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.

Born in Yemen in 2015, war is all he has ever known

“I don’t want to live in this place, I just want to go home.”

Six-year-old Omar* is tired. He’s tired of the wind, of the rain, of moving from one place to the next.

Born in Yemen in 2015, the year the war started, war is all Omar has ever known. Not long after his arrival, his family were forced flee their home in Nihm District, Sana’a Governorate.

“In 2015, we were living in security and stability in our villages, houses and farms,” says his 45-year-old father Salem*. “We used to grow crops and eat from that. Water supply was always provided by government. We got food from our own farms.

“I also had a monthly salary from the government. I used to work in the security department. Everything was just fine.”

Then the war started and everything changed.

Salem and his son Omar in Alswidan Camp, Marib Governorate. Photo: Kaff Media/Oxfam

The family fled their village, leaving most of their belongings behind. For a while, they lived in caves and drank water from nearby ponds. They moved again – first to Alkhaniq camp, then to Algadaan, where they stayed for six months, until August 2020, before the conflict forced them to flee once more.

It is a difficult and uncertain life for a family already grieving the loss of a loved one. Salem’s third-oldest child, his 15-year-old son, was struck by a car and died in December 2020.  

The family eventually moved to Alswidan camp, four to five days away by foot. “I didn’t have any vehicle to transport my children nor my stuff, so I had to send my children with other passengers separately,” said Salem.

“Our life nowadays in Alswidan camp is difficult because of the harsh climate and storms… When we first arrived here, we faced a strong storm which tore apart our tents and we were told that we will be given new tents.”

The family of seven live in a 12sqm tent. So far, there have been fires in six tents in the camp due to families having to cook inside their shelters. But there are other risks too, Salem explains.

People in the camp are always afraid of military actions that could hit them any time. We all live in anxiety… I live with fear about my family and my family sleep and wake up frightened. All families, not just my family.

Salem says that they have not received any food aid in more than a year. And water is limited. “Water supply is just 500 litres for each family no matter how big or small the family is,” he continues. Some people have animals to raise, I have a few goats which help me in my living.

“They provide us with only 500 litres of water for five or six days. Sometimes water supply is provided for two months and stopped for another month.

“As for the health services, we have a clinic that provides basic medicine only. One day, my youngest boy asked his brother to bring him some water to drink… The older boy gave him too much water until his lungs were filled with it. I took him to the clinics nearby but they couldn’t rescue him. So, I had to take him to a private hospital and I spent 48,000 YR (€160) in three days. I didn’t have that amount of money but his mother did have some jewellery.”

Salem* and Omar's* story

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Salem wants a better future for his children. He wants them to have an education – something that they have missed out on in recent years – and to live in peace.

It’s what Omar dreams of too.

“When I grow up, I want to be a teacher so I can teach other children and go back home," he says. "We go back home and never have to leave it again. I don’t want to live in this place, I just want to go back home.”

*Names changed to protect identities.

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COVID-19 and hunger, a lethal threat facing the people of Yemen this winter

The pandemic has turned some of us into armchair statisticians. Those of us who, every evening, frantically check Twitter or turn on the news to hear the infection rates – and on the bad days, the number of fatalities. We monitor the rise in cases across the world, obsess over spikes and waves, and wish it would all end so life would go back to normal.

But for the people of Yemen, life was far from normal even before COVID-19. For more than five years, the country has been in the grip of war and the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Four out of every five Yemenis need some kind of humanitarian assistance, and almost four million people have been displaced by the fighting and airstrikes. Almost 20 million, or two thirds of the population, have to rely on food aid to survive, while Yemen is also experiencing the largest cholera outbreak on record. Now families in Yemen face another threat – COVID-19.

The damage caused by airstrikes in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a. Photo: Bassam Al-Thulaya/Oxfam

And that’s not all. Widespread destruction of the country’s health services and water infrastructure mean that the people of Yemen are at serious risk if they contract the virus. Yet the United Nations’ response plan to get clean water, food and medical care to the most vulnerable is only 44 percent funded this year.

