Hunger Crisis

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

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 

Yemenis struggle to find bare essentials three years on from first Saudi airstrikes, warns Oxfam

Food price shock adds to war’s misery

People in Yemen are struggling to survive on dirty water and meagre portions of bread three years after a Saudi-led coalition carried out its first airstrike on the country in its war with the Houthis, Oxfam said today.

Families in remote areas of Amran governorate in the north west of the country told Oxfam they could only afford half a bag of wheat a month and had to walk three kilometres two or three times a day to fetch untreated water from a well. Several women told Oxfam they were struggling to make ends meet and had no money for clothes or other supplies after their husbands had been killed in the conflict.

Since the war started the cost of food has rocketed. Rice is up 131 per cent, beans 92 per cent, vegetable oil 86 per cent and flour for making bread up 54 per cent. Over the same period the number of people going hungry increased by 68 per cent to reach almost 18 million people.

Over 3 million people have been forced to flee their homes, more than 5,500 civilians have been killed and 2,000 more have died of cholera in a country where half of the health facilities are no longer functioning because of the conflict.

With 22 million people in need of aid across the country, Yemen is already the world's worst humanitarian crisis and the site of the largest cholera outbreak since records began, with over a million suspected cases.

Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland's Chief Executive, said: “Oxfam has been working in Yemen since 1983 and we have never seen a humanitarian crisis of this scale. Three years on from the eruption of this devastating conflict, the country is teetering on the brink of famine. Families are facing a daily struggle just to get hold of the bare essentials like food and water.

“We are stepping up our work in Yemen to tackle this humanitarian crisis. Since July 2015 we have reached more than 2.8 million people in nine governorates of Yemen.

“We are providing water and sanitation services, cash assistance and food vouchers, including 430,000 people as part of our cholera response to prevent and contain the disease. We are trucking water and providing cash for people to buy food.

“Malnutrition can lower the body's immune system, and the lack of clean and safe drinking water and sanitation and a weakened health system allow diseases such as cholera to spread more easily. But the closure of sea and air ports has hampered efforts to get food, water, fuel and medicines to all those who need them.”

The appointment last month of Martin Griffiths as the new UN envoy to Yemen, and recent UN Security Council calls for moves towards a ceasefire and to ensure essential goods are given free passage, present an opportunity for the international community to reinvigorate efforts to achieve peace.

Mr Clarken added: “Three years of war is more than enough. Too many bombs have been dropped and shells fired, too many people have gone hungry, too many lives have been lost. All sides need to call time on this war. The appointment of a new UN envoy to Yemen is a chance to push for a ceasefire and put the country on the road to a lasting peace.

“Without an inclusive political settlement, the conflict will only continue to make life unbearable for the vast majority of the population.”

The public can support Oxfam Ireland's humanitarian response in Yemen online, by donating online via www.oxfamireland.org/hunger, by calling 1850 30 40 55 (Republic of Ireland) or 0800 0 30 40 55 (Northern Ireland) or calling into your local Oxfam shop

ENDS

For interviews or more information, contact: Phillip Graham on 00 44 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org

NOTES TO EDITORS

Footage, photos and feature stories are available.

For updates, please follow @OxfamIreland.

Oxfam’s response in Yemen

Since July 2015 Oxfam has reached more than 2.8 million people in nine governorates of Yemen with water and sanitation services, cash assistance and food vouchers, including 430,000 people as part of its cholera response.

Oxfam’s water and sanitation equipment includes water storage tanks, buckets, tap stands, hand washing water dispensers, water testing and purifications kits, oral rehydration sachets, insecticide sprayers, pipes and fittings.

Oxfam is repairing water supplies and carrying out disinfection of water storage and sources with chlorine, providing households with water purification equipment and distributing hygiene materials, constructing latrines and providing solid waste management facilities, training community volunteers to spread hygiene messages for cholera prevention and treatment, conducting public health campaigns, supplying oral rehydration sachets to ensure that people can quickly rehydrate when suffering from signs and symptoms of cholera.

Left: Three of Jameela's children sitting inside the house in the afternoon. Photo: Ameen Al-Ghaberi/Gabreez Right: Mohammed* is a first-grade student. *Name has been changed. Photo: Ameen Al-Ghaberi/Gabreez.

Left & Right: Ahmed and his siblings in Al-Okasha IDP camp, Abs district, Hajjah governorate - Credit: Ahmed Al-Fadeel / Oxfam Yemen.

The daily struggle to survive hunger

Millions of people wake up every day to a living nightmare – a devastating combination of conflict and drought has left them on the brink of starvation.

Across East Africa, some 20 million people – that’s more than three times the population of the island of Ireland – are facing severe hunger. In South Sudan alone, around 6 million people are living in extreme hunger due to a brutal civil war, which is now in its fourth year. The violence has forced 3.5 million people from their homes and has decimated food production. If the fighting doesn’t stop, the situation will only get worse.

Not knowing where your next meal is coming from must be a terrifying prospect for the men, women and children who live this nightmare every day. But Oxfam is there, providing life-saving clean water and food to those in desperate need.

In Somaliland, 30-year-old Faria and her young family found themselves in a dire situation. Their livestock of 600 goats and 40 camels was almost wiped out because of drought. With just 10 goats left, Faria, her husband and their six children moved to Karasharka refugee camp where they were given the water and food they urgently needed.

“We moved because of lack of food and water,” says Faria, who is seven months pregnant. “We used to live in the rural area and all our animals perished.

“We were starving and had no one to help… Oxfam came to our rescue. We received both food and water and started cooking.”

Faria with Abdi, one of her six children. Photo Allan Gichigi/Oxfam

Faria and her young family found themselves on the brink of starvation, but they survived. Sadly, there are millions of other young families across the world who continue to live this daily nightmare. The drought which has struck Somaliland is also the main driver of the hunger crises in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, while conflict has left an estimated 2.5 million people in Nigeria without enough food to eat. Elsewhere, violence has also been plaguing Yemen where as many as 17 million people are in desperate need of food.

Oxfam is on the ground, helping communities in hunger-ravaged countries, providing families with food, clean, safe drinking water and sanitation.

But to save lives, we need to do more – and we need to act fast.

Donate now

Pages