, because the world has been successfully fighting famine for more than a century. In 2011, more than 250,000 people in Somalia lost their lives when the world ignored repeated warnings after the failure of rains in the region. We should not wait until the situation becomes really dire, with people (many of them children) starving and dying. We need to raise awareness and mobilize support months and years earlier. 
 
What Oxfam is doing
 
 
Women on Panyijar County, South Sudan, pump water from a well constructed by Oxfam. Oxfam provided clean water to 10,000 famine-affected people in this area over the last year. Photo: Bruno Bierrenbach Feder/Oxfam
 
Clean water for drinking, cooking, and bathing is essential in any humanitarian emergency to avoid deadly water-borne diseases such as cholera. But any stomach ailment from dirty water or poor hygiene will rob people of the nutrition they can derive from whatever food they can find. Children under 5 are particularly vulnerable. Oxfam helps improve and repair wells, and trucks in water to areas where there is none.
 
Proper sanitation and hygiene are essential for preventing disease. Oxfam helps construct latrines and distributes hygiene items like soap so people can wash their hands.
 
When food is available in markets, but might be scarce or very expensive for some, Oxfam distributes cash(sometimes in exchange for labor). Oxfam also distributes emergency food when necessary.
 
In areas where farmers can plant crops, Oxfam is helping supply seeds, tools, and other assistance so people can grow their own food. We also help farmers raising livestock with veterinary services, animal feed, and in some cases we distribute animals to farmers to help restock their herds.
 
Oxfam works with a network of local partners to help farmers improve and insure their harvests, create drought early-warning systems, and help people find other ways of earning money for food when crops fail. Much of the water and sanitation work Oxfam does is in close collaboration with local groups.
 
You can see a more detailed explanation of our activities in Nigeria, Yemen, South Sudan, and Somalia on our hunger and famine crises page.
 
Working to prevent famine
 
Oxfam is urgently seeking funds to help communities that are facing dangerous levels of hunger, whether due to chronic poverty, drought, or conflict. Even during normal times, most farming families in sub-Saharan Africa struggle to find enough food during the growing months. This is also the rainy season, so delivering food and water is even more challenging as many roads become unpassable.

Helping the People of Syria

Deir-Ez-Zor, Syria

The human suffering caused by seven years of civil war in Syria is overwhelming. Thousands of lives have been lost and over 13 million are living in extreme poverty, and in desperate need of humanitarian aid. We are helping those affected by the crisis across Syria with life-saving clean water, sanitation and vital food supplies. We have also been campaigning and advocating for an end to the fighting, and a sustainable and inclusive political solution since the beginning of the crisis.
 
Deir ez-Zor, the largest city in eastern Syria, gets really cold in the winter. At the beginning of the year, with the help of a local partner, we distributed over 25,000 packs of warm clothing and 400,000 bundles of bread to the families that had come back. The city of Deir-Ez-Zor was under ISIS control for the last 3 years. The civilians who remained in the war-torn city lived under besiegement with little access to food, water and medical supplies. 
 
"Before and during the besiegement, there was no food or water, people were dying. There was no medical supplies, there was nothing." 
 
It is only since late 2017 that the people of Deir-Ez-Zor have begun to return to the city. The people of the city have lost everything, their homes and their livelihoods. Due to the devastation of the city, many people had no protection from the harsh conditions of the extremely cold winter months. 
 
Since the liberation of the city, Oxfam has been providing thousands of families with warm coats for the winter and distributing bread,
 
"Thank God we can get bread and water, the water is pumped everyday, bread is available everyday, and now we are more comfortable. "
 
"Now we are warm, after being cold for a very long time me and my brothers and sister, we all feel warm now."

Women in South Sudan plow forward in their fields—and in their homes

An Oxfam program supplies female farmers with the tools to manage their crops and to redistribute power in their households.

“When our leaders told us that Oxfam was coming to train us to use oxen to plow our fields, we protested,” says Lucia, a farmer from Wau County, South Sudan. “Our tribe does not know cows and even so, it is a man’s work to train them and lead them through the fields. This is not for us women at all!”

Yet, 12 months later, she’s changed her tune. Lucia grins from ear to ear as she shows off Malual—the young bull that tills her land. Women in Lucia’s community—as in most parts of South Sudan—typically shoulder a huge workload. They do all the domestic work and much of the agricultural tasks. For many, this means waking up early to collect water, light a fire, make tea, and cook lunch, all before heading to a small plot of land to cultivate crops.

