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.

Oxfam among finalists for EU's €1m Blockchains for Social Good prize

At Oxfam Ireland, we have our eyes on the prize – the prize being a €1 million award for an EU competition entitled Blockchains for Social Good. Our innovative UnBlocked Cash Project was one of just 24 projects picked from 178 applications for the finals. Last week, Oxfam staff and our technology partners – Sempo and ConsenSys – delivered their pitch to a jury in Brussels, with the winners to be announced in the coming weeks.

Oxfam staff and representatives from ConsenSys and Sempo recently presented their findings of the project.

The project uses a decentralised platform to improve the delivery of cash aid in emergencies, allowing us to make transfers in the form of vouchers to communities caught up in disasters. What’s different, however, is that these are blockchain-powered smart vouchers, making it easier and faster to get aid to the areas where it’s needed most.

This suite of blockchain-based, stable cryptocurrencies enables efficient cross-border transactions. It is also fixed to the price of the local currency to enable people to spend as they would in their local shops and markets.

Local store owner Melika at her store with a customer using the blockchain-powered technology. Photo: Keith Parsons/OxfamAUS

The project has been piloted in the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu, where users have shown not only is it a speedy and efficient way of transferring vouchers in an emergency, but also how the smart system updates in real time. This helps to reduce the number of resources needed to be devoted to transparency, accounting and monitoring.

Sandra Hart from Oxfam in Vanuatu described the island nation as being “the most, or the second most, disaster-prone country in the world. Because it’s a country of over 80 islands, disaster assistance takes ages to get to people. We did a nationwide study and the average time it took for people to receive assistance after a disaster was four weeks or more.”

Oxfam's Pacific Cash and Livelihood Lead Sandra Hart. Photo: Keith Parsons/OxfamAUS

But with the help of the blockchain pilot, Oxfam was able to deliver cheques to more than 13,000 volcano-affected households between December and March. “They… didn’t have to go through the process of lining up for a bag of rice,” said Sandra. “They were able to go shopping right away in their local markets.

“The key one for us, is that this will greatly reduce the timeframe, not just to deliver disaster assistance in Vanuatu, but to deliver vouchers… For the first time in Vanuatu, a community is familiar with a disaster relief system, familiar with a whole distribution system, meaning they are now well placed to design their own response and participate in that process. We really have community and tech-driven disaster assistance in the preparedness phase before something happens.”

Inside East Africa's massive locust infestation

Taking advantage of favourable breeding conditions, locusts hit farmers and herders in areas already reeling from climate shocks.

Desert locust infestations have moved across Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, and are now entering areas of northern Uganda. The insects are also threatening Sudan and South Sudan, and there are reports of locust swarms now in Tanzania.

Map of affected areas. Credit: UN Food and Agriculture Organization

The desert locust is among the most dangerous migratory pests in the world: A large desert locust plague can contain up to 58 million individuals per square mile, with half a million locusts weighing approximately one ton. One ton of locusts eats as much food in one day as about 10 elephants, 25 camels or 2,500 people.

"We depend on livestock and if there is no fodder for our livestock, life will be difficult for us, we ask for help urgently," said Mohammed Hassan Abdille, a farmer from Bura Dhima in Tana River, Kenya. This is the worst locust crisis in 70 years for Kenya alone.

The locusts have hit the region after countries there were affected by huge droughts and in some areas flash floods. There are currently 22.8m people facing severe food insecurity in these countries following consecutive failed rainy seasons, unusual floods, and storms.

The fast-moving locust swarms have been made worse by the climate crisis because they are feeding on new vegetation, the result of unusual weather patterns. They are devastating pastures and grasslands and could ruin new food crops during the March-to-July growing season.

Oxfam's Response

Oxfam is gearing up its humanitarian operations and will work closely with local partners and communities. Program staff in the region report they aim to reach more than 190,000 of the most vulnerable people with cash assistance, livestock feed, seeds, and health services.

In Somalia, together with local partners, Oxfam intends to assist 11,670 households of the most vulnerable people. In Kenya, Oxfam will work in seven of the 13 affected counties to assist 3,000 households in the first phase of operations, and another 5,000 in the second. In Ethiopia, Oxfam aims to reach another 5,000 households with similar aid. Oxfam will need to secure more than €4.6 million (£3.8 million) to mount this response.

Unusual rains advance breeding

This outbreak has been exacerbated by climate change. Cyclones that struck the Arabian Peninsula last year created ideal conditions for desert locusts to multiply. The swarms crossed to the Horn of Africa, where unusually heavy rains late last year created favorable breeding conditions. Heavy rain leads to growth of vegetation in arid areas, providing locusts with more food, and the conditions needed to develop and reproduce.

You can help Oxfam respond to the locust crisis in East Africa.

Five things you need to know about Africa's locust crisis

1. What is a locust and how do they live?

Locusts are a type of grasshopper that live for only 3 months. They generally live quiet, solitary lives – until they change their behaviour and form massive ravenous swarms that can migrate over long distances, flying up to 150 km per day. Swarms can contain up to 10 billion individuals, devastating local farms and livelihoods as all of them migrate.

2. Why is this a crisis?

This is the worst locust crisis in 70 years for Kenya alone. One of the alarming reasons why is because locust adults can eat their own weight every day. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), a swarm the size of Paris will consume the same amount of food in a single day as half the population of Mali, Niger and France, respectively. If environmental conditions remain suitable, the swarms could grow 500 times bigger by June, destroying valuable pasture and food supplies across parts of Ethiopia and Kenya and could also put South Sudan, Eritrea and Djibouti at risk, making it the worst locust infestation in 25 years.

The last major locust crisis was in West Africa in 2003-05 and cost $2.5 billion in harvest losses, according to the UN.

