Health & Sanitation

  • Diseases from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. That’s wrong. We all have the right to clean water. Oxfam is providing life-saving clean water, and sanitation and hygiene education in some of the world’s poorest countries, as well as in areas struck by humanitarian crises.

Rohingya Crisis

As the year draws to a close, the traumatic events of 2017 are still very raw for the Rohingya people. Hundreds and thousands of them have fled to Bangladesh since the summer, many wearing nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Their journeys from Myanmar were laden with misery and terror. Refugees witnessed pain and suffering on a massive scale – nightmares they will relive for many years to come. They spoke of rape and sexual violence, of young children being maimed and abused. They fled landmines and bullets and saw their loved ones die in cold blood.

By the end of November, the number of refugees in the Cox’s Bazaar district of Bangladesh had passed 836,000. Living in overcrowded camps with overflowing latrines and contaminated water, they face heavy rains and the 2018 cyclone season which threatens to wash away shelters and spread water-borne diseases.

Oxfam is on the ground providing safe drinking water, food and other essentials, and is ramping up its work before cyclone season hits.

In the meantime, the voices of those who have fled Myanmar are being heard – and their stories are harrowing.

Razida* (35) carries her 10-month-old son Anisul* through Unchiprang Camp in Bangladesh. Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam

“They burned my home and shot my husband dead,” said Razida* who spent six days walking to Bangladesh with her eight children. “The women and children ran away – we were safe, but the attackers surrounded the men and killed them so they couldn’t bring us anything. We had to even borrow money to cross the border.

"I left with all my children, I had to leave. How can I feel anything at all now? I’ve got shelter but no clean water and nowhere to shower. My children are sick and I am sick from worrying."

Fatima takes a rest in Dhokin Para school in Shah Puri Dwip after crossing over from Myanmar by boat two nights ago with her husband and young son. Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam

When Fatima’s house was burned down, she, her husband and their young son fled for their lives. Fatima was heavily pregnant when the family made their escape – but the lengthy journey was an ordeal for the expectant mother.

“Our house was burned down so we ran and we hid from village to village,” she explained. “I’m eight months pregnant and my feet are swollen. Yesterday when I arrived, I was in a bad condition. The locals fed me and gave me a wash.”

Elsewhere, others spoke of the horrific scenes they witnessed while fleeing to Bangladesh.

Setara* (47) with her daughter Nur*. Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam

Setara (47), who made the journey with her parents and seven of her children, said: “We had to walk for three days without food. My girl was almost dying, I thought she would die on the way. We passed so many dead bodies on the way.”

“When I left I only had my children and the clothes on my back,” added Setara, who also revealed how her eldest son had been beaten and had disappeared.

These are the voices of just some of the Rohingya people who have had to flee unimaginable violence in recent months. This new year must offer these refugees a sense of security and hope for the future.

Please give what you can to help mothers like Razida*, Fatima* and Setara* and the families they will do anything to protect.

Thank you.

Greece intends to move 5000 people to mainland but thousands still trapped on islands

The Greek government has said that it intends to transfer 5,000 people from the Greek islands to the mainland before the start of winter. Responding to the news, Nicola Bay, head of mission for Oxfam in Greece, said:

“This is a very positive step that will save lives. People across Europe are asking for action and now it is imperative that people are moved quickly and in a safe and well-coordinated manner. Winter is just around the corner and thousands of people are still sharing unheated tents exposed to the bitter cold.

“Even if we could move all 5,000 people overnight, reception facilities on the islands will still be over capacity, unsafe and unsanitary."

“The Greek government and EU member states should now end their containment policy which has created a virtual ghetto at Europe's edge.”

Oxfam and 12 other human rights and humanitarian organizations launched a campaign on 1 December calling on Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to immediately transfer 7,500 people to the mainland by 21 December and to end the containment policy that traps people on the Greek islands.

As of 1 December, reception facilities on Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos were almost 7,200 over capacity: 12,744 people in facilities with a capacity of just 5,576. Last winter, three men died on Lesbos in the six days between January 24 and 30. Although there is still no official statement on the cause of these deaths, they have been attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning from makeshift heating devices in their tents. The Greek government has previously transferred around 2,000 people from Samos and Lesbos to the mainland since early November as an emergency measure.