It is a tragedy of epic proportions, made worse by the fact that other members of the G20 have exported more than US$17billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since it became involved in the conflict in Yemen in 2015. Those same members have only given a third of that amount in aid to people caught up in the crisis.

“Having suffered years of death, displacement and disease, the people of Yemen need these powerful members of the international community to bring all parties to the conflict together to agree to an immediate countrywide ceasefire and return to negotiations committed to achieving a lasting peace. “Making billions from arms exports which fuel the conflict while providing a small fraction of that in aid to Yemen is both immoral and incoherent. The world’s wealthiest nations cannot continue to put profits above the Yemeni people.”

- Muhsin Siddiquey, Oxfam’s Yemen Country Director

Ibtisam and two of her children in their damaged home. Photo: Radhyah Mohammed/Oxfam

Among those affected by the war is Ibtisam Sageer Al Razehi, a 35-year-old former teacher and mother of three. She lives with her young children in the remains of the family house in Sa’ada city which was damaged by missiles and artillery fire. Her husband was killed by an airstrike in 2015.

“I lost my husband, my children lost their father, we lost the breadwinner and because of war I also lost my salary as our last hope for living,

“Humanitarian aid has decreased a lot; now we receive food every two months instead of every month. I appeal to the world to have mercy on the children of Yemen and stop this war. We are very tired of living in war for years, we lost everything beautiful in our lives, even the simple hope of peace.’’

- Ibtisam

The people of Yemen have already suffered so much. Without your help, many of them risk starving this winter or, weakened by hunger, could succumb to COVID-19.

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On World Food Day, millions of people are still experiencing extreme hunger

In Yemen, Mona cannot afford food and water for her four young children. Her children no longer go to school and her baby suffers from malnutrition along with other illnesses. Photo: Sami M. Jassar/Oxfam

Today, 16 October, marks World Food Day, which is celebrated every year on 16 October to mark the founding of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). This World Food Day, and with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, the FAO is calling for global solidarity to help everyone – especially vulnerable communities – recover from the crisis, make food systems more climate resilient, provide decent livelihoods for farmers and food producers, and deliver sustainable, healthy diets for all.

However, the absence of global solidarity cannot be ignored in Oxfam’s latest report, Later Will Be Too Late, which examines how – despite repeated warnings – millions of people around the world are still experiencing extreme hunger.

Hunger was the defining humanitarian crisis of 2017, with northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen on the brink of famine. With 30 million people in dire need of food for survival, the international community responded – halting full famine in all four countries. But while disaster was averted, the $4.6 billion provided made up just 71 percent of the funding needed.

Three years on and the COVID-19 pandemic is the defining global crisis, with the virus contributing to even greater hunger. Worldwide, economies are collapsing and millions of people are struggling to put food on the table. More people are experiencing extreme hunger today than in 2017 – but this time, help does not appear to be coming.

On World Food Day 2020, the countries which were suffering in 2017 continue to experience hunger, but they have been joined by the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan and Burkina Faso – all of which face serious food insecurity. In all, 55.5 million people are living through a hunger crisis or emergency, with localised famine conditions affecting 40,000 people in South Sudan and 11,300 people in Burkina Faso.

In July of this year, Oxfam’s report The Hunger Virus warned policymakers and the public that “between 6,000 and 12,000 people per day could die from hunger linked to the social and economic impacts of the pandemic before the end of the year”. But the response of the international community has been grossly inadequate.

By the end of September 2020, donors had provided just 28 percent ($2.85 billion) of the $10.19 billion asked for in the UN Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19. Just $254.4 million was provided out of $2.4 billion requested for food security and a paltry 3.2 percent of the funding asked for was made available for nutrition.

Even in the short term, periods of extreme hunger and famine can destroy a country, affecting its economic progress for generations. Chronic hunger and malnutrition lead to frequent illness, poor school performance, low productivity at work and lower earnings. These people are statistically more likely to experience a lifetime of poverty.

