From the field

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Oxfam ready to respond following massive earthquake in Nepal

A powerful 7.9 magnitude earthquake has devastated Nepal. Oxfam is there. We are urgently assessing the situation and planning our response.

An Oxfam team of technical experts is also preparing to fly to Nepal with supplies to provide clean water, shelter, sanitation and emergency food.

The full scale of the destruction is not yet know. Many old buildings have collapsed with people trapped inside. Hospitals are overwhelmed and trying to cope with the wounded. People are scared, worried about their families and trying to contact their loved ones.

The scene is one of utter devastation, according to colleagues on the ground.

Cecilia Keizer, Oxfam country director in Nepal said: “The number of people killed is continuing to rise. Many of the old houses have been destroyed and at least one large apartment block has come down in Kathmandu. People are gathered in their thousands in open spaces and are scared as there have been several aftershocks."

“Communication is currently very difficult. Telephone lines are down and the electricity has been cut off making charging mobile phones difficult. The water is also cut off.”

Oxfam has worked in Nepal for a number of years and we are now preparing for a potentially massive response to one of the worst natural disasters to hit the region in years.

The most urgent needs will be medicines, food supplies, safe drinking water and adequate shelter. It is likely to be a race against time to save lives and to get help to the communities overwhelmed by tragedy on a massive scale.

You can help

  • A donation of €25/£20 could supply 12 Oxfam buckets to help provide clean, safe water for drinking and cooking for families in need
  • A donation of €60/£40could cover the cost of emergency health kits to help prevent the spread of diseases
  • A donation of €125/£90 could help give a family a roof over their heads for a month  
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Thousands still homeless in Gaza: ‘Our children are paying the price’

For the past six months, Sawsan al Najjar and her family have lived crowded together in a small room with cracked walls and a fragile roof. “I fear the walls will fall on us while we sleep,” she says.

The rest of the house lies in rubble, destroyed by Israeli bombing during last summer's 51 days of conflict between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups.

International donors pledged $3.5 billion towards Gaza's reconstruction, yet six months later people like Sawsan are still living in desperate conditions. A new report by Oxfam and other aid agencies including ActionAid, Christian Aid and Save the Children found that not a single one of the 19,000 destroyed homes has yet been rebuilt and promises of lasting political change have not materialised. The eight-year old Israeli blockade of Gaza remains in place, severely restricting the movement of people and goods.

Top: Dr Ihab Dabour checks Sawsan's son Ameer (2) at a mobile clinic in Gaza.  The clinic - run by the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) and funded by Oxfam - treats illnesses in the devastated neighbourhood of Khuza'a. "Many families are living in extremely unhealthy and overcrowded conditions, in caravans and damaged houses," says Dr Dabour. "There is a shortage of clean water and a lack of heating, which was badly needed during the harsh winter. All this causes frequent illnesses such as scabies and respiratory problems. As long as people live in these conditions, they will continue to have these health problems. I just wish I could help more." "Winter was very tough. The rain leaked through the damaged roof and walls and my children are sick all the time here," says Sawsan. Bottom: Faraj Al Najjar at work. Photos: Iyad al Baba/Oxfam
 

Sawsan's two young children – Ameer (2) and Ahmed (16) – suffer from stunted growth and her husband, Faraj, works day and night to raise money for their special medical treatment.

“I used to have my own business, trading motorbikes,” says Faraj. “Business got worse after the blockade began [in 2007], but I made enough to at least feed my family. Then during the war I lost the motorbikes, which were worth $7,000. Now I work 12 hours a day fixing spare parts and I barely get 20 shekels [$5/€4.75/£3.40] a day. This is not enough to even buy food.”

Their current living conditions make life even more difficult. “Winter was very tough. The rain leaked through the damaged roof and walls and my children are sick all the time here,” says Sawsan.

Dr Ihab Dabour helped provide emergency health care to thousands of people during the height of the conflict, despite his own home being bombed. Every two weeks he brings a mobile health clinic, run by the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) and funded by Oxfam, to treat illnesses in the devastated neighbourhood of Khuza'a where Sawsan lives.

“Many families are living in extremely unhealthy and overcrowded conditions, in caravans and damaged houses,” says Dr Dabour. “There is a shortage of clean water and a lack of heating, which was badly needed during the harsh winter. All this causes frequent illnesses such as scabies and respiratory problems. As long as people live in these conditions, they will continue to have these health problems. I just wish I could help more.”

