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.

These five Oxfam innovations are changing the way people fight poverty

Author: Divya Amladi
 
Diaa', a Syrian refugee living in the Za'atari Camp, is a team supervisor in the Superadobe construction project that is bringing temperature-resistant homes to the camp. Photo: Nesma Nsour/Oxfam
 
From futuristic homes that adjust to extreme temperatures to apps that allow refugees to speak up for their own needs, here are just a few of the creative solutions implemented by Oxfam and our partners on the ground to help vulnerable communities take on new obstacles
 
What comes to mind when you imagine the word innovation? Is it a shiny new gadget, a hack, or an app that helps you get whatever you need at a touch of button? Or, maybe it’s a new way of seeing things? Oxfam thinks of innovations as solutions to problems that are keeping people in poverty. Here’s a look at some of the tools, programs, and yes, even apps, we developed this year to help tackle some of the challenges faced by people we work with.
 

Rice farming goes digital

 
 
Development and Partnership in Action (DPA) is one of Oxfam's partners on the ground implementing the BlocRice project. Photo provided by: Development and Partnership in Action
 
In November 2018, Oxfam launched BlocRice, a program that aims to empower rice farmers in Cambodia to increase their negotiation power for better and fairer pay. The initiative will use digital contracts between rice farmers who are working in agricultural cooperatives, exporters in Cambodia, and buyers in the Netherlands. These contracts are tools for social and economic empowerment, Solinn Lim, Oxfam in Cambodia’s program director, explained at the launch. “Farmers thus gain collective bargaining power since agricultural cooperatives will be parties to the contracts.”
 

An app for when words fail

 
The app helps aid workers address the needs of the nearly one million Rohingya people who are living in severely crowded conditions in makeshift camps in Cox’s Bazar. Photo: Kelsey-Rae Taylor/Oxfam
 
Aid workers in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, encountered a challenge working with Rohingya refugees, whose language is similar but not close enough to the local dialect to ensure effective communication. With nearly one million refugees living in Cox’s Bazar, it is imperative that nongovernmental organizations clearly communicate with the refugees to allow them to speak for themselves. That’s why in June, Oxfam, Translators without Borders, and UNICEF released a glossary app with translations in the five languages spoken in the camps: Bangla, Burmese, Chittagonian, English, and Rohingya. The app is helping Oxfam and others on the ground address the needs of the Rohingya population.  
 

Growing barley grass in the desert

 
The hydroponics project is the brainchild of Oxfam engineer and Sahrawi refugee Taleb Brahim. Photo: Tineke D'haese/Oxfam
 
In the harsh climate of the western Sahara, it is nearly impossible to grow anything naturally. There are frequent sandstorms, and temperatures can exceed a blistering 122 degrees. Sahrawi refugees from western Algeria have been living in camps there for more than 40 years, and one-quarter of them face chronic malnutrition. Food assistance helps, but it’s not a long-term solution. In 2017, Oxfam started a hydroponics program—using a technique for cultivating plants that doesn’t require soil—to feed the goats the camps’ residents depend on for milk, meat, and income. So far, the project has yielded sweet success with greenhouses producing about 132 pounds of fodder each day—enough to feed 20 goats. 
 

Managing Waste

The Oxfam in Bangladesh team celebrates the installation of a centralized waste treatment plant in Cox's Bazar. Photo: Salahuddin Ahmmed/Oxfam
 
When an influx of people in a temporary refuge creates demand for latrines, and then pit latrines start to fill up, how do you treat all the waste? That was the question facing Oxfam in Bangladesh earlier this year—which has been providing water, sanitation, and hygiene support to more than 266,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar since 2017. In November 2018, the team in Bangladesh built an industrial-scale centralized sewage management plant at Cox’s Bazar with the capacity to process the human waste of 150,000 people. The process is completely environmentally friendly, and to our knowledge, this has been the first successful attempt to carry out something of this scale in a refugee camp.
 