Oxfam calls for a change of approach in the EU’s Migration Agenda, which sets Europe’s policies on migration. An Oxfam report, based on extensive field experience, highlights the danger, abuse and denial of basic rights that people face linked to the Migration Agenda’s policies. Oxfam has developed eight principles for a more humane and effective approach.

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Two weeks into the Yemen blockade – Fuel, Food and Medicines Running Out

19 November 2017 

Two weeks since land, air and seaports in Yemen were closed, aid agencies are appalled by the complacency and indifference of the international community regarding the historic humanitarian disaster now unfolding.

Aid agencies are gravely concerned about a new outbreak of cholera and other water borne diseases. UNICEF warns that they only have 15 days’ left of diphtheria vaccines. They are due to receive a new shipment late November but still have not received clearance. If this vaccine is not brought in, one million children will be at risk of preventable diseases.

The fuel shortage in Yemen means clean water in the country is more and more scarce. Water networks are closing by the day as fuel for the pumps runs out and pipes run dry. The lack of water poses grave risks to young children most of all. Schools will become centres of disease rather than centres of knowledge.

With no fuel, hospitals are closing wards and struggling to operate intensive care units and surgical operation theatres. Refrigeration units for essential medicines are being turned off for periods of time to save fuel. Doctors, some of whom have not been paid for ten months, are asking INGOs and UN to share their small supplies of fuel to run their life-saving generators; INGOs are citing one month fuel supply only.

Agencies are starting to double the value of the cash distributions to the most vulnerable people. This will enable people to buy and stock food for the coming cold winter months before prices rise beyond their means. This means agencies will exhaust their funds allocated for next year. Additionally, aid agencies have grave concerns for wellbeing of people that are currently inaccessible.

The country’s stocks of wheat and sugar will not last for longer than three months if cargo vessels are not allowed to discharge in Hodeidah, the country’s only deep water seaport, in the next few days. Even if they are allowed, food distribution systems have been severely disrupted and may collapse within weeks. Moreover, having incurred so many additional costs and in a highly volatile environment, international traders may decide that importing to Yemen is too risky a proposition to continue.

The international community must break its shameful silence and use all possible means to lift the blockade on Yemen immediately. Hodeidah port, that serviced 80% of all imports, and Sana’a airport, needs to be reopened to let in urgently needed shipments of food, fuel, and medicines. Every day the blockade lasts means thousands of Yemenis will suffer from hunger and preventable diseases. Millions could die in a historic famine if the blockade continues indefinitely. This is not the time for carefully balanced statements. The choice is between resolution, or complicity in the suffering; there is no third option.

 

Daniel English

Oxfam Ireland

086 3544954 

Give an unexpected gift this Christmas

Christmas songs playing in shops, lights strewn between buildings on city streets, shopping windows decorated with evergreen trees and holly, rosy cheeks on passers-by. The Christmas season has officially begun.

This also means crowded shops, long queues, and heavy bags. Ba-humbug!

Instead of enduring the crowds, waiting in queues and braving the cold, consider nestling up to a warm cup of tea with your internet browser opened to Oxfam Unwrapped.

Oxfam Unwrapped offers 17 unique and unexpected gifts ranging from €5/£5 to €1,000/£926. Whether it’s a cooking stove or a clutch of chicks, each gift funds Oxfam’s work around the world. Don’t worry… a clutch of chicks won’t arrive on your doorstep. Your gift donation goes toward poor families and communities that need it most.

Leave the soap and lotion gift baskets at the shops. Instead, purchase our soap stocking filler for a family member. Money raised from your donation supports humanitarian work from our Saving Lives fund. It provides people like Binta and her daughter Fati in Niger with hygiene training to keep them from illness and deadly diseases.

Want to get something sweet for a friend? Instead of picking up the predictable box of chocolates, make a donation to our Livelihoods fund by buying a honeybees gift card. This purchase helps fund the communities who depend on animals for their livelihoods. It empowers people like Augustina in Ghana. Through an Oxfam-supported beekeeping project, she was able to earn additional income to pay her children’s school fees.

When drought struck Somaliland, Faria moved with her children to Karasharka Camp where Oxfam provided safe water. This Christmas, give something better than a bottle of wine or bubbly to your colleague. Consider making a donation to our Water for All fund by purchasing safe water for a family gift card. This gift provides poor communities with safe access to water through pumps, tanks, taps and purification systems.