At least 81 health clinics and hospitals across Gaza were damaged in the conflict – along with schools, water systems and other infrastructure – and most have not yet received funds for repairs. Under the blockade, even the few that have funds have not been able to get essential construction material to start rebuilding.

“The mobile clinic gives us the medicine we need to stop further health problems,” says Sawsan. But what the family needs most is to be able to rebuild their lives. For that to happen there needs to be a permanent ceasefire and an end to the blockade. Gaza needs reconstruction but also help to rebuild its once thriving economy that has been devastated by the blockade and recurrent conflict. 63 percent of young people are now unemployed and people are increasingly reliant on international aid.

“It is our children who are paying the price,” says Sawsan. “We used to have a happy life with a nice house and business – we were not rich, but we didn't need help from others. Now we seek any kind of assistance. We've started to lose hope that reconstruction will ever happen.”

Oxfam and our partners in Gaza are providing safe water, helping families to buy food, and supporting local health services.

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Yemen eye-witness: ‘Even if we survive the bombs we are running out of food’

Oxfam has been working in Yemen for 30 years. Over 60 percent of the population – 16 million people – were already in need of some form of aid before the airstrikes started.

More than 10 million Yemenis did not have enough food to eat before the crisis. Already, over 13 million people had no access to clean water and nearly nine million people were unable to access basic medical care.

An Oxfam staff worker has written the below blog describing what life has been like in Yemen over the past week.

Yemen is a country of unpredictables. You never know what is going on. Sometimes – like now – that makes it both emotionally and psychologically exhausting.

Change started in Yemen in 2011, with the Arab Spring reaching the country. We all hoped that was the first step towards a better future. People were very enthusiastic back then – people were excited.

But in September 2014 the security situation deteriorated. The government changed without warning, the transition period seemed to stop. All of us – including the 16 million or so of my countrymen and women who are desperate need of aid – were once again living every day without knowing what would happen next. The 600,000 people that Oxfam were helping were going to need aid even more.

Homes destroyed in Yemen. Before the crisis over 13 million people had no access to clean water. Photo: Abbo Haitham/Oxfam

Then on March 25, the airstrikes began. At first, the streets were empty – it was like they had been abandoned. It was scary. But today, despite reports of the death toll rising, there are people in the streets because they have started to cope with life now. For me and my fellow Yemenis living in fear and never knowing what’s round the corner, this is ‘normal’.

But it should not be like this. For a long time there has been severe humanitarian crisis in the country, now there could be a humanitarian catastrophe unless a permanent ceasefire is agreed and humanitarian access is granted.

Even if we survive the bombs we are running out of food. My brother went to buy food yesterday; he said that several shops were out of flour. There was none in the markets close to where I live either. When you go out you see long queues of cars waiting for petrol at the gas stations. Yemen could suffer a real food and fuel crisis. More than 60% of the Yemeni people are already under the poverty line – Oxfam was trying to make the world wake up to the desperate situation that many people in Yemen face even before the latest fighting started. Now I fear for my family but we are much better off than many people who were already struggling to survive.

People search under rubble of houses destroyed in Yemen. Over 60% of population needed some form of aid before conflict Photo: Abbo Haitham/Oxfam

Yemen imports practically all of its food, petrol, everything! Now our borders are closed and there are no flights coming in or supply ships docking. We are now living with the tiny amount of what Yemen already has but this is running out fast.

What is going to happen? That’s the million dollar question. I am not sure. Nobody is sure. It is all rumours that we hear. I’m not expecting it to end soon. Even if the violence stopped, the massive humanitarian need is going to go on and on. At the moment humanitarian agencies such as Oxfam are trying to reach the areas where people are caught up in the fighting to give them the aid that they need.

But we need the access and security to go where these people are and in many places it is simply too dangerous at the moment. Where it is safe to do so, Oxfam is already assessing the impact of the conflict on people’s lives and the needs they have, so we can plan a quick response.

Homes destroyed in Yemen. Over 60% of the population already needed some form of aid before conflict. Photo: Abbo Haitham/Oxfam

I started working with Oxfam in Yemen in July 2014 as a programme manager focusing on women’s rights. Working with Oxfam made me continue to feel the positive sense of change and of the importance of the growing participation of women in life in Yemen.