Homes designed to be out of this world

 
A new construction project called the SuperAdobe is taking shape in Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp, in which freely available materials—such as sandbags and barbed wires—are used to build simple shelters. These temporary houses are more comfortable, environmentally friendly, and more liveable than the current caravans refugees inhabit. Most importantly, the SuperAdobes are warm in the winter and cool in the summer, a necessity in a desert environment where summer temperatures reach as high as 104 degrees.

Innovative SuperAdobe Houses: Building a dignified future for Syrian refugees in Jordan

Half a million homeless Yemenis on brink of famine face winter freeze

 
More than half a million people who have fled fighting in Yemen are facing a double threat of famine and near freezing temperatures Oxfam said today, as it called on the warring parties to respect the ceasefire agreed in Sweden last week. 
 
People forced to flee their homes are set for a winter struggle to survive in areas of the country which are one step away from famine and often without adequate shelter to protect them or fuel to keep them warm as temperatures plummet. 
 
Almost 20,000 displaced people are facing winter weather in districts already experiencing famine conditions. 
 
Winter temperatures are likely to drop to below freezing in highland areas of Yemen and rain brought in by southwest winds can fall in heavy torrents, leading to flooding. Many of the 530,000 displaced people living in these areas are in makeshift shelters with no insulation or weatherproofing
 
Humanitarian agencies have identified over 75,000 displaced, vulnerable families in districts across the country who will need help to cope during the winter months, and there are likely to be more who haven’t been included in the assessment. 2658 of these families are in districts with catastrophic levels of hunger. 
 
Despite the warring parties agreeing to a ceasefire and withdrawal of forces from the key city and port of Hudaydah at negotiations in Sweden last week, there have been clashes, shelling and airstrikes in recent days. Continued fighting will disrupt aid efforts and make it harder for Yemenis to survive the winter. 
 
Muhsin Siddiquey, Oxfam’s Yemen Country Director said: “Freezing temperatures could be the final straw for families already struggling to survive desperate hunger. Imagine trying to survive a winter freeze in a tent, far from your home, without knowing where your next meal is coming from - that is the dreadful prospect facing tens of thousands of families. 
 
"It is vital that the ceasefire holds so that aid is able to reach as many people as possible this winter and those struggling to survive at least get a respite from the fighting. 
 
“While a step in the right direction, the international community cannot assume that the agreements reached in Sweden will fix everything. They need to keep the pressure on the warring parties to lay down their weapons and work towards a peaceful solution to the conflict that will give the people of Yemen real hope.” 
 
Malnourished people are less able to cope with disease and extreme temperatures. Food price rises have put the cost of basic necessities beyond the reach of many. The price of a month’s worth of essential food rose 15 per cent in October, the last month for which data is available. This basket of foods now costs 137 per cent more than it did before the conflict began. 
 
Yemen has already been described by the UN as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. 
 
Salaries of public sector workers in the north of the country have not been paid for almost two years, leaving approximately 6.9 million people without a main source of income. Around eight million people are thought to have lost their jobs since the beginning of the conflict because of the closure of private businesses. 
 
Oxfam is providing aid, including clean water and cash to buy basic food supplies, to people forced to flee their homes. 
 
ENDS
 
For more information , please contact:
 
ROI:     Alice Dawson-Lyons on 083 198 1869 /alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org
 
NI:        Phillip Graham on 07841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfam.org
 

The people of Yemen are not starving. They are being starved.

Stop Starving Yemen | Oxfam GB

Ongoing conflict, airstrikes and restrictions on imports have left 14 million people in Yemen on the brink of famine.

All warring parties and those fuelling the conflict through arms sales are implicated in this man-made humanitarian crisis.

Farms and food supplies have been bombed and attacked, Yemen’s currency has collapsed and the price of essential food items has doubled. Humanitarian aid is being blocked, while sickness and disease are killing people already weak with starvation.

Oxfam is on the ground in Yemen and has so far reached more than 3 million people with lifesaving essentials. But the ongoing fighting is pushing the country to breaking point.

