Hunger crisis

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Famine in South Sudan has ceased, but hunger has spread

Written by Corrie Sissons, Oxfam's Food Security and Emergency Livelihoods Coordinator in South Sudan

The recent declaration that famine in South Sudan has been halted was rightly celebrated.  Any steps towards ending the catastrophic humanitarian crisis facing South Sudan are welcome, as the war torn country marked its sixth birthday last Sunday (9th July 2017). 

However, dig deeper than the headlines and it becomes clear that hunger is actually getting worse almost everywhere in the country. How do we applaud the collective effort to end famine including the very generous public donations, yet simultaneously highlight that this does not herald a significant improvement in an ongoing food crisis? Life is more desperate now than ever for millions of people. 

Above: Top Left - Mothers in South Sudan fled their homes with their children to find safety. Photo: Corrie Sissons/Oxfam. Top-right & Bottom - Oxfam has been helping island and mainland communities to set up vegetable gardens both to boost their own diets and to build up their livelihoods. Photo: Tim Bierley/Oxfam

Famine is a technical description, declared if certain specific conditions are observed. But for individuals, hunger is hunger. Just because we call it something else it does not mean that people have enough to eat again or that help is no longer required. People are suffering however it is designated and we still have so much work to do. 

Although things have become less severe in those famine affected areas, the scale of the food crisis across other parts of South Sudan has exploded. Since the famine was declared in February, ongoing conflict and its consequences – people fleeing their homes, economic decline and poor harvests – have left one million more people facing severe food shortages. If predictions are correct, by the end of July 2017, half of the entire South Sudanese population will live without knowing how they can feed their families from one evening to the next. 

There are still approximately 45,000 people who live in what are described ‘famine-like conditions’ in South Sudan. This essentially means conditions are catastrophically bad but the data for the area they live in doesn’t match technical requirements for it to be called a famine. Forced to flee their homes and fields, people have also missed the planting season. Even when they stay, many are too afraid to tend to fields. So seeds do not grow and harvests are smaller and smaller each year that this situation continues. The conflict is not only robbing people of the food on their plates now, but also in the future.

For  example in the former Jonglei state, a recent upsurge in fighting has forced more than 200,000 people from their homes, disrupting lives and obstructing access to the aid when they need it the most. People are walking for days to flee the fighting, with only wild foods to eat along the way.  

Famine and the unacceptable levels of hunger are direct consequences of the decisions made by those with the power to stop the war. As South Sudan marks six years of independence, it is critical that life-saving assistance is combined with diplomatic efforts to bring warring parties back to the table to revive negotiations for peace. It is clear that only real and lasting peace can bring people back from the brink of starvation. Until that happens, we must continue giving vital aid to stop the situation getting even worse.

Right now Oxfam is there in South Sudan, urgently working to get live-saving aid like food and water to those in need, as well as hygiene supplies to stop the spread of deadly disease. It cannot be clearer to those on the ground: South Sudan is not having a moment of respite in its food crisis. Hunger is spiralling out of control. 

Corrie Sissons is Oxfam's Food Security and Emergency Livelihoods Coordinator in South Sudan

 
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Yemen: The story of a war-affected people, strong in the face of adversity

A moving first-hand account of the effects of the conflict Yemen has been suffering over the past few years, but a call to remain hopeful that peace will come.

As the sun rises, covering the rocky mountains with a coat of gold, we are welcomed to Yemen by fishermen and dolphins jumping out of the blue water.

After a 14-hour boat journey from Djibouti, the view of Aden city in the early morning was a magical sight. At first, life in the city looked normal: road dividers were freshly painted, people were chatting while sipping red tea or having breakfast in small restaurants, young people were playing pool in the streets, and taxis were shouting to collect their passengers. However, as we moved into the city, buildings riddled with bullet holes appeared, several residential areas and hotels had collapsed rooves and cars were waiting in long queues for petrol.

