From the field

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Famine in South Sudan has ceased, but hunger has spread

Written by Corrie Sissons, Oxfam's Food Security and Emergency Livelihoods Coordinator in South Sudan

The recent declaration that famine in South Sudan has been halted was rightly celebrated.  Any steps towards ending the catastrophic humanitarian crisis facing South Sudan are welcome, as the war torn country marked its sixth birthday last Sunday (9th July 2017). 

However, dig deeper than the headlines and it becomes clear that hunger is actually getting worse almost everywhere in the country. How do we applaud the collective effort to end famine including the very generous public donations, yet simultaneously highlight that this does not herald a significant improvement in an ongoing food crisis? Life is more desperate now than ever for millions of people. 

Above: Top Left - Mothers in South Sudan fled their homes with their children to find safety. Photo: Corrie Sissons/Oxfam. Top-right & Bottom - Oxfam has been helping island and mainland communities to set up vegetable gardens both to boost their own diets and to build up their livelihoods. Photo: Tim Bierley/Oxfam

Famine is a technical description, declared if certain specific conditions are observed. But for individuals, hunger is hunger. Just because we call it something else it does not mean that people have enough to eat again or that help is no longer required. People are suffering however it is designated and we still have so much work to do. 

Although things have become less severe in those famine affected areas, the scale of the food crisis across other parts of South Sudan has exploded. Since the famine was declared in February, ongoing conflict and its consequences – people fleeing their homes, economic decline and poor harvests – have left one million more people facing severe food shortages. If predictions are correct, by the end of July 2017, half of the entire South Sudanese population will live without knowing how they can feed their families from one evening to the next. 

There are still approximately 45,000 people who live in what are described ‘famine-like conditions’ in South Sudan. This essentially means conditions are catastrophically bad but the data for the area they live in doesn’t match technical requirements for it to be called a famine. Forced to flee their homes and fields, people have also missed the planting season. Even when they stay, many are too afraid to tend to fields. So seeds do not grow and harvests are smaller and smaller each year that this situation continues. The conflict is not only robbing people of the food on their plates now, but also in the future.

For  example in the former Jonglei state, a recent upsurge in fighting has forced more than 200,000 people from their homes, disrupting lives and obstructing access to the aid when they need it the most. People are walking for days to flee the fighting, with only wild foods to eat along the way.  

Famine and the unacceptable levels of hunger are direct consequences of the decisions made by those with the power to stop the war. As South Sudan marks six years of independence, it is critical that life-saving assistance is combined with diplomatic efforts to bring warring parties back to the table to revive negotiations for peace. It is clear that only real and lasting peace can bring people back from the brink of starvation. Until that happens, we must continue giving vital aid to stop the situation getting even worse.

Right now Oxfam is there in South Sudan, urgently working to get live-saving aid like food and water to those in need, as well as hygiene supplies to stop the spread of deadly disease. It cannot be clearer to those on the ground: South Sudan is not having a moment of respite in its food crisis. Hunger is spiralling out of control. 

Corrie Sissons is Oxfam's Food Security and Emergency Livelihoods Coordinator in South Sudan

 
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Famine in South Sudan: communities at breaking point

In South Sudan, the violent and brutal war has put millions at risk. Women, men and children who have fled their homes in search of safety are now facing a new threat - hunger. With harvests still months away, the famine already declared in parts of the country will spread across the rest of the country, unless we act now.

Majok at the WFP registration site in Nyal. He had to make a one and half hours trek, helped by family members, from his home to Nyal to ensure he was physically present for the registration. Photo: Bruno Bierrenbach Feder/Oxfam

In South Sudan, the violent and brutal war has put millions at risk. Women, men and children who have fled their homes in search of safety are now facing a new threat - hunger. With harvests still months away, the famine already declared in parts of the country will spread across the rest of the country, unless we act now.