We’re calling on all parties to agree an immediate ceasefire, a halt of international arms sales to all sides, the reopening and repairing of ports, and the guaranteed protection of aid deliveries, food imports and food production.

But to make this a reality, we need you to act now.

Please share this post and spread awareness of the crisis in Yemen.

Food should never be a weapon of war. Please share this message widely and help stop the suffering in Yemen.

Posted In:

August, the cruellest month in Yemen - Oxfam

An IDP from Hodeidah in Abs district, Hajjah governorate.Credit: Oxfam In Yemen: Ahmed Al-Fadeel 
 
300 children amongst almost 1,000 civilian casualties of the carnage
Oxfam calls for war criminals to be held to account, as peace talks start in Geneva
 
August has been the bloodiest month this year for civilians in Yemen with 981 innocent people killed or injured, including over 300 children. Almost half of these casualties, including 131 children, were wounded or lost their lives in the first nine days of August alone, according to the UN’s civilian impact monitoring department.
 
These reports, gleaned from open sources, are not likely to have captured all civilian casualties and make for sickening reading: 16 fishermen killed and four missing following an airstrike, a woman killed by sniper fire, two children killed by cluster bombs; schools, homes, farms attacked and many more instances of innocent families hit.
 
The devastating numbers are due to warring parties’ reckless disregard for civilian lives and the failure of their political backers to offer any action to prevent the carnage, Oxfam said today, ahead of Yemen peace talks in Geneva.
 
According to the UN between 26 March 2015 and 9 August 2018 there were a total of 17,062 civilian casualties in Yemen. The majority of these casualties, 10,471, were as a result of Saudi-led coalition airstrikes.
 
Meanwhile the Houthis and other armed groups continue their stranglehold in Taiz and other areas where street fighting and the use of landmines is leading to civilian casualties, and lack of access means people are denied humanitarian assistance. 
 
Speaking ahead of the first talks in two years to try to secure peace between the Saudi-backed forces and Houthi rebels, Oxfam Ireland’s Chief Executive Jim Clarken said:
 
“As parents across the island of Ireland began to think about back-to-school and buying uniforms in August, the parents of hundreds of children in Yemen buried their beloved sons and daughters, recklessly killed in a conflict that is destroying the lives of millions of Yemenis. 
 
“Yemen is now a free-fire zone where people gathering for weddings, burying their loved ones or going to market are risking their lives every day. The suffering of the people of Yemen is an affront to our shared humanity and a failure of powerful countries to uphold any sense of the values they are fond of espousing.
 
“It is a shameful chapter of diplomatic double speak, underhand dealings and downright hypocrisy. All warring parties have committed, and continue to commit, violations of the rules of war. The perpetrators and those who are actively involved need to be brought to account and the Irish and UK governments  can play their part by continuing to press for international action to end the conflict.
 
“Ending the killing of civilians needs to be a priority for all parties and communities in Yemen. Today’s talks in Geneva offer them an opportunity to draw a line in the sand and end the carnage.”
 
Despite assurances that there was a ‘pause’ in the fighting around the port city of Hudaydah the beginning of August saw deadly mortar attacks on a busy market killing 41 civilians, including six children and four women, and injuring another 111 civilians. There was also a mortar attack on a hospital in the city causing many civilian casualties.
 
On 9 August, a market and a bus full of school children was bombed killing 46 people and leaving 100 casualties. Most of the dead were boys under the age of 13 years old. Later in the month at least 22 children and four women were killed by an airstrike as they fled a previous attack the day before.
 
Aid agencies are finding it difficult to help people because of the fighting and blocked roads. Damage to water and sanitation infrastructure in Hudaydah and other parts of the country is denying thousands of people access to water, and increasing the threat of a third cholera wave.
 
Oxfam has been in Yemen since 1983. Since 2015, Oxfam has reached more than 2.8 million people in nine governorates of Yemen, providing water and sanitation services – including as part of a cholera response to prevent and contain the disease. Oxfam is also trucking water as well as providing cash assistance and food vouchers.
 
