Hunger Crisis

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

It’s five years since war broke out in Yemen. I will never forget the terror in the eyes of my children.

Written by Manal, a humanitarian worker with Oxfam in Yemen.

When war first escalated in 2015, I was living happily with my family in Taiz city. It saddens me how the city I loved, the city that holds all my memories since I was a child turned into a ghost town full of death and fear overnight.

It all started with a blue spark that lit up the sky and invaded our houses and the rooms in which we silently hid. Then we heard the crack. That was the first missile to hit a building near us. After that, bombs fell everywhere; we thought we’d be next. We tried not to panic but panic was all we could feel.

Ruined houses destroyed by aerial bombardment in the city of Aden. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

The next day myself and my children went to say goodbye to a friend who was taking a trip abroad. We could hear tanks in the streets nearby and the roads were blocked. We got trapped in her house, separated from our families who kept calling to check if we were okay. I will never forget the terror in the eyes of my children.

We were trapped inside the house for three days. I remember the heavy sounds of gun fire and tanks screeching just a few kilometres away. There was no one else with us so we managed to survive with the limited food we had.

“I still remember the fear, oppression and humiliation that day brought. I cried so hard, I cried and cried, all the way back. I was terrified.”

This day was sadly just a sign of what was to come – the feelings of fear, paralysis and vulnerability. Five years later, that feeling of being trapped is one that I and other Yemeni women constantly feel. But what I and others strive to do is fight that feeling and do all that we can to lead, to help others, and to feel hope that this conflict will end, and our lives can return to normal.

At one stage, everything calmed down and people started to feel safe. That was until six missiles hit a nearby mosque destroying it completely. Most of the injured were women and children. While a close relative of mine was helping to rescue the injured, another airstrike took his life. We didn’t even have time to mourn him properly.

We were just one family out of millions forced from our homes and all that home means – family, memories, security, history, love. As Yemenis, we have been forced to live in schools, tents, mosques or with other friends and relatives. The risk of experiencing violence, instability and illness has increased. We are all farther from our support networks and are forced to walk long distances for things like water, food or other resources. A life of displacement feels tenuous.

On the road to seek refuge, I would often close my eyes, allowing my memories to start play in my mind. I would be back with my family, as we gathered on Fridays at my grandfather’s house to eat lunch and then sing and dance with our neighbours until midnight.

I would remember how peaceful life was and how my friends and I had dreamed of the future. We loved adventure. We sometimes camped in nearby villages and mountains, enjoying nature together while sharing our hopes and memories.

All of that seems like a dream now. We still hope to go back home one day, where we belong and where our memories reside. It’s ironic how a single terrible memory of a blue glowing light can bring an end to warm memories.

Manal prepares cash transfers with her Oxfam colleagues. Photo: Oxfam

I now live with my mother, sister and two brothers. My father passed away over 15 years ago. I am the oldest and the only provider for my family. I love them and I try to take care of their needs the best I can. They are my only support in this world and to them I am the same.

As an Oxfam worker, it brings joy to my heart when I see how the aid that we provide helps people smile and brings them hope at a time of displacement and vulnerability.

I have seen a lot during these five years of war, particularly how hard it is for women to survive these circumstances. Many women have become the sole caregivers and breadwinners – a huge burden to bear.

Job opportunities are scarcer and prices have soared, while suffocating social restrictions on women remain. When you are a woman in a country like Yemen, war becomes more difficult with each passing day. The struggle to survive gets harder, especially for the many women who have been forced to depend on men all their lives without proper education or skills to fall back on.

I am sharing my story as one of countless women who deserve more than just recognition.  Women across Yemen are rising every day, doing all they can in difficult conditions to protect their families and their communities. With an education and a good job that fills me with pride, I am one of the lucky ones. Worst-case scenarios for women and girls in Yemen after five years of war includes surviving sexual violence, malnutrition, abuse, early marriage and sometimes death.

Women who fled the Tahiz region of Yemen are now living in a makeshift camp in the countryside. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

The women of Yemen had no hand in this war. All decisions were and are still taken by men. Violence is being perpetrated by men. Women have the strength to act together – to step out of the crowded rooms where we feel vulnerable and paralysed, to lead our families, communities and country. For the days ahead, I call on women to have an equal voice in ending this war and paving the way for a peaceful future for Yemen.

Since the beginning of the conflict in 2015, Oxfam teams have reached more than 3 million people with much-needed sanitation services, clean water, cash assistance and food vouchers. Even as COVID-19 sweeps across the globe, our staff continues to deliver aid, comfort and hope to the people of Yemen. But we need all the help we can get.

Please give what you can today.

Inside East Africa's massive locust infestation

Taking advantage of favourable breeding conditions, locusts hit farmers and herders in areas already reeling from climate shocks.

Desert locust infestations have moved across Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, and are now entering areas of northern Uganda. The insects are also threatening Sudan and South Sudan, and there are reports of locust swarms now in Tanzania.

map of affected areas
Map of affected areas. Credit: UN Food and Agriculture Organization

The desert locust is among the most dangerous migratory pests in the world: A large desert locust plague can contain up to 58 million individuals per square mile, with half a million locusts weighing approximately one ton. One ton of locusts eats as much food in one day as about 10 elephants, 25 camels or 2,500 people.

"We depend on livestock and if there is no fodder for our livestock, life will be difficult for us, we ask for help urgently," said Mohammed Hassan Abdille, a farmer from Bura Dhima in Tana River, Kenya. This is the worst locust crisis in 70 years for Kenya alone.

The locusts have hit the region after countries there were affected by huge droughts and in some areas flash floods. There are currently 22.8m people facing severe food insecurity in these countries following consecutive failed rainy seasons, unusual floods, and storms.

The fast-moving locust swarms have been made worse by the climate crisis because they are feeding on new vegetation, the result of unusual weather patterns. They are devastating pastures and grasslands and could ruin new food crops during the March-to-July growing season.

Oxfam's Response

Oxfam is gearing up its humanitarian operations and will work closely with local partners and communities. Program staff in the region report they aim to reach more than 190,000 of the most vulnerable people with cash assistance, livestock feed, seeds, and health services.

In Somalia, together with local partners, Oxfam intends to assist 11,670 households of the most vulnerable people. In Kenya, Oxfam will work in seven of the 13 affected counties to assist 3,000 households in the first phase of operations, and another 5,000 in the second. In Ethiopia, Oxfam aims to reach another 5,000 households with similar aid. Oxfam will need to secure more than €4.6 million (£3.8 million) to mount this response.

Unusual rains advance breeding

This outbreak has been exacerbated by climate change. Cyclones that struck the Arabian Peninsula last year created ideal conditions for desert locusts to multiply. The swarms crossed to the Horn of Africa, where unusually heavy rains late last year created favorable breeding conditions. Heavy rain leads to growth of vegetation in arid areas, providing locusts with more food, and the conditions needed to develop and reproduce.

You can help Oxfam respond to the locust crisis in East Africa.

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.
 

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