When the rains begin in late April or May, conditions will become even more difficult for the people in need and for the humanitarian groups trying to reach them. Flooding makes roads and airstrips impassable and can cause a rise in cholera and other water-borne diseases.

George* sits on his mother’s lap as health personnel takes his measurements to determine his nutrition level. There are 208 malnutrition cases in this hospital in Nyal, Unity State. These don't include the many adults facing extreme hunger in the area.

Nearly 5 million people - 40 percent of the population - are facing extreme hunger. "We are seeing communities now at breaking point. In the swamps between the famine-affected areas and where Oxfam is working, we know that there are thousands of people going desperately hungry,” says Dorothy Sang, Oxfam's Humanitarian Campaign Manager in South Sudan.

Panjiyar County, in southern Unity State, sits next to the frontline of some of the heaviest fighting we are seeing in South Sudan today. It is no coincidence that this frontline is also home to the 100,000 people who have been hit by deadly famine. Many have traveled for days on foot to reach generous host communities, who themselves are now sharing what little food they have with their neighbours and are waiting for that next food aid delivery in order to survive.

An elderly woman at the registration site in Nyal Catholic church, South Sudan. She came from Nyandong Payam with the help of family members. Photo: Bruno Bierrenbach Feder/Oxfam

So far, Oxfam and other humanitarian organisations have been able to help to keep famine from spreading with food distributions, clean water and other vital aid. So far, we have been distributing food to more than 415,000 people as well as providing more than 140,000 people with clean water and sanitation services.

Oxfam staff Pedro Marial Rock takes the fingerprint signatures of Nyabiey (left) and Nyakonga (right) to verify they are receiving food at a distribution in Nyal on March 20, 2017. Photo: Lauren Hartnett/Oxfam

In Nyal, Panyijar County, some of the most vulnerable people from surrounding islands arrive exhausted after hours on Oxfam canoes. They are here to register for a World Food Programme food distribution. We are using canoes and paying canoe operators to make sure that the most vulnerable do not miss out on access to food.

 

Marissa and her family fled from famine and conflict-hit Mayendit, where all of their food had been burnt and their home burnt down. They brought what they still had to Nyal, pulling their possessions along the swamps in large tarpaulins. They're now hoping to register for a food drop. Photo: Dorothy Sang/Oxfam

Besides providing clean water and toilets on some of the islands closest to Nyal, we are also helping both its island and mainland communities to set up vegetable gardens to boost their own diets and to build up their livelihoods.

“What concerns us most are the people we have yet to reach. The fighting means no one is able to work on the remote islands, and we are only able to send canoes up the river to help the people when we can ensure the safety of our staff,” says Sang.

 You can help

The people of South Sudan are doing all they can to help themselves. Where the newly displaced have arrived, families are generously offering what little they have. But this is not enough. We need to get more food, clean water and other vital support to the most vulnerable people.

We are calling for more funding to help reach people before it’s too late. You can help. Donate now.

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Fighting famine in East Africa, Nigeria and Yemen. Join us.

Across the world, millions of children, women and men are starving due to a devastating food crisis. A catastrophic combination of conflict and drought has left them facing terrifying food shortages – and there is no end in sight.

In Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia in East Africa, more than 19 million people are on the brink of starvation, while war in South Sudan has forced more than 3 million from their homes, and left millions more desperate for food. In February of this year, South Sudan became the first country in the world to declare famine since 2011.  

Photo: Tina Hillier/Oxfam

In the Somali region of Ethiopia, Fadumo lost three of her children – her triplets – to malnutrition when they were less than a month old. 

The 32-year-old farmer said: “They died because of a lack of food – they were malnourished. They were less than one month old. First one child died, then two more. I was afraid.

“How can anyone be happy when they have lost three children?”

Meanwhile, the drought has claimed two-thirds of her livestock.

“I had shoats and camels,” she explained. “Before, I used to have 60 animals, now I just have 20. I have one camel which is still alive.”