ENDS
 
Spokespeople are available in the region and in Ireland.
 
For more information or to arrange an interview please contact: 
 
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Alice Dawson-Lyons, Oxfam Ireland, on +353 (0) 83 198 1869 / alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org
 
NORTHERN IRELAND: Phillip Graham on 0044 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org
 
NOTES TO EDITORS: 
 
The figures collated by the UN’s civilian impact monitoring department come from open sources and have not been verified. They are collected on a daily basis and shared with UN agencies and NGOs. 
 
A recent joint UN Development Programme Early Recovery Assessment showed how life has deteriorated for people across the board in last three years of the conflict, people are becoming poorer, many have lost incomes and are reliant on casual labour or aid, many cannot afford to buy food, and face difficulties accessing food, water, health and education. 
 
Last week’s UN Group of Experts report shows a pattern of violations and potential war crimes committed against civilians by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and by the Houthis over the last three years, including a punishing air and naval blockade, attacks on residential areas, schools and medical facilities, and arbitrary arrests.
 

 

$72 million needed to protect Rohingya refugee women missing out on vital aid

Rohingya women living in Bangladesh are developing health problems, missing out on aid and are at greater risk of abuse due to unsafe and unsuitable facilities in many parts of the refugee camps, Oxfam warned today. 
 
The international agency called for 15 per cent of new funding to be set aside for humanitarian programs designed to better support women and girls – including $72 million of the nearly half a billion dollars recently committed by the World Bank. Currently, there is no standalone budget for meeting women’s specific needs in the overall emergency response.
 
The Bangladesh government and agencies have provided emergency aid to more than 700,000 Rohingya people who have arrived over the past year, but the speed at which the world’s biggest refugee camp sprang up has made it difficult for support to keep pace.
 
More than a third of women surveyed by Oxfam and partner agencies said they did not feel safe or comfortable going to collect water or using toilets and shower cubicles – many of which lack a roof and a lockable door. Half the women and three quarters of adolescent girls said they didn’t have what they needed to manage their periods, including a female-only place to wash sanitary cloths without embarrassment.
 
As a result, women are going hungry and thirsty to avoid needing the toilet as frequently, suffering abdominal pain and infections by not relieving themselves or using unhygienic sanitary cloths, and resorting to defecation by their tents, which increases the risk of a major outbreak of disease – especially in the monsoon. 
 
Poor facilities are also increasing the risk of sexual abuse and harassment. Hundreds of incidents of gender-based violence are reported each week.
 
Oxfam’s Advocacy Manager in Cox’s Bazar, Dorothy Sang, said: “The breakneck speed at which the Rohingya refugee crisis unfolded meant that many emergency facilities were installed in a rush and women’s specific needs weren’t considered. Women and girls are now paying the price in terms of their wellbeing and safety. 
 
“This needs to be rectified urgently with substantial sums set aside to support and protect Rohingya women, such as lighting to improve safety, toilets and wash rooms that provide privacy, and extra assistance for the most vulnerable.”
Single mothers whose husbands are missing or dead head up one in six families in the Rohingya camps. They face particular problems, having to take on public roles that challenge cultural and religious assumptions about women’s place in society. Oxfam is calling for more to be done to support these vulnerable women, such as help collecting aid packages and more community dialogue about men and women’s traditional roles.
 
Oxfam is working with local organisations and refugees to tailor its humanitarian response to more effectively support women and girls. This includes installing solar-powered lights along pathways, distributing portable solar lamps, running women’s groups to discuss issues like safety and early marriage, community work to tackle violence against women, and working with refugees to design new toilet facilities with features like lockable doors, shelves to keep clothes out of the mud, and screens to afford privacy.  
Sang added: “The Bangladesh Government should be commended for allowing Rohingya people to seek refuge in Cox’s Bazar. We join them and others in calling on Myanmar to address the discriminatory policies that are the root cause of this crisis.”
Close to a million Rohingya people have sought refuge in Bangladesh following a military campaign against them in Myanmar that has been described by UN officials as ‘ethnic cleansing’. 
 
