Hunger Crisis

  • Millions of families are at risk of starvation as famine threatens parts of South Sudan as well as Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen.

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

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.
 

 

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.

I’m thrilled at the support for Fashion Relief, says Lorraine Keane

The countdown has officially started – and I’ve been blown away by the support I’ve received from friends in the industry. So many well-known faces from the world of television, rugby, entertainment and fashion volunteered their time to join me at the launch of FASHION RELIEF – Ireland’s biggest fashion fundraiser in aid of the hunger crisis overseas.
 
Glenda Gilson and Sarah Morrissey joined me for the launch of Fashion Relief 
 
I returned from a visit to East Africa last November and quickly realised that very little was being reported on the region’s hunger crisis. How can 20 million people facing starvation not be big news? I also thought about the amount of stuff I have. So many of us have too much while others have nothing. 
 
So I decided to organise an event that I would enjoy – a fun day out of fashion shows and shopping where everyone could bag a designer bargain, and celebrities could sell their unwanted clothes and accessories to help others. I approached Oxfam Ireland and FASHION RELIEF was born! 
 
Oxfam Ireland is the perfect charity to work with, because not only do they work in these areas, they also have 48 shops nationwide where the public can drop off their donated items. Together, we knew we could make a difference.
 
I’m really excited to be hosting such a unique event for such a great cause – and looking forward to seeing you in the RDS on Sunday 13th May for what promises to be a day of designer bargains from the wardrobes of both the public and the stars.
 
There’ll be something for everyone, with clothes and accessories starting at just €5. We’ll also be showcasing new pieces from designers and retailers as well as lots of pre-loved donations – not just mine, but from people like Oxfam Ireland ambassadors Andrew Trimble and Lorna Weightman, and celebrities like Cillian Murphy, Miriam O’Callaghan, Brent Pope, Rozanna Purcell, Liam Cunningham, Yvonne Connolly and Kathryn Thomas. The list is endless!
 
 Rob Kearney, Miriam O'Callaghan and Brent Pope also lent a hand
 
Some of my friends in the industry have kindly offered to staff stalls on the day, while others will be modelling their designer donations during two fashion shows – at 1pm and 3pm. Everyone I know is eager to do their bit. So please, come and join us – you could be making a world of difference.
Tickets for FASHION RELIEF are just €5 – and are on sale now.
 
 
Even if you’ve already got your ticket in the bag, there are lots of other ways to get involved.
 
Donate your pre-loved clothes and accessories
  1. Bag up any pre-loved or new clothes, accessories or handbags – just make sure they’re in good condition and ready for the sale rail.
  2. Clearly label the bag/box FASHION RELIEF.
  3. Drop the bag/box to the nearest Oxfam Ireland shop. Find out where at oxfamireland.org/shops
Or you can organise a workplace clothing collection (men’s and women’s clothes and accessories) and Oxfam Ireland will pick it up directly from you. Just click here for more.
 
Volunteer on the day
Become part of the action by volunteering at FASHION RELIEF. You could even staff your own stall, joining some of the stars who have generously pledged their clothes and time. Click here to find out more.
 
Unwind at a VIP after-party at the InterContinental Hotel
Come and join me for a glass of champers from 5pm that evening. The InterContinental is inviting anyone attending FASHION RELIEF to an exclusive VIP after-party from 5pm in its gorgeously chic ICE Bar. Thanks to our sponsors, the InterContinental Hotel and Marks & Spencer Ireland, you can enjoy a glass of champagne and nibbles and relax after a day’s shopping for just €20. All proceeds go to FASHION RELIEF. Places are limited so booking is essential.
 
 
For more details on FASHION RELIEF, visit fashionrelief.ie 

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