Farming often takes from morning to evening, and even then, doesn't always provide enough food to feed the family. This was Lucia’s experience until last year.

That’s where Malual come in.

Traditionally, people in Lucia's community use malodas—small tools with a sickle-shaped head—to till the land, but because the tools are so small, it takes a long time to work the land. Using oxen and employing techniques like planting in rows means women can cultivate much larger plots of land in less time.

“I am growing sorghum, okra, and peanuts, and I have been able to increase the size of the land I plow from half a fedan [half an acre] to more than two fedans [two acres],” she says. “Some of the food I eat as soon as I harvest; some I save for the lean season to eat or to sell. I’m also saving some for planting later this year.”

In the past, Lucia and her family skipped lunch because they only had enough food to stretch between breakfast and dinner. “My children are much happier and I can see they are looking well,” she says.

Lucia is earning enough money to pay some bills, and the time she's saved using oxen is going into a side business selling cakes—all of which has earned her the deep respect of her husband.

As part of the same project, she and her husband took part in workshops focused on women’s rights. “Now he respects me so much more,” she says with a grin. “The way we are together is completely different. Now we share all the tasks in the household. He is cleaning more, mopping, bringing water, and washing clothes. I am able to rest a bit more now.”

For those who have fled Eastern Ghouta, life now comes with different challenges

by Matthew Hemsley
 
An Oxfam staff member helps a child fill a water bottle from a tank in Herjalleh collective shelter.  Oxfam has been trucking clean water to the site, for the 14,000 Syrians displaced from Eastern Ghouta who are living there. Photo Credit: Dania Kareh
 
Queueing from dawn until mid-afternoon for the chance of a hot meal, living eight people to a small tent, stagnant dirty water risking waterborne diseases as the temperature rises, and a shortage of clean water for washing, eating and cooking… These are just some of the issues raised with me by Syrians forced to flee eastern Ghouta, now living in a collective shelter in Herjalleh, rural Damascus - home to over 14,000 Syrians living either in rooms in small apartment blocks, other living outside the buildings in tents.
 
While the shelter is not as busy as it used to be, with relatives of some women and older men in the shelter able to sponsor them to leave, those running the humanitarian response worry that more families from Douma will soon arrive.
 
One official said, "there could be 20,000 more people coming and the sanitation is already overflowing, it needs to be fixed."
 
Living conditions are already crowded. For those living in apartment blocks, seven to eight sometimes must share a room. Parents and their children too. For people living in tents, it's harder. I spoke to one family of eight living in a small tent.
 
"When we moved here, we lived in the open. Now we have this tarpaulin sheet. We don't know how long we will have to stay here like this. Our homes in Ghouta were destroyed."
 
One family told me they left Ghouta with just the clothes on their backs. They previously kept sheep, but had to leave their livestock, and their livelihood, behind. They have no savings.
 
It's tough for people living out here, and what little money they do have - some offered by relatives trying to help - just doesn't stretch that far.
 
There are shops in the shelter, selling vegetables and other goods, but though the prices are cheaper than they were in Ghouta, it is difficult for people with so little to afford what they need.
 
Warm meals are available, but people must wait in line, sometimes for hours at a time, to get their fair share. This is their everyday life.
 
Maintaining good hygiene is another challenge. A poor drainage and sanitation system means there is dirty water across the shelter, which increases health risks for the people who live here as the days get hotter, and as clean water becomes scarcer. Safety is a concern as well, and for many a simple trip to the installed showers and toilet blocks is a dangerous endeavour during the night hours.
 
But humanitarian agencies are helping improve conditions for civilians. Oxfam is providing clean water by truck to the communal water tower, the kitchen, and directly into tanks serving the apartment blocks. Tap stands are connected to other water sources making clean water available to those who need it. Other agencies, including the UN, are helping too. But more funding is desperately needed. Repairing a sanitation network that is overflowing, for example, doesn't come cheap - but it is lifechanging for the those living here, as well as for the community living in the nearby town.
 
For many people now in Herjalleh, the future looks uncertain. Many say their homes in Ghouta have been destroyed, their livelihoods lost. They have nowhere to go and want to remain in the shelter where at least there is some access to goods and services. Others have no way of knowing what is it that they've lost. But most hope to return to their homes someday. Whether that is a possibility or not remains to be seen.