Your unexpected gift card from the Unwrapped campaign provides the tools, training and resources to support and empower communities. While bringing a smile to your loved one’s face, you will also be building brighter, happier futures. Happy shopping!

One jar of paracetamol for 24,000 people - it just doesn't add up

I recently returned from a trip to Malawi, my second visit to the country with Oxfam Ireland. Like citizens everywhere, Malawians have a right to good healthcare. Sadly, this isn’t the case. An unfair tax system means that the nation’s medical facilities are overburdened – and even though Malawi has some of the best health policies in the world, ill-managed public funds means they can’t be put into practice.
 
(Top-Left) Maria Gilasiano with her baby daughter outside Phimbi Health Centre. Photo: Mathias Kafunda. (Top-Right)  Liness Pensulo and her baby daughter. Photo: Mathias Kafunda. (Bottom-Left) Disability Committee member Peter Simoni. Photo: Mathias Kafunda. (Bottom-Right) Clockwise from left: James Afuwa, Medical Assistant for Phimbi Health Centre; Niamh Ní Ruairc of Oxfam Ireland; Bettie Chumbu, DCT Project Officer; Alex Chiphathi , Monitor of Phimbi Radio Listening Club; Asima Stambuli, Ward Councillor for Utale Ward, and Zione Mayaya, DCT Project Coordinator. Photo: Mathias Kafunda 
 
During my trip I visited Phimbi Health Centre in Phimbi, Balaka South. It was originally built to serve a population of 10,000 but now facilitates at least 24,000. When I visited, there was just one container of paracetamol in the drugs cabinet. I was also shown the maternity ward’s four beds – that’s four beds for 200 births every month. And while the staff do their best, they too are struggling due to a lack of resources. A shortage of manpower doesn’t help – the centre should have 60 staff members but poor funding has seen that number cut to 30.
 
Over a small sink in the maternity ward a sign which reads ‘Sambani mmanja pano’ translates as ‘Wash your hands’. But there is no water, no drinkable water, at least. A borehole outside the centre was dug between two septic tanks. As you can imagine, that water isn’t safe to drink. Although the health centre doesn’t use the water, people living in the local community do – leaving them exposed to a whole host of diseases. Those who want clean water have to travel 2km to collect it. That means that women, despite being exhausted and still suffering the pain of childbirth, have to make a 4km-round trip on foot just to clean themselves.
 
Another lifeline pulled from the centre due to a lack of resources is an ambulance. Its vehicle was taken by the district hospital – which too was hit by underfunding – and was never replaced. These days, if the health centre can’t deal with a patient’s condition, the ambulance must be called from the District Hospital of Balaka, a two-and-a-half hour drive away. This has led to women giving birth – sometimes unaided – in the back of an ambulance as they are transferred to hospital.
 
I met one woman who found herself in that situation. Maria Gilasiano gave birth in the back of an ambulance as it made its way to the district hospital. She was being transferred due to complications during labour and ended up delivering her baby herself during the journey. Also in the ambulance at the time was Peter Simoni, a member of the local Disability Committee. Amid the chaos of the birth, Maria and Peter’s bloods got mixed – and while it was not a danger to life, it shows that a lack of resources can pose serious hygiene risks. 
 
Of course, these are risks that Peter knows all too well. There is no wheelchair ramp at the health centre so when he visits, he is forced to crawl on his hands and knees to get into the building – and the toilets, thereby exposing him to potentially dangerous bacteria and germs.
 
Those living in the community also face drugs shortages. Liness Pensulo, another woman I spoke to, couldn’t get malaria tablets for her young son as they weren’t available at the health centre at the time. Instead, she had to travel to a private chemist where she had to pay significantly more. Worse still, she didn’t get proper instructions on how to administer the drugs to her child. The potential consequences of incorrect dosages can be fatal. 
 
Every day, across the world, lives are put at risk due to unfair tax systems. In Malawi, Oxfam Ireland is working with our partner Development Communications Trust (DCT) to help marginalised communities get access to the healthcare they deserve.
 
Niamh Ní Ruairc is Programme Quality Officer with Oxfam Ireland
 

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