A severe drought in Somalia almost pushed the country into famine in 2017. Nimo lost most of her livestock and had to walk for miles to find water and food for her baby. Photo: Petterik Wiggers/Oxfam

What world leaders must do

  1. Provide adequate levels of funding for food assistance (in the form of cash or commodities as is most appropriate to the context) and life-saving support now, before more people face severe food insecurity or famine.
  2. Break the links between war and hunger and allow humanitarian agencies to reach vulnerable communities with aid, even in conflict situations.
  3. Invest in gender just, resilient food systems: Fairer, gender just, resilient and sustainable food systems must be at the heart of the post-pandemic recovery.
  4. Invest in small-scale and agro-ecological food production, ensure producers earn a living income by establishing minimum producer prices and other mechanisms, and ensure workers earn a living wage.
  5. Commit to respond earlier to warning signs of future crises before they escalate.
  6. Build people’s ability to cope better with future crises. Even without conflict, these countries will remain vulnerable to future food crises – including those from climate change – so investing in livelihoods recovery, resilience building, and disaster risk reduction activities is essential.
  7. Support robust and inclusive social protection systems as a key requirement to ensure food security.
  8. Address discrimination faced by women food producers on issues such as access to land, information, credit and technology.
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A Kenyan mother’s solitary battle with hunger and COVID- 19

Blog post by Blandina Ijecha Bobson Oxfam Great Britain

Life before COVID-19 was good, according to 38-year-old mother Beatrice Achungo Mbendo.

Beatrice is a single mother with four children aged between two and 13 years old, and she is five months pregnant with her fifth child. She lives in Kangemi, one of the informal settlements in Nairobi. She arrived in 2007- the same year she started engaging in paid domestic work to earn a living. Beatrice is what’s known as a “stone lady”- a name used to describes women - mostly from the informal settlements - who sit on stones in leafy suburbs of Nairobi and wait for middle-class citizens to offer them casual domestic jobs- a trade Beatrice has used to provide education, shelter, food and healthcare for her family since 2007.

Beatrice’s’ husband was employed when they met in 2007 but lost his job after two years. He then struggled to maintain a steady stream of informal jobs in the construction industry until the couple eventually separated.

“My husband left me five months ago after we found out I was two weeks pregnant. He wasn’t happy about it. I have tried to look for him, but nobody knows where he is, including his family”.

“Stone Ladies” left out in the cold

“Even if we couldn’t afford a good diet, we had three meals a day.” She had four regular clients from whom she earned at least KES 3500 (or about 33 USD) weekly. She would spend the money to meet her family’s basic needs and save some of the money for rent.

“Now things are really bad, we even miss breakfast in the morning. My children would eat something small during lunch and wait for me with the hope that I will come back with something in the evening. If I don’t come back with anything, we sleep hungry. Things are really bad. I am single parent, in my condition with nothing and no one to turn to.”

One time her family of five went for two days without food. She was so distraught that she left her house in tears to look for something to eat. “God heard my cries. One employer brought us 2 kgs of maize flour, sugar and cooking oil which got me through for a few days.”

As governments worldwide are fighting tooth and nail against COVID-19, domestic workers like Beatrice are spending sleepless nights worrying about where their family’s next meal will come from. The pandemic has dealt a huge blow to domestic workers as their employers have taken all necessary measures to keep their families safe, including letting go domestic workers that managed their homes before COVID-19 struck.

Beatrice says that her life changed the minute the government announced the first confirmed COVID-19 case.

“All my employers called me and cancelled on me. They told me to wait until COVID-19 has been contained then they will call me for work. It’s been two months since I last went to anyone’s house to do laundry and clean.”

Her landlord hasn’t spared her either. He has been calling her to ask for the two months’ rent she already owes.

“I explained to him that I don’t have any work. Every morning I go to the waiting place hoping to get something but nothing. There are so many of us waiting and hoping to get work.”

She openly admits that she prioritises any money she gets for feeding her children. Rent is currently not a priority over their survival. If the worst comes to the worst, she is ready to sleep in a ditch with her children as long as they have food.

Unemployed caregivers ‘collateral damage’ in GoK fight against Covid-19

Beatrice explained that because of COVID-19, the local administration and the police have been chasing them and asking them to go and stay at home until the disease is contained.