Lorraine Keane brings together a host of Irish fashion, rugby and entertainment greats to launch fashion fundraiser of the year

TV presenter teams up with Oxfam Ireland to tackle overseas hunger crisis

Wednesday 11th April 2018

TV presenter Lorraine Keane teamed up with Irish fashion, rugby and entertainment stars Miriam O’Callaghan, Rob Kearney, Brent Pope, Glenda Gilson, Deborah Veale and Sarah Morrissey today to launch FASHION RELIEF – a fashion fundraiser extravaganza in aid of the hunger crisis overseas.

The event will take place in Dublin’s RDS on Sunday 13th May and will offer the public the unique opportunity to bag a bargain from the wardrobe of their style icon while raising vital funds for Oxfam Ireland’s hunger crisis appeal, providing life-saving aid to people facing starvation in East Africa and beyond. 

FASHION RELIEF will showcase rail after rail of designer and premium clothes and accessories starting at just €5, with brand-new items from designers and retailers across the nation and pre-loved donations from the stars, including host Lorraine Keane, Oxfam Ireland ambassadors Andrew Trimble and Lorna Weightman as well as stars like Cillian Murphy, Miriam O’Callaghan, Brent Pope, Rozanna Purcell, Liam Cunningham, Yvonne Connolly, Kathryn Thomas, Aisling O’Loughlin, Nicky Byrne, TV3’s Xposé presenters and more.

Starting at 11am, many of the stalls will be staffed by the high-profile personalities who donated stock with models and celebs taking to the catwalk at 1pm and 3pm to showcase some of the coveted designer items on offer.

FASHION RELIEF attendees are invited to make a day of it by booking their place at an exclusive VIP After-party from 5pm at ICE, the luxurious bar inside the 5* InterContinental Hotel in Ballsbridge. For just €20, they can enjoy a glass of champagne and nibbles, unwinding after a day at the sale rails alongside Lorraine Keane and the fashion-savvy stars who made the event happen. Kindly sponsored by the InterContinental Hotel, every cent of the €20 will go to the hunger crisis appeal. Places are limited so booking is essential.

Host Lorraine Keane is calling on the Irish public to get involved: “Over the last eight years I have worked with a number of Irish and international charities and have seen first-hand the suffering of communities facing starvation. People are dying of hunger. How can millions of people dying from something preventable not be big news?

“It made me realise how much we all have – we have too much stuff – and that got me thinking about all the people I know who would happily part with a few pre-loved items if they knew it would save lives. So I started contacting others in the industry and, as I expected, they all agreed to help."

“Now I’m calling on the public to join us by donating their own pre-loved clothes and accessories for sale on the day or, better yet, volunteering to stock and staff their own stall at the event – why not get some friends together and make a day of it, unwinding at the VIP After-party in ICE at the InterContinental afterwards? Together we will make a difference. We will save lives.”

FASHION RELIEF is asking the public to donate any unwanted items in resalable condition and support the hunger crisis by following these simple steps:

  1. Bag up any pre-loved or brand new clothes, accessories or handbags – making sure they’re in good nick and ready for the sale rail.
  2. Clearly label the bag/box FASHION RELIEF.
  3. Drop the bag/box to the nearest Oxfam Ireland shop. Find out where at oxfamireland.org/shops

Those wanting to do more than donate, are encouraged to volunteer, helping to maximise funds raised on the day by supporting with logistics and staffing the stalls.

The event organisers are seeking volunteers on Saturday 12th May to assist in the set-up of FASHION RELIEF – a great opportunity to get a sneak peak of what will be on offer at the event the following day and reserve free entry – as well as on the day itself, Sunday 13th May.

The public can also get their office on board by organising a workplace clothes and accessories collection or a colleague's team building day volunteering at the event.

For more information on donating or volunteering or to book tickets for the sale and VIP After-party, visit www.fashionrelief.ie, call +353 (0) 1 672 7662 or email info@oxfamireland.org

ENDS

Lorraine Keane at the launch of Fashion Relief
Lorraine Keane, Glenda Gilson and Sarah Morrissey at the launch of Fashion Relief
Rob Kearney at the launch of Fashion Relief
Rob Kearney, Miriam O'Callaghan, Lorraine Keane, Deborah Veale and Brent Pope at the launch of Fashion Relief

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