 
ENDS           
 
CONTACT: 
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Alice Dawson-Lyons, Oxfam Ireland, on +353 (0) 83 198 1869 or at alice.dawsonlyons@oxfamireland.org  
 
NORTHERN IRELAND: Phillip Graham on 0044 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org
 
Rohingya refugee Ayesha with her daughter in her shelter in the camps in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo Credit: Maruf Hasan/Oxfam
 
Rohingya refugee Asia Bibi* with solar panels provided by Oxfam, in her shelter in the camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.  Photo Credit: Abbie Trayler-Smith/ Oxfam

Five things I’ve learned being a humanitarian aid worker

This World Humanitarian Day, Iffat Tahmid Fatema, Oxfam public health worker, shares what it's like helping people in our Rohingya refugee response in Bangladesh.

I started working for Oxfam last year at the height of the emergency when Rohingya refugees were arriving in huge numbers every day. At that time, I was toiling in a lab at the Asian University for Women in Chittagong pursuing my Master's degree in Bio-Technology, but I knew I wanted to work with real people, face-to-face. What's happened to the Rohingya people really upset me. I had never seen people living with so little. It really hurt me.

Now I teach Rohingya refugees living in the camp in Cox's Bazar about health and hygiene, to help them keep well and to prevent a major outbreak of disease. We discuss the importance of cleanliness and personal hygiene like washing your hands with soap after going to the toilet and before eating. We work with volunteers from the Rohingya community, training them so they can teach other refugees and spread good hygiene messages far and wide. The Oxfam team has reached more than 266,000 people in the camps so far.

1. Know what motivates you

In this job you need drive, good communication skills, and initiative.

When it's extremely hot, or raining heavily, or you’re tired, you might not feel like spending another long day in the camps. But then you think of the refugees and how you are working for them - that motivates you to keep going.

 

2. You have to build trust

Humanitarian work is also about building trust. You have to be sensitive to local culture and traditions.

You also have to be able to talk to different groups of people in different ways, from children to older people and Imams, the religious leaders. And you need to be a good observer so you can try to understand how people think.

 

3. Speak their language

Sometimes the refugees can be uncomfortable with someone who is not like them, so it helps that I can speak a similar language. But the language is also the biggest challenge as the regional language, Chittagonian, is only about 70 per cent the same as Rohingya.

Oxfam has worked with Translators Against Borders to develop a new translation app in English, Bangla and Rohingya, including specific vocabulary about health and hygiene, so this will be a big help.

 

4. Be prepared to face challenges

Working in the monsoons has been extremely hard and can be dangerous. When there is a heavy downpour of rain, conditions in the camps become very bad, very quickly. You can sink into the mud and lose your boots. When you climb the dirt steps there is the possibility the whole thing will collapse.

5. Patience is a virtue

The most important thing I have learnt is to be polite and be patient - even though I might be repeating the same thing hundreds of times, such as how to wash your hands. I am very impatient by nature, but working in the camps I have learned how to control my frustrations.

The most satisfying part of my job has been hearing from refugees what a difference Oxfam’s support has made to them.

We run regular listening groups where the community can give us constructive feedback. Recently a grandfather told me: "We are happy that you come and you listen to us. Thank you for the work you do."

That made me feel very happy.

This entry posted on 18 August 2018 by Iffat Tahmid Fatema, humanitarian public health worker for Oxfam’s Rohingya refugee response in Bangladesh, as part of our World Humanitarian Day program.

All photos: Iffat Tahimd Fatema, humanitarian public health promoter for Oxfam, in the Rohingya refugee camps, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Credit: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam

More life-saving aid needed urgently as a third big quake hits Lombok, warns Oxfam

MEDIA RELEASE 
 
More life-saving aid needed urgently as a third big quake hits Lombok, warns Oxfam
 
A third earthquake of 6-Richter magnitude which struck Lombok on Thursday (August 9th) has severely escalated the need for life-saving aid and has slowed down rescue efforts, Oxfam has warned. 
 