“But we can’t, we have widows here, you have single parents like me and even those who have spouses, their spouses have lost their jobs. There’s no way we can stay at home. The only thing that makes us come here every day even when the police chase us is the kids. When they chase us, we just go into hiding and come back. We just hope to get even a kilogram of maize flour per day.”

Beatrice says she diligently practices all the measures endorsed by the government to protect her family. Every morning when she leaves her house, she reminds her children to play in the house or just outside the door. When she gets to the waiting place, she doesn’t shake anyone’s hands, tries to maintain social distance and has a mask to cover her mouth and nose.

“When I buy the piece of soap for washing clothes, whatever remains I tell my children to use it to wash their hands. I have taught my children the importance of washing hands and they have put that into practice. When they started talking about COVID-19, I was working for a Doctor. His wife gave me a mask. It’s a disposable mask, but I wash it when I get home and hang it to dry - I can’t afford to buy a mask every day.”

Even as she and the other “stone ladies” undertake the preventive measures, Beatrice says none of them knows anyone who has been taken ill. They are just surprised how a disease that neither of them has suffered from has changed everything. The face of COVID-19 for them is joblessness and hunger.

The government stimulus package has not benefited her even though she was among the people who were registered to benefit. She highlighted that she has heard from her neighbours that some people had received food aid (2kgs of beans, 3 packets of maize flour, 2kgs of sugar and 1 litre of cooking oil), and some had received KES 2000 on their mobile phones. She feels the targeting and distribution wasn’t done in a transparent and accountable manner. She also hasn’t felt the benefit of the reduction in taxes.

“Even if they reduced taxes on food, if you are not working how does that benefit you? You have to work to get money to go and buy food to benefit from the tax reductions.”

An uncertain future for six

Given a chance, Beatrice would like to tell the government that:

“We have COVID-19 in the country and everyone wants it contained. The president can lock the county for two months but before that, he should ensure that they conduct an exercise similar to census and list all the households with vulnerable women like me, then give us food aid enough to last us two months. We will lock ourselves and stay with our children at home for two months until the disease is contained. But if they can’t do this, they should just let us work.”

For now, Beatrice has no plans for the future on how to cope with the impact of COVID-19.

“I just sit by myself and tell God, I have nothing. I have no plans. If I don’t get anything from well-wishers, I won’t hide; my kids and I will sleep hungry. If this continues like this, the only thing left is death. I feel like my life has hit rock bottom.”

This disease knows no borders and does not discriminate. For the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, the worst is yet to come as the coronavirus begins to establish itself and spread quickly through communities powerless to stop it, without access to water, sanitation or healthcare.

Together, we can save lives.

COVID-19: Why we need your support now more than ever

We just launched an appeal to support Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar survive monsoon season – the day after the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in that region of Bangladesh.

As appeal letters dropped through the letterboxes of our loyal supporters, some 900,000 people living in the biggest refugee settlement in the world began to panic about how they could practice social distancing and life-saving hygiene practises in a makeshift home without adequate sanitation and health infrastructure.

This is the news we dreaded – and it’s why we made the decision to still launch our appeal at a time of unprecedented challenge at home and abroad as COVID-19 threatens us all. For people living in cramped, flimsy shelters in over-crowded camps, the impact of an outbreak doesn’t bear thinking about.

It’s our job to let our supporters know how they can help the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, those facing poverty and disaster beyond our imagination.

We usually tell these stories and how you can be part of them face-to-face, through our fundraising activities and our network of shops in communities across the country. To protect us all, we can’t do that right now and we’re are urgently appealing for your help. 

We need your generous support now more than ever.

In addition to helping Rohingya refugees prepare for monsoon season, we’ll be helping them and communities all over the world to stay safe and healthy as COVID-19 threatens the poorest and most vulnerable.

Please donate what you can today:

Bangladesh: A treacherous journey for Rohingya people

From clean water and sanitation to advocacy, Oxfam is assisting hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar who fled the brutal attacks of 2017.

It's has been almost three years since over 700,000 Rohingya from Myanmar became refugees. Targeted by the military with mass violence that the United Nations describes as ethnic cleansing, they left behind everything they owned. They carried with them a heavy burden: the memories of atrocities carried out against their loved ones, and of the harsh abuse that they themselves endured. The emotional wounds are still fresh; ask a refugee a question about the present day, and you will likely hear a haunting personal story of what happened in August 2017.