“We depend on livestock and if there is no fodder for our livestock, life will be difficult for us, we ask for help urgently,” said Mohammed Hassan Abdille, a Kenyan farmer.

Desert locusts have swarmed into Kenya from Somalia and Ethiopia, destroying farmland. Photo: FAO/Sven Torfinn

3. How is this locust crisis related to climate change?

The last five years have been hotter than any other since the industrial revolution. Studies have linked a hotter climate to more damaging locust swarms, leaving Africa, which is home to 20 of the world’s fastest-warming countries, disproportionately affected.

However, locusts also thrive in wet conditions and the amount of rain that fell on the Horn of Africa between October to December 2019 was up to 400 per cent above normal. These heavy rains were caused by the Indian Ocean dipole, which is also accentuated by climate change.

4. How is this locust crisis affecting local communities?

The infestation is affecting communities across East Africa, including Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya – three countries absolutely devastated by severe droughts and flooding in recent years. Now the livelihoods of more than 13 million people, who are already experiencing severe food shortages as a result of climate-related weather extremes, are under threat once again.

A woman stands among a swarm of locusts, trying to chase them away. Photo: FAO/Sven Torfinn

5. What is Oxfam doing to help and how can I help?

Oxfam aims to reach over 190,000 of the most vulnerable people across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia with cash assistance, livestock feed, seeds and health services. Our teams believe that infestations are also likely across South Sudan and Sudan, so preparations are already under way to mount a response to this crisis.

You can help by donating to help affected communities across the region. The livelihoods of some of the world’s most vulnerable people are under severe threat so we need your support!

Yemen: Still the world's worst humanitarian crisis

We’re only a little more than two weeks into 2020 but the bad news has come thick and fast. Devastating flooding in Jakarta. Catastrophic bushfires in Australia. Rising tensions between the US and Iran.

Every story is important. Every story deserves our attention.

But sometimes, the pace of breaking news is so fast that other, equally important stories be forgotten. Stories like the ongoing war in Yemen.

Nuha* lost her husband in the war. She and her eight children are surviving on support from aid agencies. Photo: Husam Al-Sharmani/YHMA

As the war enters its fifth year, the situation for the Yemeni people remains dire. More than 12,000 civilians have been killed and some 4 million people have had to flee their homes due to the bombing and fighting. Around 24 million people – 80 percent of the population – need emergency aid, while 10 million people are only one step away from famine.

The country’s economy has been shattered. Countless homes, warehouses, farms and vital parts of civilian infrastructure have been destroyed. Basic services, like health or water supply, have collapsed. The flow of food – nearly 90 percent of which had to be imported even before the conflict started – has been massively disrupted by the warring parties.

Prices are continuing to rise, while many of the poorest people have lost their incomes. Parents cannot afford to buy enough food, leaving 2 million children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Around 350,000 of them are under the age of five.

Oxfam is supporting displaced families in this camp by providing clean water, hygiene kits and cash grants. Photo: Oxfam

What has been described by the United Nations as the world’s ‘worst’ humanitarian crisis has also resulted in one of the worst outbreaks of cholera in recent history. Between April 2017 and December 2018, there were over 1.3 million suspected cases and 2,760 associated deaths.There was an increase in suspected cases last year, according to the World Health Organisation, with over 696,500 suspected cases and 913 associated deaths recorded between January and the end of September.

What Oxfam is Doing

Since July 2015, we have helped more than 3 million people in nine governorates of Yemen with clean water and sanitation, cash assistance and food vouchers. We’ve also provided clean water and sanitation to more than one million people, including in hard-to-reach areas of the country, by trucking in water, repairing water systems, delivering filters and jerrycans, as well as building latrines. This included trucking in water to more than 5,000 displaced people living in camps in Khamer and Al Qafla in Amran governorate last year.

Syria Crisis: Support our Appeal

We all get a bit preoccupied with numbers and statistics at this time of year – in the coming weeks, newspapers and talk-show hosts will dissect the average household Christmas spend, some of us will already be counting the days between our final pay packet of 2019 and the first of the New Year, and others will start thinking about their mounting winter heating bills.

In Syria, meanwhile, where winter is also bearing down on communities, people are counting the cost of a brutal eight-year war which has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Winters in Syria can be harsh when temperatures plummet and snow and freezing rain strikes. Syrians are very vulnerable to these weather extremes – after all, more than 11.5 million of them – around half of the population – need humanitarian aid, while 6.2 million people have had to flee their homes within Syria, many several times. 

Hassan is among the many children who have had to flee. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

The Syrian conflict is also driving the world’s largest refugee crisis – 5.6 million Syrians have fled their country to seek refuge in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordon, where they are also facing another winter of freezing temperatures. Many are living in flimsy shelters and don’t even have enough clothes to keep them warm.

Winter is harsh in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley refugee camp. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

Refugees face other challenges in their host countries too, where four out of 10 Syrian families don’t have enough food to eat. Just 3 percent of Syrian refugees have been resettled by rich countries, far short of the UN target on 10 percent.

Meanwhile, four out of five Syrians still living Syria are living in poverty, with more than 6.5 million in abject poverty. On average, every second Syrian is unemployed and poverty has forced children into extreme survival measures – such as child labour, early marriage and recruitment into the fighting – to help their families make ends meet. A third of the population don’t have enough to eat and 15.5 million people need clean, running water.

How You Can Help

Please help us provide Winter Survival Boxes which could contain thermal blankets, food vouchers, jerry cans, tarpaulin to insulate their shelter – simple, yet life-saving items.

As the nights start to get colder and more unbearable for Syrian refugees, your gift can’t come soon enough and will help support our emergency responses in places like Syria and where needed the most.

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