Hunger Crisis

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

Yemen: Still the world's worst humanitarian crisis

We’re only a little more than two weeks into 2020 but the bad news has come thick and fast. Devastating flooding in Jakarta. Catastrophic bushfires in Australia. Rising tensions between the US and Iran.

Every story is important. Every story deserves our attention.

But sometimes, the pace of breaking news is so fast that other, equally important stories be forgotten. Stories like the ongoing war in Yemen.

Woman lost her husband
Nuha* lost her husband in the war. She and her eight children are surviving on support from aid agencies. Photo: Husam Al-Sharmani/YHMA

As the war enters its fifth year, the situation for the Yemeni people remains dire. More than 12,000 civilians have been killed and some 4 million people have had to flee their homes due to the bombing and fighting. Around 24 million people – 80 percent of the population – need emergency aid, while 10 million people are only one step away from famine.

The country’s economy has been shattered. Countless homes, warehouses, farms and vital parts of civilian infrastructure have been destroyed. Basic services, like health or water supply, have collapsed. The flow of food – nearly 90 percent of which had to be imported even before the conflict started – has been massively disrupted by the warring parties.

Prices are continuing to rise, while many of the poorest people have lost their incomes. Parents cannot afford to buy enough food, leaving 2 million children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Around 350,000 of them are under the age of five.

Displaced hungry families
Oxfam is supporting displaced families in this camp by providing clean water, hygiene kits and cash grants. Photo: Oxfam

What has been described by the United Nations as the world’s ‘worst’ humanitarian crisis has also resulted in one of the worst outbreaks of cholera in recent history. Between April 2017 and December 2018, there were over 1.3 million suspected cases and 2,760 associated deaths.There was an increase in suspected cases last year, according to the World Health Organisation, with over 696,500 suspected cases and 913 associated deaths recorded between January and the end of September.

What Oxfam is Doing

Since July 2015, we have helped more than 3 million people in nine governorates of Yemen with clean water and sanitation, cash assistance and food vouchers. We’ve also provided clean water and sanitation to more than one million people, including in hard-to-reach areas of the country, by trucking in water, repairing water systems, delivering filters and jerrycans, as well as building latrines. This included trucking in water to more than 5,000 displaced people living in camps in Khamer and Al Qafla in Amran governorate last year.

Looking back: Forced to flee Boko Haram and facing hunger

By 2016, thousands of people had died due to hunger and malnutrition and experts said that more than 65,000 people were officially classified as suffering from famine in a desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, one of the poorest places on earth.

Those that experienced the most extreme form of hunger were in pockets of northeast Nigeria, mainly in Borno state, which was only accessible to humanitarian agencies following protracted military action to secure areas formerly under the control of Boko Haram. They were part of a humanitarian crisis largely ignored by the international community, which also affected people in Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

 

Oxfam provided life-saving support in Nigeria, Niger and Chad to people who were forced to flee their homes as well as the already impoverished communities in which they were taking shelter. We provided people with desperately needed food as well as clean drinking water and sanitation to protect their health and prevent the spread of disease. And we also called on donors and governments to act to support humanitarian efforts.

BACKGROUND TO THE CRISIS

The crisis across the Lake Chad basin began about ten years ago as a result of the emergence of the group Boko Haram in Nigeria and military operations against it. Violence escalated further, exacerbating an already dire humanitarian situation. It forced at least 2.7 million people to flee their homes, including 1.9 million Nigerians alone, and left over 9 million people in need of help.

Unable to grow or buy food, or access humanitarian aid, millions went hungry. In 2016, 3.8 million people across the Lake Chad Basin region as a whole faced severe hunger. Over 20,000 people were killed and thousands of girls and boys were thought to have been abducted. There were alarming levels of sexual violence, violations of international humanitarian law (the law of armed conflict) and human rights law including the forced recruitment of civilians, even children, as combatants.

Fatima Mohammed* (35) from Nigeria’s Borno State was living among the Kabbar Maila host community. Boko Haram forced their way in to her home and cut her husband’s throat in front of her and her children. She  struggled and was not sure where her children’s next meal was coming from. *Name has been changed to protect identity. Photo: Ibrahim Dung/Oxfam

AFRICA'S DISPLACEMENT CRISIS

The Lake Chad Basin crisis represented Africa’s fastest growing displacement crisis and was the seventh largest internally displaced population in the world in 2016. The conflict caused widespread destruction of vital but already limited infrastructure, such as hospitals, schools, roads, markets and farmland.

Across the region, people were on the move to escape threats to their lives, liberty and other human rights in search of safety and protection. From the start of the conflict in 2009 to 2016, more than 20,000 people were killed as a direct result of the violence. In 2015, around one in every 15 people who died throughout the world as a direct result of violent conflict died in Nigeria. Countless more died or faced permanent disability as a result of hunger, disease and a lack of healthcare, the secondary impacts of war.