Then a few months later, in September, the insecurity started. It was like Yemen hit the rewind button, and after the feeling of positive change that started in 2011 we went back to the uncertainty of before. I can remember that day when it all started. I was at work and my mother was with my younger brothers and sisters at home. My whole family all moved to my grandmother’s house. This was even closer to the fighting than our home – but at least we were together.

What makes me really sad is that this prolonged insecurity has become normal to me, my friends and family. People with guns and armoured vehicles in the street became normal to see every day before you go to school, to work, to the market, when of course it is not. Now we can add air strikes to that list.

Inside a house destroyed in Yemen. Before the crisis more than 10 million Yemenis did not have enough food to eat. Photo: Abbo Haitham/Oxfam

I am usually optimistic, but I’m not now. Even if the conflict ends soon the humanitarian situation will unfold. Then the shock and the extent of the suffering here in Yemen will become apparent. Only then we will know what this conflict has left behind.

  • Since 2011, Oxfam has provided assistance to nearly 600,000 people affected by the humanitarian crisis.
  • In Al Hodeidah and Hajjah in Western Yemen, Oxfam has given cash transfers to 400,000 people since 2011 to help them buy food and support their basic needs. Oxfam has been is working with 32 communities to help rebuild their livelihoods through cash for work schemes and scaling up social protection programmes.
  • Oxfam responded to the 2014 fuel crisis with the distribution of water filters to 3,300 vulnerable households and a cash transfer to an additional 1,000 households in western Yemen.
  • Since 2012 Oxfam has rehabilitated water systems in 41 rural communities in western Yemen, providing more than 125,000 vulnerable people with safe drinking water.
  • In the north in Sa’ada governorate, where years of conflict have destroyed infrastructure and created significant access constraints, Oxfam working on repairing and installing water sources, and has reached 58,000 people. We have also delivered vital water and sanitation services to communities in Aden and Abyan in the south.
  • Together with partners, Oxfam is working to empower women economically, socially, and politically to have a say in decision making at all levels.
  • Planning for the longer term, Oxfam is piloting three solar pump drinking water systems, reaching more than 20,000 beneficiaries in three communities.
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The land of the invisible: 51 million people fleeing conflict

Every 4 seconds a person in the world is forced to flee their home. People like Martha, who crossed the Nile carrying three children on her back with another three floating alongside, dodging bullets, with nothing to eat for more than five days. Conflict in her country of South Sudan has forced her and many others to leave everything they know behind.

There are now more than 51 million refugees and people displaced by conflict and violence across the world. This is a record-breaking figure, which surpasses even that of the Second World War.

Above: Okach Mabil (10) walks through mud carrying a sack of grain in the Malakal camp for displaced people in South Sudan. Fighting has forced over two million people from their homes. Simon Rawles/Oxfam

The main cause is the intensification of conflicts, particularly in Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, which alone have resulted in over 11 million displaced people and refugees in Syria, over 2 million in South Sudan and 860,000 more in the Central African Republic.

But beyond these raw statistics lies an individual human being – like me and you – who has had to flee, leaving behind belongings, a home, friends and often family. It is very difficult to put into words the bleakness and vulnerability they face.

We cannot allow ourselves to get used to these permanent crises which affects a group of people almost more than ten times the population of the island of Ireland.

They are in need of shelter; blankets and clothes; food and water; security and protection; a job and money to survive.

Above: Um Ali (right) and her husband Abu Ali sit on the floor with some of their children in their shelter in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. The Jabaa settlement where they live was set up on agricultural land that turns into sludge come the first rain. “In Syria, I had a washing machine. Now it’s all about hand washing, and with this mud, it’s difficult to keep anything clean,” explains Um. Her husband Abu says “In Syria, I had a car and some goats. I sold them all before I left the country and have since spent all the money in Lebanon. Without humanitarian aid, I don’t know how we can survive.” Joelle Bassoul/Oxfam

Through their taxes, European citizens make it possible for humanitarian aid to save lives. We are collaborating with the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) with the launch of an innovative communications project – EUsavelives, You Save Lives – in which we highlight the experiences of refugees.

The campaign will give a voice to those affected, showing the human side of these crises so that millions of people across Europe are made aware of the reality of everyday life in refugee camps and host communities.