Now she fears for the lives of her remaining children and said: “What will they eat? We are getting some help – have some food and water.”

But she added: “We need many things. We need food which is nourishing. Food is our biggest need.”

Elsewhere, parts of Nigeria – where at least 4.4 million people are experiencing crisis levels of hunger – are also thought to be in the grip of famine. However, the situation in the country is so volatile due to conflict that it has been almost impossible to confirm that famine has taken hold.

And in Yemen, ongoing fighting between pro-government and rebel forces has left more than 17 million people on the brink of starvation. Without a massive humanitarian response, it will be impossible to avert famine.

Millions of people – in different parts of the world – have one thing in common: they are all experiencing the devastating impact of severe hunger on a daily basis.

Oxfam is supporting communities facing famine and hunger by distributing emergency food supplies and providing clean water and sanitation as well as providing cash or cash vouchers so people can buy what they need locally, supporting local business. We are working to prevent fatal diseases such as cholera by getting clean water to the most vulnerable, and to support them get their crops growing once again so that they can feed themselves and their families.

We are already helping over one million people in Yemen, more than 600,000 in South Sudan, over 300,000 in Nigeria, 255,000 people in the Southern Somali region of Ethiopia and plan to begin a response to the drought in Somalia.

In situations where hunger and malnutrition are rife, it is usually the children who suffer the most. Even if they manage to survive prolonged periods of extreme hunger, they often pay the price in the long term as they lose their immunity and their ability to fight disease.

Like countless other infants and children in South Sudan, Tabitha’s baby daughter is in danger of becoming severely malnourished. 

Photo: Bruno Bierrenbach Feder/Oxfam

Tabitha’s daughter is sucking on a dry “Tuok” – a dry seed from a type of palm tree which is eaten when there is nothing else left.

Tabitha fled with her baby to seek refuge in Garbek, a small community in Unity State, after they were chased out of their home when violence broke out.

Now, with food so scarce, Tabitha is desperate – and resorts to eating whatever she can get her hands on.

“We feed on water lilies, fish and anything we could find in the river,” said Tabitha, who also lost most of her animals during her journey.

“What we currently need is food [and] medication. The more time it takes the worse it shall be for us.”

We’re determined to act quickly to ensure that mothers like Fadumo and Tabitha do not see their children go hungry. We have already reached many thousands of people with food, water, sanitation and support – but we are most concerned about the people we have yet to reach. 

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Stories of hope for International Women's Day

To mark International Women's Day 2017, we're celebrating some of the inspirational women we have the privilege of working with around the world.

MAITRE FROM HAITI

Pictured top left, Maitre says “I’m very proud because I am a strong woman. I am a girl doing a man’s job and I am capable and able.”

Maitre Marie Nadeige (36) from Haiti is one of 100 women trained by Oxfam in construction. These women have joined the workforce and are now helping to improve infrastructure and repair roads in their areas. Since the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, Oxfam has been working with partners to help people rebuild their lives and make their communities less vulnerable to disaster. 

AYINKAMIYE FROM RWANDA

Pictured top right, Ayinkamiye Josepha works on the Tuzamurane Co-operative – an Oxfam partner-run pineapple farm in the Kirehe District in east Rwanda. Before the co-operative, women were growing and selling pineapples on a much smaller scale for a low price and were trapped in poverty. Now the women working as part of the co-operative grow pineapple crops on both their own land and the co-operative’s and these are sold to be juiced or dried in the in-house processing plant. The profits from sales are invested back into the business and shared between the members. Oxfam has also helped connect the women with banks so that they can access funds to pay for health insurance and school fees.

EMAM FROM IRAQ

Pictured bottom left, Emam Mahdi Saleh (36) is a business woman and mother of five from Jalawla in Iraq. Her salon was damaged during the ISIS occupation of the town but she’s now back in business after receiving a loan from Oxfam for repairs. Oxfam has been helping other business owners like Emam to get back on their feet through small loans and paid work to help rebuild the town. 