Khalida lives in a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Like hundreds of thousands of others, she was driven from her country by Myanmar's military. Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam

"We saw with our own eyes people tied up and thrown into police trucks," says a woman who lives in a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar. "Blood flowed from the trucks like water."

"They killed my brothers and raped my sisters and mother and killed them," says Abu Musa, another refugee. "We get up every morning and wonder how we can go on."

Yet, somehow the life of the community does go on. The camps bustle with activity, with roadside market vendors selling everything from vegetables to pots and pans to brightly coloured clothing. Trucks arrive with goods and make their way slowly along brick roads, crafted by hand to survive the monsoon rains. Children surround new visitors, eager to interact and play. Someone tells a joke, and someone laughs.

Protecting lives, rights and dignity

When refugees began their exodus in 2017, protecting lives was Oxfam's priority. The camps that formed to accommodate the refugees quickly became overcrowded, creating perfect conditions for the outreak and spread of deadly diseases. With your support, we helped prevent a public health emergency by constructing latrines, providing access to clean water and distributing hygiene materials, such as soap and sanitary pads. Over time, we constructed the largest sewage treatment plant in a refugee camp anywhere in the world.

"Before learning about hygiene from Oxfam, I didn't know how to use soap properly," says a young woman named Saitara. "I didn't know about washing hands before eating and cooking. Now, I'm cooking food safely."

"After Oxfam's work," says a mother of three named Hamida, "our children didn't get diarrhea so often.

Safety - particularly for vulnerable groups like women and girls - was also a key priority, so Oxfam installed solar-powered lights around the camp and provided families with solar torches and lanterns to help residents move around safely at night.

"We use the solar torches to get to the latrine at night or to find a lost child," says Saitara, "or to help people who are elderly or disabled."

To ensure people had access to food, clothing and other essentials, we distributed vouchers that families could use in local markets.

Thanks to your support, we're also helping to create safe spaces for women to gather and make their voices heard, and through women's groups and musical performances, we're working with local organisations and communities to raise awareness about wider issues, such as early marriage, gender-based violence and harmful traditional gender roles.

The influx of refugees has been hard on the host communities. Among other things, already-low wages have dropped, while the cost of living has risen. To help address local poverty and ease tensions between hosts and refugees, Oxfam has employed more than 1,800 Bangladeshis in construction projects, such as building roads, schools and water points.

Saitara signs her name. She had never touched a pen before Oxfam showed her how to sign her name. "I used to feel small, but after learning to sign my name, I felt bigger," she says. Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam

We also worked with partners to improve livelihoods of particularly vulnerable families in the host communities. For example, when pirates attacked the vessel of fisherman Nurul Hoque, they blinded him, and he was reduced to begging on the street. Oxfam partner Mukti stepped in, providing funds and business training that enabled his familiy to start up a roadside food stall.

"Now, we eat three times a day," says his wife, Mumtaz Begum, "and we have bought four goats."

In all, Oxfam and our partners have reached more than 360,000 people with aid.

Refugees experience fear and longing

But nothing we do will make the camps feel like home, and despite the violent past, the refugees' longing for their homeland is palpable.

They're deeply grateful to the government and host communities of Bangladesh for providing them with shelter and safety, but they don't want to live out their lives as refugees.

"We used to be farmers. We grew rice and chilies, and our sons fished. My husband had a snack stall," says Hamida. "We want that life back." Many others say the same, but always with a caveat.

"We can't leave until we have a promise. We need security and citizenship in our country," says Faruk, who has a young daughter. "Our people have been killed before, and we don't want to face that again."

Oxfam is committed to doing more than simply provide aid in the camps. With advocacy staff positioned in capital cities around the world, we're urging governments to put pressure on Myanmar to provide the Rohingya people with the rights and citizenship they've been denied for decades, and with a chance to return to their home country when the refugees themselves deem it safe.

In the meantime, the Rohingya people are doing their best to recover, and to hang onto their hopes and dreams.