With the latest quake adding to the misery of tens of thousands people already in temporary shelters and under open skies, there is an increasing need for water, food, shelter, medical supplies, and other essentials. 
 
Local organisations supported by Oxfam have been on the ground since the first big quake hit more than a week ago and are assisting 5,000 people with clean drinking water, food, and tarpaulin sheets, with plans to increase the delivery of aid
 
Meili Nart, Oxfam Project Manager based in Lombok, said: “The people here are severely traumatised. They’ve lost families or don’t know where they are. In many areas, four out of five buildings, roads, and other facilities have been destroyed. It’s a struggle to find water, food, electricity and other essentials. 
 
“We’re trying to get aid to them as fast as we can. We also want to help them deal with the trauma too, but it’s difficult, and progress is slow due to conditions on the ground. We thank the Indonesian government and local organisations for their tremendous efforts, but we need to do more.” 
 
Monday’s 6.9 magnitude tremor, the largest so far, reportedly killed over 350 and destroyed the homes of over 150,000 people. Many caught in the rubble of collapsed buildings and in mudslides are still awaiting rescue. 
 
Before the latest quake, the Indonesian Agency for Disaster Mitigation said the death toll and damage could be higher with conditions making it extremely difficult to assess the devastation. Earlier reports suggested at least 600,000 had suffered from impact of the three big quakes and hundreds of tremors over the past two weeks. 
 
ENDS 
 
Oxfam has spokespeople available on the ground in Lombok, as well as in in Ireland, to discuss the humanitarian situation. 
 
Media interviews are available with:
Ancilla Bere, Oxfam Indonesia Humanitarian Manager, who will be on the ground in Lombok from Friday 10th August
Meili Narti, Oxfam Indonesia Project Manager on the ground in Lombok
Colm Byrne, Oxfam Ireland Humanitarian Manager, based in Dublin
 
CONTACT: 
 
For interviews or more information, contact: 
 
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Alice Dawson-Lyons, Oxfam Ireland, on +353 (0) 83 198 1869 / alice.dawsonlyons@oxfamireland.org 
 
NORTHERN IRELAND: Phillip Graham on 0044 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Photo Credits: Petrasa Wacana
 

Thousands of Syrians out of reach of aid

Thousands of Syrians forced from their homes due to the recent fighting in Dar’a are unable to get the help they desperately need, Oxfam said today. 
 
Amid scorching summer temperatures, families need shelter, water, food and medical care but access for humanitarian agencies is limited and not enough assistance has been able to cross the border into Syria from Jordan. 
 
Recent clashes had seen the largest and fastest displacement of civilians since the Syria conflict began, with more than 330,000 people fleeing their homes during the two-week Syrian government offensive. 
 
A ceasefire agreed on Friday, between the Syrian government and local armed opposition groups, has provided a temporary halt to the violence, but there remains uncertainty over the future of Dar'a and how long the ceasefire will hold.  Many of those now returning home will find their houses have been destroyed while others don’t feel it is safe enough to return or are moving elsewhere. 
 
The Oxfam team in Dar’a reports that in many towns and villages, wells and other water supplies are not functioning, and back-up power systems are currently out of service. 
 
Moutaz Adham, Oxfam’s Country Director in Syria, said: “Thousands of families have been displaced and their communities wrecked by recent fighting across Dar’a province. Their struggles will get worse unless they receive the water, food and medical care they urgently need.”   
 
There are also concerns for approximately 100 people from Dar’a who remain at the Jaber/Nasib crossing on the border with Jordan, the UN confirmed. Those 100 have joined tens of thousands of others already sheltering close to the border in need of protection and assistance. 
 
Many of those displaced, including Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries such as Jordan, have expressed concerns about returning home, fearing insecurity, detention, conscription, and other potential threats to their safety. 
 