Children at the government-run Farm Centre camp in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria. It was a camp established by displaced people themselves when they moved into empty unfinished buildings the government was building for government workers. There were also people living in makeshift shelters, especially those who arrived later on. Oxfam provided water, latrines and sanitation in the camp. Photo: Ibrahim Dung/Oxfam

ZAHRA'S STORY

Zarah Isa* (50) was from Borno State in Nigeria. She and her husband were farmers and grew vegetables. She also collected firewood which she would sell and their children used to go to school.

Caption: Zarah Isa* (50) was from Borno State in Nigeria, one of the worst affected regions. She was forced to flee her village during a Boko Haram attack which saw her husband killed. *Name has been changed to protect identity. Photo: Ibrahim Dung/Oxfam

But in 2013, Boko Haram attacked her village and killed her husband. Unable to bury his body, Zarah was forced to flee with her six children. The oldest child was 12, the rest were aged under 10. They spent one month in the forest. To survive, they drank water from open sources such as streams. Often the water was dirty. For food they relied on leftovers from communities they passed along the way, as well as scavenging for food that had been thrown away. It took them one week of walking through the forest on foot to reach the Kabbar Maila host community in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, where they lived for a period in 2016.

Once in Maiduguri, they asked around for people who came from their community. For two weeks, they lived in a makeshift tent with 10 other internally displaced families and then through local community leaders she was able to find accommodation to rent with a local landlord. In 2016, Zarah lived with her children in a crowded room with a leaking roof. She paid her landlord with money her children brought back from begging, but for three months she didn't have enough to cover the rent.

To feed the family, Zarah’s eldest daughter bought sachets of water from a vendor and hawked them on the streets. If her daughter was unable to make money from selling the water, the family went hungry. When this happened, she sent her daughter and some of her other children to beg for money. Zarah was unable to find work as people didn't want to give jobs to someone her age as they were looking for younger people to do menial jobs. The family was barely able to eat two meals a day. Their meal usually consisted of corn flour or maize and they were unable to afford vegetables or meat.

The local host community opened their arms and were very welcoming. They shared the little they had.

Her biggest need was food. When her children went hungry, it caused her pain. Zarah was unable to go back to her village and home because there was a lack of security there. She had heard that people had gone back and been killed. Her hope is to one day return home so that she and her children can grow food on their land and sustain themselves.

Zarah says: “I don’t like seeing my children go hungry, all I want is food. I am ready to go back home today if the government assures us on security, we can farm our food because we have our farms there.”

A child outside a makeshift shelter at the Farm Centre camp in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria where 13,000 internally displaced families lived after fleeing their homes. Photo: Ibrahim Dung/Oxfam

HOW YOU HELPED

By 2016, Oxfam supported over 250,000 people in Nigeria since we began responding to the crisis in May 2014.

We provided people with desperately needed food as well as clean drinking water and sanitation to prevent the spread of disease.

An Oxfam water tank in the Kabbar Maila community which is hosting displaced people forced to flee their homes. Photo: Ibrahim Dung/Oxfam

We worked in Adamawa, Borno and Gombe states, providing people with emergency food support, clean water and better sanitation, including constructing showers and repairing toilets, and making sure people had areas to wash their hands. We set up community protection groups for women to give them information about access to support facilities if they suffered from sexual violence and exploitation. We distributed food and cooking equipment, as well as provided seeds and tools to help traders and farmers get back on their feet.

In Niger, Oxfam helped over 31,400 people in one year. We installed water systems to make sure people had clean water to drink, as well as distributed essential items such as cooking pots, buckets and water purifying tablets. Elsewhere in Niger, there was massive flooding, and in some regions during the lean season – the time when people are at the end of their food until the next harvest comes – there was desperate hunger.

In 2016, Oxfam responded to the crisis in Chad, with the aim to reach over 30,000 people. We distributed cash and tarpaulins for shelter and provided clean water to people to help prevent the spread of diseases.

Colm Byrne is Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager.

7 Things You Need to Know About Yemen

Yemen is experiencing what the UN describes as the ‘world’s worst’ humanitarian crisis. How many of these seven things did you already know?

 

1. Hunger is rampant.

Two thirds of Yemen's people rely on food aid to survive, and 14 million people are on the brink of famine.

2. A ceasefire is urgent.

Maintaining and expanding the ceasefire in and around Hudaydah is vital to millions of people who are struggling to survive. Yemenis desperately need all parties to the conflict to agree to an immediate countrywide ceasefire and return to negotiations committed to achieving a lasting peace.

3. Peace must be inclusive.

The pursuit of peace needs to be an inclusive political process which includes Yemeni women, youth and civil society, to bring an end to the conflict and suffering.
 
Fatima holds her son’s photo, who was killed by an airstrike when they were trying to find safety away from conflict’s frontlines in Yemen. Photo: VFX ADEN/Oxfam

4. The crisis is entirely man-made, and is being fuelled by arms sales from the US and UK, among others.

The world cannot continue to turn a blind eye to Yemen’s suffering and must stop selling weapons for use in the war.