Ghodrah and Taqeyah fill their jerry cans from the Oxfam water distribution point in Al-Dukm village, Lahj governorate. Credit: Omar Algunaid/Oxfam

This tableau of contrasts was telling the story of Aden.

The second day after our arrival, we travelled to Lahj with the Aden team. Our conversation kept switching between the work Oxfam does in Aden and other Southern governorates, and the destruction passing before our eyes, a terrible witness of the conflict Yemen has been suffering for the past few years.

OXFAM IS THERE

In such a volatile and insecure environment, Oxfam continues to provide water, improved sanitation and basic hygiene assistance to more than 130,000 affected individuals in Lahj governorate. The team sometimes travels for more than two to three hours to reach the target location. Community engagement is thus key to deliver assistance. Our staff along with community based volunteers consults affected community as well as key leaders to identify the intervention. The affected community not only participates in water supply, sanitation and hygiene promotion activities, but also works closely with host communities to ensure that social harmony is maintained.  

In Lahj, the focus is to rebuild the water supply system to help both displaced people as well as local communities, and Oxfam works with the local water and sanitation authority to ensure the sustainability and viability of the rehabilitated system. Displaced people in these areas used to collect water only once in a week because of the long distances they had to walk to reach the wells. Now, both Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and host communities can access water on a daily basis.

Meeting community members made it clear that war has impacted everyone, and they all share their grief and pain and support each other. The strong bond between displaced people and host communities despite their high level of hardship also indicates that Yemeni people have come a long way through several wars and conflict and are therefore more resilient.

Water tank built by Oxfam in Al-Jalilah village, in Al-Dhale governorate. Credit: Omar Algunaid/Oxfam

HUNGER IS RAMPANT

The impact of war and conflict in Aden and surrounding governorates is very high. More than two million people were affected since the beginning of the crisis. Food insecurity in Lahj, Abyan and Al Dhale is rising.

The tragedy and suffering of Abdullah, a 70-year-old man who had to flee Abyan during the peak of the war, speaks for itself. He does believe that peace will return back to Yemen, but to survive, he had to mortgage his pension card to feed his family. There are many invisible people like him who would like to see peace come back to Yemen so their impoverished lives can improve.

DISPLACEMENT CRISIS

Resilient host communities initially provided spaces to people on the move, but now those displaced have started settling down in barren land areas on their own as well. Water, food and healthcare remain the top three priorities. Hardship has reached such a level that people are willing to mortgage anything and everything they can. Basic services and utilities including water, education and health have been halted to a greater extent and this increases stress on affected communities. 

Oxfam Yemen Country Director, Sajjad Mohammad Sajid, visits the pumping room in Al-Roweed village, as part of the water project Oxfam implemented in the area. Also there, Al-Melah district Manager and members of the water management committee. Credit: Omar Algunaid/Oxfam

FIGHTING CHOLERA

Saleema* is community health volunteer who works with Oxfam and is a true agent for change. She raises awareness with the affected communities on the importance of clean and safe water.  She visits houses and speaks to women, elders and young girls to ensure key health messages are understood and applied. Increasing numbers of young people like Saleema are supporting affected communities to rebuild their lives and to help build social cohesion. 

RESILIENCE IN THE FACE OF DARKNESS

As we returned from Lahj, the smell and taste of Mindi (local chicken and rice meal) and local paratha (wheat based chapati) reminded us that the Yemeni are resilient, standing strong in the face of adversity.

As the Apollo boat departed Aden after sunset, with the noise of waves gushing in and the darkness setting in, we remembered that a beautiful sunrise would welcome us upon arrival at our next destination. We remain hopeful that peace will arise in Yemen after the war’s darkness.

Please help us support people facing famine in Yemen and beyond by donating to our hunger crisis appeal.

Sajjad Mohammad Sajid, Oxfam Yemen’s Country Director.

*Name changed to protect identity.