"We're asking for our country back," says a woman named Azara. "And for a chance to lie there in peace."

Your help is urgently needed this monsoon season. Please send essential preparation kits to refugees like Azara, Saitara and Khalida today.

Rohingya refugees: Finding hope amongst the hopelessness

In 2018, I completed 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 confined 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.

Before monsoon season, the camps endured what they call the pre-monsoon rains, where every couple of days a ferocious storm will hit for an hour or so.

This rain was nothing like I’m used to.

The falling water had an almost physical quality, beating down on you, so heavy that you would struggle to see the other side of a road.

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

Almost one million people live in the Rohingya refugee mega camp. When I was there, what was at the forefront of aid workers' minds was how the full monsoon would impact such a huge population living in such desperate conditions.

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

Denied citizenship in their country, they felt they didn't belong anywhere and had nowhere to call home. They had no idea what their future would hold.

In the meantime, they were awaiting monsoon rains likely to bring floods, landslides and potentially deadly water-borne diseases. At the time, the United Nations (UN) estimated that up to 200,000 people were living in at-risk areas of the camps.

As much as 2.5 metres of rain could fall on the camps during the monsoon season.

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 had put up her hand to volunteer, and was running 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 phrases such as "goodbye, how are you, I am fine" with aid workers.

Oxfam is in Bangladesh, providing food and life-saving clean water to those who have fled Myanmar and the host communities that have opened their doors to them. But we desperately need your support as the deadly monsoon season approaches.

You can send monsoon preparation kits today: https://www.oxfamireland.org/monsoon

Dylan Quinnell was the Media Manager for Oxfam’s Rohingya Crisis Response for three weeks. He is currently the Senior Media Coordinator at Oxfam Australia.

*Name changed to protect identity.

Kutapalong Rohingya refugee camp: preparations for monsoon season

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It’s five years since war broke out in Yemen. I will never forget the terror in the eyes of my children.

Written by Manal, a humanitarian worker with Oxfam in Yemen.

When war first escalated in 2015, I was living happily with my family in Taiz city. It saddens me how the city I loved, the city that holds all my memories since I was a child turned into a ghost town full of death and fear overnight.

It all started with a blue spark that lit up the sky and invaded our houses and the rooms in which we silently hid. Then we heard the crack. That was the first missile to hit a building near us. After that, bombs fell everywhere; we thought we’d be next. We tried not to panic but panic was all we could feel.

Ruined houses destroyed by aerial bombardment in the city of Aden. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

The next day myself and my children went to say goodbye to a friend who was taking a trip abroad. We could hear tanks in the streets nearby and the roads were blocked. We got trapped in her house, separated from our families who kept calling to check if we were okay. I will never forget the terror in the eyes of my children.

We were trapped inside the house for three days. I remember the heavy sounds of gun fire and tanks screeching just a few kilometres away. There was no one else with us so we managed to survive with the limited food we had.

“I still remember the fear, oppression and humiliation that day brought. I cried so hard, I cried and cried, all the way back. I was terrified.”

This day was sadly just a sign of what was to come – the feelings of fear, paralysis and vulnerability. Five years later, that feeling of being trapped is one that I and other Yemeni women constantly feel. But what I and others strive to do is fight that feeling and do all that we can to lead, to help others, and to feel hope that this conflict will end, and our lives can return to normal.

At one stage, everything calmed down and people started to feel safe. That was until six missiles hit a nearby mosque destroying it completely. Most of the injured were women and children. While a close relative of mine was helping to rescue the injured, another airstrike took his life. We didn’t even have time to mourn him properly.

We were just one family out of millions forced from our homes and all that home means – family, memories, security, history, love. As Yemenis, we have been forced to live in schools, tents, mosques or with other friends and relatives. The risk of experiencing violence, instability and illness has increased. We are all farther from our support networks and are forced to walk long distances for things like water, food or other resources. A life of displacement feels tenuous.

On the road to seek refuge, I would often close my eyes, allowing my memories to start play in my mind. I would be back with my family, as we gathered on Fridays at my grandfather’s house to eat lunch and then sing and dance with our neighbours until midnight.