Since 2008 the world has become a less peaceful place. The increase in terrorist activity and conflicts and the endless rise in the number of refugees and displaced people are the facts that demonstrate this. Unfortunately, this increase in violence will have dramatic consequences for millions of people. And it not only affects those people who are already finding it difficult to survive in this situation; many others will be forced to live in violent situations because it is impossible for them to escape from the instability. It is estimated that 500 million people are currently living in countries at risk of conflict.

Above: Yehia* (51) is a farmer from Idlib in Syria. He has been living in this tent in a coastal area of north Lebanon for the past three years. The strong winds blew away the plastic sheets that were the only means of protection against the rain for Yehia and his family. When their ceiling collapsed the family had to cut the tent’s sides with a knife to be able to get out.  Oriol Andrés Gallart/Oxfam

The question is, if you were in their place? A life erased, all to be built again. It is impossible to fully understand what this must be like. It is a duty to try to. So please help us raise awareness and make the invisible refugees visible by sharing, telling a friend or simply clicking here. You save lives. Together we save lives.

You Save Lives

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Above: Irish Examiner journalist Noel Baker on his trip to Lebanon with Oxfam & ECHO. Originally broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1's World Report.

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First hand experience from Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam

Oxfam’s Communications Coordinator Amy Christian writes from Port Vila in Vanuatu.

Yesterday I arrived in Vanuatu to join the Oxfam emergency response team as they respond to the aftermath of Cyclone Pam.

As our plane descended into Port Vila, I caught glimpses of the islands that make up Vanuatu between perfectly formed clouds, the blue of the ocean a calm turquoise canvas below. The islands themselves looked ravaged, trees torn and broken and houses left without roofs or walls.

I found myself imagining how different this view would have been just a week before, on the eve of the biggest cyclone to ever hit the Pacific.

After disembarking from our plane we made our way to a briefing with our colleagues who arrived a few days earlier. The streets of Port Vila were a hive of activity, people were busy at work clearing the debris left behind by Cyclone Pam.

Neat piles of fallen branches and bits of tin roofing lay in piles along the roadside; trucks and lorries full-to-the-rafters filled the roads and smoke billowed out across the sky as people burn the waste that can’t be moved. I was surprised at how much has been done and how improved things looked compared to the photos I saw just a few days ago. 

Today I joined the Oxfam team as they carried out their first distribution — hygiene kits were taken to one of the evacuation centres in Port Vila, Lycee Bouganville, a school taking on a new role in the crisis. 
 
Families greeted us with smiles and thanks and showed me where they’d been sleeping for the last week. Gideon, his wife Aileen and their son John, told me they were worried about having to go home as their house had been completely destroyed. 
 
“It will take me several months to rebuild and repair the damage of the cyclone, as I don’t have the finances to build back quickly. I have no money,” Gideon said.
 
 
Photos - Top left: Scenes of devastation in Vanuatu. Top right: Gideon with his wife Aileen and son John. Bottom left: Gideon with his wife Aileen. Bottom right: Oxfam's Amy Christian.
 
“In our community we don’t have any clean water, we used to use a well but that has been contaminated now. In the next few months my biggest worry is food though. At home our garden is damaged so we won’t have any food available.”
 
Gideon and his family moved to the evacuation centre as Cyclone Pam bore down on Vanuatu last Friday. 
 
“When the cyclone happened it sounded like a big whistling sound. I’d never heard anything like it in my life. I was really scared. The walls shook so hard; rain water came inside so we had to move the children up onto the tables.” 
 
Another family sit together outside one of the classrooms cooking lunch— a big bowl of rice and some tinned sardines in tomato juice.  Hager Kulmet tells me she is worried about how much money her family has had to spend on food since arriving last week. 
 
‘”We have had to use all of our savings to buy food because we couldn’t bring any with us. It is becoming very difficult.”
 
Although Hager and her immediate family now live in Port Vila, she is originally from Tanna Island, one of the outer islands hit the worst by Cyclone Pam. 
 
“We have lots of family in Tanna Island and we are very worried about them now because we heard that Tanna suffered very badly in the cyclone,” she said. “We haven’t heard from them since Friday and we can’t get in touch. We’ve heard that people’s houses have been blown away.”
 
As someone who has never lived through a cyclone, much less a Category 5 cyclone, it’s very hard to imagine all of the worries people like Hager and Gideon now face. I’m humbled today, not just by the capacity of nature to rip apart everything in its wake but by the sheer strength of the human spirit which allows people to cope with whatever is thrown at them, to get back up and make plans to start again. 
 

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