5. Women and children are hit hardest.

The UN estimates that 3 million women and girls are at risk of gender-based violence. Children and young men have been coerced into joining armed groups, and many girls are forced into early marriage. Families are being forced to make the desperate choice to marry off their girls even as young as three years old to reduce the number of family members to feed, but also as a source of income in order to feed the rest of the family and pay off debts.
 
Oxfam has provided latrines and other humanitarian assistance in hard to reach areas, like this remote village in Al Madaribah district, Lahj governorate, Yemen. Photo: VFX ADEN/Oxfam

6. Oxfam is there.

Since July 2015, working with local and international partners, we have reached 3 million people in Yemen with humanitarian aid. And we've stepped up our work there.

7. We work alongside and through local partners in all areas of our response in Yemen.

This includes water trucking, cholera prevention, repairing water systems and delivering filters and jerry cans. Oxfam also partners with local organizations to campaign for an end to the conflict and an inclusive peace agreement that takes into account the needs and views of women, youth and civil society.
 

How you can help

  • A donation of €50/£40 can give a month's supply of clean and safe drinking and cooking water for families in need
  • A donation of €100/£90 can provide a hungry family with enough money to buy food for three months
  • A donation of €125/£100 can give sanitation to 120 people to stop the spread of life-threatening diseases.
 

5 things you need to know about climate change and hunger

 
60 million people are facing a food crisis but the public has not heard about it. This is roughly the same as the number of refugees in the world, and is also a global phenomenon. But the crisis has not made the headlines because it was a slow, creeping disaster.
 
The 2015/16 ‘super El Niño’, combined with climate change, brought severe droughts and flooding to people in the Horn of Africa, Southern Africa, Central America, Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific.  31.1m people are currently food insecure in the Horn of Africa1.
 

But, what does hunger have to do with climate change? A lot.

 
Pascaline from Pissila community, in Burkina Faso, is growing sorghum. Burkina Faso suffers an extreme, variable climate: the same area can be affected by both flooding and drought within only a few months. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam 
 
 
1. Lost livelihoods:  Recently, harvests and livelihoods have faltered as drought has taken hold across equatorial regions. Right now, 39 million people in Southern Africa2  do not have enough to eat, after drought has devastated several cycles of crops. Without climate adaptation strategies suited to each reality, farmers, fisherfolks and pastoralist communities face a difficult choice: to migrate in search of other livelihood opportunities or to stay and face hunger. 
 
2. Food trade and prices spikes: Even where food exists, extreme events can block main roads, railway tracks, harbors, and food cannot reach markets. Besides, extreme weather events such as the recent “super” El Niño, can wipe out entire harvests and trigger dramatic food price spikes. In July this year, maize prices in Malawi were 192 percent higher than the five-year average, and are expected to continue increasing towards the end of 20163. By 2030, 95% of maize and other coarse grains consumed in sub-Saharan Africa could come from the region itself, meaning that local climatic shocks are likely to have dramatic impacts on local production, prices, and ultimately on consumption.
 
Women in search of water in Hadigala district, Siti Zone, Somali Region. 8th July 2015. Photo: Poon Wai Nang/Oxfam
 
3. Water resources: Ethiopia is suffering its worst drought for 30 years and the search for water has become more desperate: women walk for two to six hours a day just to get water, and people have to dig wells deeper and deeper to access water.
 
4. Nutrition-health: Increased water scarcity due to climate change reduces the capacity to produce food and its quality, which has serious implications for food security, nutrition and health. In Ethiopia alone 9.7 million people are currently in need of emergency food aid. People have no choice other than to cut down on the quantity and variety of the food they eat, leading to malnutrition. Tragically, children are the hardest hit: in particular, climate change is intensifying the threat from the three biggest killers of children – diarrhea, malnutrition, and malaria. 
 
Habodo Gele age 35, with her baby Habiiba* (3 ½ months), and her son Saffi* age 5, at their home in Bisle, Siti zone, Ethiopia. “Until now, the drought has mainly affected animals. Today it is affecting humans. It is scary. We don’t have enough food. We get a bit of help. We are supporting ourselves.“
 
5. Climate change as a driver of inequality: The impact of global warming and extreme weather events will be higher in the developing world. Many climate impacts will be greater in the Tropics and poor countries are least able to adapt to the changes. Women are often the hardest hit, as they are the ones left to tend small farms and families, and have fewer alternative livelihoods when crops are lost. 
 

You can help 

This food crisis shows clearly what happens when we fail to invest enough in helping communities adapt to climate change and to grow and buy enough food in a warming world. Acting early in a drought costs 40% less than acting late4. Funds are urgently needed now to support the most vulnerable communities to build their resilience to the changing climate, and to protect lives now and in the future.

 
Sources
1 - FSNWG monthly update: Food and Nutrition Security Situation as of September 2016.
2 - SADC, Regional Situation update on El Nino-induced drought, issue 3, 24 October 2016. 
3 - FEWSNET, Malawi Food Security Outlook Update, August 2016.
4 - DFID, ‘The Economics of Early Response and Resilience: Summary of Findings’, January 2013.
 

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

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