Nickie Monga, Oxfam’s Country Director in Jordan said: "Jordan is already bearing an immense burden in hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees but we urge it to once again provide a safe space for those fleeing the violence and continue to facilitate cross-border assistance. The international community too must play its part by providing more aid to Jordan and increased resettlement of Syrian refugees." 
 
Oxfam is calling on all parties to the conflict and those with influence over them to work to stop the violence, which has led to civilian deaths and the destruction of medical facilities and schools in Dar’a. 
 
Oxfam is providing water and sanitation in an emergency shelter in Al-Sanamayn and has identified other areas in need of support across the Dar’a province.
 
ENDS 
 
Oxfam spokespeople are available for interview. For interviews or more information, contact: 
• ROI – Alice Dawson-Lyons on +353 83 198 1869 / alice.dawsonlyons@oxfamireland.org
• NI – Phillip Graham on 07841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org
 

The world has turned its back on South Sudan

Oxfam has been working in South Sudan for over 30 years. Since 2017, we have been responding to a deepening emergency, reaching over 500,000 people across South Sudan with life-saving aid. We also implement long-term development projects to advance gender justice and support people to build resilient livelihoods to help beat poverty now and into the future. In this blog, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland, Jim Clarken, reflects on his recent trip there.

South Sudan - A Country in Crisis

South Sudan is a country in crisis – a country on the brink of what could well become the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. Yet tragically, for the people of this young nation, their ongoing plight has failed to make the headlines.

For more than four years, the people of South Sudan have been caught up in a brutal civil war. The violence has had a devastating impact on the country’s citizens, millions of whom are suffering from extreme hunger as a result.

More than 4 million people have fled their homes since war broke out in December 2013. And last year alone, some 700,000 people fled South Sudan to neighbouring countries – that means that in 2017, more than one person fled the country every minute.

When I visited South Sudan earlier this month, I met many people whose lives have been turned upside down by the ongoing conflict. I spoke to women grieving for their dead children, families who have had to flee their homes and farmers forced to abandon their land – ordinary people, who, through no fault of their own, have found themselves caught up in the crisis.

Oxfam Ireland CEO Jim Clarken speaks with local fisherman in Nyal, South Sudan. Credit: Ben Clancy/Oxfam Ireland

People can no longer protect themselves and their families from the destabilising impact of war. There are battles on every front. Inflation rates are so high that the price of even basic foodstuffs is beyond the reach of families. Meanwhile, farmers who have had no choice but to leave their land are missing out on harvests – leaving the country’s food stocks at dangerously low levels.

In February of last year, famine was declared in two counties – Leer and Mayendit. At that time, 100,000 people were facing famine, and one million more were on the brink. A strong humanitarian response has undoubtedly kept famine at bay but the need for aid is more urgent than ever. In fact, an estimated 1.6 million more people are now more at risk than when famine was declared in 2017. And while the United Nations World Food Programme has been carrying out food drops in South Sudan, the supplies aren’t enough for the population which finds itself in a race against time.

During my visit I travelled to the islands around Nyal in Unity State, which have seen a large influx of people fleeing the violence. There I met many people who have been displaced and are now in a dire situation. Many arrived with nothing but the clothes on their backs, joining countless others with shared experiences. It had taken one group of women I spoke to seven days to reach safety. Having endured the harrowing and terrifying journey, they finally got the chance to grieve the children they had lost along the way.

With the support of Irish Aid, Oxfam Ireland is on the ground in Nyal, providing canoes to bring the sick and vulnerable from the islands to access life-saving aid and health care. We have also set up community gardens in the region, which enable people to grow their own food, or sell it to earn an income. And our protection teams are working with girls and women to ensure their safety in a new and unfamiliar environment.

Villagers of RAFONE island gather to meet Oxfam staff and discuss the progress they’ve made since receiving aid. Credit: Ben Clancy/Oxfam Ireland

Yet, despite our best efforts, the humanitarian situation remains dire – and it’s getting worse by the day. With other stories dominating the global headlines, I fear that South Sudan will be forgotten.

There is an onus on all of us to make sure the plight of this young nation is no longer ignored.

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.

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