NATALIA PARTSKHALADZE FROM RUSSIA

Pictured bottom right, Natalia says “Everything started with an idea and a very small investment from a small saving. Oxfam supported with branding and restoration of the facilities. It is important to work together…”

Natalia Partskhaladze (41) is the founder of the Kona Co-operative in a village in Georgia’s Kaspi Municipality in Russia. The co-operative produces black and herbal teas and was set up in 2015 as part of a nationwide project led by Oxfam that has facilitated the formation of 48 co-operatives in 13 municipalities, employing around 10,000 people. Natalia’s co-operative employs five women and buys materials from other co-operatives to supplement locally sourced herbs and flowers.

Video: A story of hope from Iraq

Zahia and her family were forced to flee their home when ISIS came to their village. When ISIS were gone Zahia returned to her house and with a little help from Oxfam, regained hope of creating a home and an independent life.

This is her story.

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Slowly starved to death: escalating crisis in Yemen

Deadly clashes and air strikes in Yemen have forced millions of people to flee their homes and killed and injured thousands.

Now Yemen is being slowly starved to death. Children and parents are at risk of catastrophic hunger and the country is just a few months away from running out of food.

A recent harrowing report from Yemen by the BBC’s Fergal Keane has shone a spotlight on the crisis in this part of the world.

The situation 

Bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north and Oman to the east, Yemen was the poorest country in the Middle East increasing when fighting escalated in March 2015.

A 20 month-long war, waged between a Saudi-led coalition of Gulf countries and the Government of Yemen against the Houthis, has brought the country’s economy to near collapse. 

Half of the population – 14.4 million people – require help with food. 21.1 million people are in need of life-saving aid, over 80% of the population.

The humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate with fuel shortages, rising food prices and a severe lack of basic services making daily survival a painful struggle for millions.

Oxfam is there. Our Country Director in Yemen, Sajjad Mohammad Sajid, says: “People desperately need food and water, medicine and health services, they need aid that can reach them – ultimately they need the conflict to end so they can rebuild their lives. All those fuelling Yemen's tragedy need to stop being arms brokers and start becoming peace brokers. The international community must redouble its efforts to help bring this crisis to a peaceful resolution.”

Ferdose

Ferdose (40) fled her home in Taiz when her house was burnt in the war and she had nowhere to go.

“Local residents hosted us in a room in one of the houses. My husband lost his job. For about a year now, we have been depending on the aid provided by local residents and Oxfam,” she explains. Oxfam provided Ferdose with a hygiene kit, as well as food vouchers every month so she can buy food in the local market.

Above: 40-year-old Ferdose fled Taiz when her house was burnt in the war and she had nowhere to go. Our team provided Ferdose with a hygiene kit, as well as food vouchers every month so she can buy food in the local market. Photo: Moayed Al-Shaybani/Oxfam

What Oxfam is doing

We are delivering clean water to people in the north and south of the country and have reached more than 913,000 people with water, food vouchers, hygiene kits and other essential aid. Our aim is to reach 1.2 million people with the help of our supporters.

Help so far has included:

  • Cash payments to 106,000 people to help families displaced by the conflict to buy food.
  • Clean water and sanitation services for 435,500 people, including in hard-to-reach areas of the country, by trucking drinking water and repairing water systems and latrines. We are also providing equipment to enable urban water authorities to pump water to an additional 820,000 people in Aden and Al Hawtah.
  • Supporting more than 11,000 families with livestock treatment and supporting more than 14,000 people with cash for work.

We are calling on the Saudi-led coalition to lift shipping restrictions to allow food and other vital imports to increase, and urging all parties in the conflict to allow food to move freely around the country and agree a meaningful ceasefire and restart peace talks.

How you can help

Please help Yemen – give what you can and get clean drinking water to people who urgently need it.

 
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