Yemen is in the grip of a runaway cholera epidemic that is killing one person nearly every hour and if not contained will threaten the lives of thousands of people in the coming months. We're calling for a massive aid effort and an immediate ceasefire to allow health and aid workers to tackle the outbreak.

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Somaliland: a day in the life of a dedicated, small-town doctor

Jama Abdi Abdile is a roving physician in a small village in Somaliland, who does not allow limited access to medication and inadequate facilities to hinder his patient care.

Jama Banner, a doctor in Somaliland

Jama Abdi Abdile, a doctor in Gawsawayne, Somaliland, makes do with what he can to treat his patients, many whom are suffering from malnutrition. Photo: Allan Gigichi/Oxfam

Small-town doctors have the unenviable task of making house calls at odd hours to treat patients with all sorts of maladies, often operating as one-person medical teams. It’s a tough job no matter where you live, but even more complicated when there are no clinical facilities for miles and your access to medication is limited. These are the conditions under which Jama Abdi Abdile, 43, a roving doctor in Gawsawayne, Somaliland, practises.

Somaliland is suffering from a massive food crisis, part of a humanitarian emergency that is touching nearly 30 million lives in Somalia, Nigeria, Yemen, and South Sudan. Across the Somaliland region, water levels have rapidly declined and widespread loss of livestock is devastating communities that depend upon them for milk, meat, and to earn a livelihood. 

Gawsawayne lacks a health centre and essential health services. Abdile is the only trained medical professional in his village, so his home doubles as his office. “This is a family home,” he says. “There is no dedicated health centre with all its facilities and separated care rooms.”

Mainly, he travels from house to house visiting patients and treating them with medications he has stockpiled in his home. Currently, there are 177 malnutrition cases, including pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, in his village. Every month, he reports, the number of cases has increased. In March, there were 84 people suffering from malnutrition in his town, mostly children.

“We have never been this busy,” he says. “There is constant pressure now and we have no transportation to go around and visit patients. There are so many difficulties, but I try to do what I can.”

The first week of April brought some relief. Oxfam began trucking clean water to households in the Sanaag region, including Gawsawayne. Now his village receives over 15,000 litres of water every day. The clean water has enabled Abdile to do his job more effectively.

Follow along as he walks us through a day in his life, gathering water, mixing medications, and visiting with patients.

Collecting clean water from Oxfam

Photo: Allan Gichicgi/Oxfam

Abdile collects clean water from an Oxfam-supplied water truck. Before Oxfam arrived, Abdile’s community sourced their water from a shallow spring that had grown filthy. An Oxfam Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) engineer called it the most contaminated water supply he has seen in 20 years of working for Oxfam.

Fighting dehyfration

Photo: Allan Gichicgi/Oxfam

Abdile mixes water with oral rehydration salts (ORS) syrup, which is used to fight dehydration.

“The Oxfam water has helped the whole community,” he says. “The health service takes a big chunk of this water. The mineral water we were using was from a faraway place and cost us a lot of money. It was difficult to mix with the syrup. The water provided by Oxfam is given to us free of charge. We are mixing up the ORS and everyone is drinking it.”

Providing life-saving medicine in Somaliland

Photo: Allan Gichicgi/Oxfam

Abdile sorts through the medications he stores at home. He notes that the water has made it easier for patients to swallow their medications. With villagers now drinking and cooking with clean water, he hopes that they are less likely to become ill.

Protecting the most vulnerable in Somaliland

Photo: Allan Gichicgi/Oxfam

Abdile checks on Zaymid Mohammad, 25. She is seven months pregnant with her ninth child and has been feeling tired and weak. The majority of Abdile’s patients are women and children. “Mothers and children are most vulnerable to diseases,” he says. “When people have immune deficiency, which is related to a lack of food and nutrition, they are vulnerable to all sorts of diseases.”

A devastating food crisis is threatening the lives of 30 million people across East Africa, Yemen and north-east Nigeria. We have already reached thousands of people with food, water, sanitation and support – but many more urgently need our help.