I would remember how peaceful life was and how my friends and I had dreamed of the future. We loved adventure. We sometimes camped in nearby villages and mountains, enjoying nature together while sharing our hopes and memories.

All of that seems like a dream now. We still hope to go back home one day, where we belong and where our memories reside. It’s ironic how a single terrible memory of a blue glowing light can bring an end to warm memories.

Manal prepares cash transfers with her Oxfam colleagues. Photo: Oxfam

I now live with my mother, sister and two brothers. My father passed away over 15 years ago. I am the oldest and the only provider for my family. I love them and I try to take care of their needs the best I can. They are my only support in this world and to them I am the same.

As an Oxfam worker, it brings joy to my heart when I see how the aid that we provide helps people smile and brings them hope at a time of displacement and vulnerability.

I have seen a lot during these five years of war, particularly how hard it is for women to survive these circumstances. Many women have become the sole caregivers and breadwinners – a huge burden to bear.

Job opportunities are scarcer and prices have soared, while suffocating social restrictions on women remain. When you are a woman in a country like Yemen, war becomes more difficult with each passing day. The struggle to survive gets harder, especially for the many women who have been forced to depend on men all their lives without proper education or skills to fall back on.

I am sharing my story as one of countless women who deserve more than just recognition.  Women across Yemen are rising every day, doing all they can in difficult conditions to protect their families and their communities. With an education and a good job that fills me with pride, I am one of the lucky ones. Worst-case scenarios for women and girls in Yemen after five years of war includes surviving sexual violence, malnutrition, abuse, early marriage and sometimes death.

Women who fled the Tahiz region of Yemen are now living in a makeshift camp in the countryside. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

The women of Yemen had no hand in this war. All decisions were and are still taken by men. Violence is being perpetrated by men. Women have the strength to act together – to step out of the crowded rooms where we feel vulnerable and paralysed, to lead our families, communities and country. For the days ahead, I call on women to have an equal voice in ending this war and paving the way for a peaceful future for Yemen.

Since the beginning of the conflict in 2015, Oxfam teams have reached more than 3 million people with much-needed sanitation services, clean water, cash assistance and food vouchers. Even as COVID-19 sweeps across the globe, our staff continues to deliver aid, comfort and hope to the people of Yemen. But we need all the help we can get.

Please give what you can today.

Syria crisis anniversary: Stitching lives back together

This coming Sunday (March 15th) marks nine years since the start of the conflict in Syria. The crisis continues to cause tremendous human suffering to people both inside and outside the country.

Since the conflict started in March 2011, hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost. Homes and schools have been destroyed, neighbourhoods lack clean running water and sanitation, and people lack the means of making a living to feed their families. 2 in 3 Syrians – over 13 million women, men, and children – continue to find themselves in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.

Asmaa, 40, a dressmaker, sits in her little shop in AlBwaidieh, a rural area in Deir Ez-Zor, Syria. Credit: Dania Kareh/Oxfam

No one ever thinks it'll happen to them...

Our work in Syria includes providing people with support to help make a living and grow food, such as the distribution of seeds and assets to farmers, cash for work programmes, and supporting women and men to gain new skills through training.

One of those who has benefited from our help is 40-year-old Asmaa, a dressmaker from al-Bwaidieh, in Syria rural Deir Ez-Zor district.

Asmaa said: “Before the war, I was known to friends, family and customers as an incredibly talented dressmaker. I built myself a career to the beat of the needle and the bob, and my designs made for an excellent source of income for me and my family. I even had my own shop where I would work the day away.

“But all that changed seven years ago when my town of al-Bwaidieh, in rural Deir ez-Zor, was sucked into the violence. We had to leave and couldn’t carry much. I hid my most prized possession, my sewing machine, beneath a bundle of hay and even said a little prayer that it might be there when I returned – if I returned that is.

“We headed for Qamishli in north eastern Syria for safety. There, we lived through what would become our worst days. For nearly four years we worked random jobs, none of which were sustainable or provided enough to keep us from having to rely on others to make it through this war. It was a struggle; a real struggle for me, my brother and my mother.

“Oh, how I wished I had my sewing tools on me so that my family and I could live in dignity. You see, no one ever thinks it’ll happen to them until it does. Humans, we think we are immune… to war, violence, displacement. But it could happen to anyone, and it happened to us.”

Now it's all about survival

Asmaa continued: “Our entire lives have changed; taken a turn for the worse. We spent all our savings, sold our jewellery and whatever else we had just to survive.

“We returned to our home only recently, and the first thing I did was look for my sewing machine. And there she was, waiting for me in the same place I had left her.

“Strange how sometimes the smallest things become so dear to us. Such is life when you are living in a warzone: a sewing machine becomes so much more than just a tool; it is a means to an independent life, to self-sufficiency.

“Now, we are stitching back together the pieces of our lives. I still long for the old days, when I first started my career. Back then, people wanted the finest garments in town; now it’s all about survival.”

What we are doing - with your support

In Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, we are helping more than 1.5 million people with life-saving clean water, sanitation, essential clothing items, cash and vital food aid, supporting people to grow nutritious food, protecting them from violence and abuse, as well as helping refugees make a living.

#9YearsofWar

Cyclone Idai: One year on, communities are still suffering

Cyclone Idai made landfall on 14th March 2019, destroying livelihoods and homes across southern Africa. Today, hundreds of thousands of people in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique are still suffering the consequences of one of the worst cyclones to hit Africa.

Maria, 31, with her six children with their only belongings sheltering from the rain by the side of the road. Photo: Elena Heatherwick/Oxfam

A new Oxfam briefing, After the Storm, reveals that thousands of people in Mozambique and Zimbabwe are still living in destroyed or damaged homes and makeshift shelters, with an estimated 8.7 million people in desperate need of food as a result of extreme weather events and localised conflict. Critical infrastructure including roads, water supplies, and schools remain in disrepair, making it even more difficult for people to access vital services or get back to work.

A toxic combination of factors – including an intensifying cycle of floods, drought and storms; deep rooted poverty and inequality; a patchy humanitarian response; and the lack of support for poor communities to adapt to changing climate or recover from disaster – have increased people’s vulnerability and made it harder for people to recover.

Flooded shops and homes in Lamego district, Mozambique as of February 2020. Photo: Elena Heatherwick/Oxfam

Virginia Defunho, a farmer who lives in Josina Machel village in Mozambique with her husband and seven children, lost everything in the cyclone - their home, crops, chickens and most of their possessions. She replanted her fields in December, but her crops were damaged by another severe flood this January. Oxfam’s partner Kulima is providing Virginia with tools and seeds to plant again on a rented plot on higher ground.

“The hardest thing now is the lack of food. Sometimes I go to bed hungry. The child cries, wanting something to eat, and it makes me feel angry sometimes, because the child is crying because he wants food and there is nothing to give.

Amelia (right) and Virginia (left) have been neighbours since 1996. They cannot farm where they live any more because of frequent flooding so they are renting plots on higher ground to grow crops using the seeds provided. Photo: Elena Heatherwick/Oxfam

“Idai has destroyed my mind. I have a child who has succeeded to grade ten, but I don't have the money to pay for him to enrol back at school. If life was normal, I would have some crops to sell and I would get some money and my child would be back at school.   

“We are worried about the future because we don't know if the weather is going to be like this or if it will change back to normal like it was before. We worry about another cyclone coming. If it comes a second time, what will our lives be? How is it going to be?”

Oxfam raised funds to assist people across Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe in the aftermath of the cyclones. With our partners, we provided emergency assistance such as food aid, blankets and hygiene kits; installed latrines and water pumps in temporary camps; and helped raise awareness of issues such as gender-based violence - which often spikes after a disaster. In the long term, Oxfam is working with communities to help them adapt in the face of a changing climate – for example by helping smallholder farmers diversify their crops and adapt their farming techniques.

Cyclone Idai is just one of many extreme weather events to have hit southern Africa in recent years. Despite the escalating climate crisis, poor communities are not getting the help they need to adapt, and world leaders have failed to ensure a dedicated global fund to help countries rebuild from the loss and damage caused by climate fuelled disasters.

Donate now to support Oxfam’s work in southern Africa and beyond.

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