Long-term development

  • We work with communities to tackle the causes of poverty through a combination of hands-on expertise, financial investment and education. In addition, we give people a voice to speak out against the laws, actions and policies that keep them in poverty.

World Environment Day 2021: See how one farming community is defending itself against climate change

Sarah in her field in Nyanyadzi, Chimanimani, Zimbabwe. She has been farming for 25 years and in that time, changing weather patterns have affected her crop yields. Photo: Cynthia Matonhodze/Oxfam

One of the key messages of this year’s World Environment Day is that we cannot turn back time. We can, however, be the generation that makes peace with nature and make the kinds of changes that can not only ensure our survival, but that of our planet. As we prepare to mark World Environment Day this Saturday 5 May, we meet a farmer in Zimbabwe who reveals how an Oxfam initiative helped build resilience against the effects of changing rainfall patterns…

 

Sarah (55) is a farmer in Nyanyadzi, Chimanimani, Zimbabwe. For nearly 25 years, her livelihood has been at the mercy of changing weather patterns, as shifting rainfall patterns have resulted in major fluctuations in her harvests.

Where we expect it to rain [in October or November], it doesn’t rain so what we have planted doesn’t grow well because the rain hasn’t come as expected.

In 2000, Tropical Cyclone Eline, one of the strongest storms to hit south-eastern Africa, damaged the main canals on the north bank of the Nyanyadzi River, which Sarah and her family rely on to irrigate their land.

“We woke up to a field full of sand with all the crops gone,” she says. After the storm, the canals were covered with silt. To gain access to water, farmers had to shovel the canals out.

Since then, people in Nyanyadzi have been vulnerable to weather extremes, from frequent heavy rain to prolonged drought. At times, Sarah says, she has gone a month and a half without water.

Sarah is a widow and the sole provider of income and care for her children. What her family eats comes from her fields, so if her harvest is damaged, they might not be able to eat.

Sarah checks the water level at the Nyanyadzi River. Photo: Cynthia Matonhodze/Oxfam

It’s not just the crops that are affected, I wake up every day and say that I am going to work so that I can send my children to school... While I am working, I will be hoping that the crops I plant grow well, so that my children can survive, go to school, and have something to eat.

Adapting agriculture practices that protect farmers from the harmful effects of climate change

In 2014, Oxfam and partner organisations implemented Scaling up Adaptation in Zimbabwe, a project to support rural farming communities and build climate resilience. Sarah and members of her community received lessons in water management and irrigation infrastructure, including training in gabion basket-making (gabions are structures that control erosion) and construction of gully plugs (small dams that help conserve soil moisture) and silt traps. This new set-up stopped silt from moving into canals.

Now, with the canals functioning as they should, Sarah can do her job. She points out that there were no breakdowns or water shortages this year.

Sarah sells her tomatoes at the market. Photo: Cynthia Matonhodze/Oxfam

When Cyclone Idai devastated southern Africa in 2019, Sarah was mostly spared. She lost some land when the Odzi River flooded, but she considers herself lucky compared to the damages to property and loss of life others had to endure. However, the pipe that collects water was swept away. This issue has yet to be fixed. Without support, Sarah says it will have an effect on the community’s ability to secure water.

I am good farmer. If I get enough water, and I have my inputs, I really have a good farming season.

The climate crisis is affecting people in every country on every continent, but it is those with the fewest resources – like farmers in Sarah’s community – who are enduring its harshest affects. By the 2030s, large parts of Southern, Eastern, and the Horn of Africa, and South and East Asia will experience greater exposure to droughts, floods, and tropical storms.

Along with our partners, we are working with communities vulnerable to climate change, providing them with the vital adaptation techniques they need to continue to feed their families and earn an income. 

Historic climate win in French court as law rules in favour of Oxfam and partners

The people have had their say – and in this case, it was the people of France.

In December 2018, four NGOs – including Oxfam France – launched a legal action against the French government for failing to cut the country’s emissions fast enough to meet its climate commitments.

The four organisations were backed by a record 2.3 million people, all of whom had signed a petition supporting the action.

Now a French court has found in favour of the plaintiffs, agreeing that the country’s political leaders have failed to take adequate action to tackle the climate crisis.

This marks the first time that the French state has been taken to court over its climate responsibilities – and the decision leaves the government open to lawsuits from French citizens who have suffered climate-related damage.

It could also force the French government to take further steps to cut its emissions.

Other countries, including Ireland, have already brought similar cases to court. In June 2020, Friends of the Irish Environment took the Irish government to the Supreme Court for failing to take adequate action on climate change – and won.
Climate Case Ireland was the first case of its kind in Ireland and only the second case in the world in which the highest national court of law required a government to revise its national climate policy in light of its legal obligations.

Michael McCarthy Flynn, Head of Policy and Advocacy at Oxfam Ireland, said:
“As our own Supreme Court has already put the Irish government on notice for failing to take adequate action on climate change, in a similar case, it is essential that the new Climate Change Bill currently going through the Oireachtas is robust enough."

- Michael McCarthy Flynn, Head of Policy and Advocacy at Oxfam Ireland
Ireland’s win followed that of the Urgenda Climate Case in the Netherlands in December 2019, when the country’s Supreme Court upheld previous decisions that the Dutch government had a duty to urgently and significantly reduce emissions in line with its human rights obligations. Climate change litigation is increasingly seen as a way to influence policy, according to a 2019 report by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. The report, co-published by the London School of Economics and Political Science, revealed that more than 1,300 climate cases have been filed in at least 28 countries, with governments cited as the main defendant in over 80 percent of cases.
Back in France, the government’s proposed climate law is, by its own admission, not enough to achieve its target of cutting emissions by 40 percent by the end of this decade. Even this target is not enough to put the country on track to tackle the climate crisis, Oxfam France said.
“For the first time, a French court has ruled that the State can be held responsible for its climate commitments. This sets an important legal precedent and can be used by people affected by the climate crisis to defend their rights.

“This is a source of hope for the millions of French people who demanded legal action, and for all of those who continue to fight for climate justice around the world. It is also a timely reminder to all governments that actions speak louder than words.”

- Oxfam France
The French government now has two months to appeal the court’s decision. While the four NGOs have asked the court to order the state to take extra measures to fulfil its climate commitments, the court has reserved its decision until later in the spring, allowing for further discussions between the two parties.
Oxfam launched the legal action because the climate crisis is fuelling poverty, hunger and inequality around the world. Often it is the poorest countries that have contributed least to the crisis that pay the highest price. In September 2020, Oxfam revealed that the richest one percent of people produce more than double the emissions of the poorest half of the world population combined.

Cyclone Idai: One year on, communities are still suffering

Cyclone Idai made landfall on 14th March 2019, destroying livelihoods and homes across southern Africa. Today, hundreds of thousands of people in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique are still suffering the consequences of one of the worst cyclones to hit Africa.

Maria, 31, with her six children with their only belongings sheltering from the rain by the side of the road. Photo: Elena Heatherwick/Oxfam

A new Oxfam briefing, After the Storm, reveals that thousands of people in Mozambique and Zimbabwe are still living in destroyed or damaged homes and makeshift shelters, with an estimated 8.7 million people in desperate need of food as a result of extreme weather events and localised conflict. Critical infrastructure including roads, water supplies, and schools remain in disrepair, making it even more difficult for people to access vital services or get back to work.

A toxic combination of factors – including an intensifying cycle of floods, drought and storms; deep rooted poverty and inequality; a patchy humanitarian response; and the lack of support for poor communities to adapt to changing climate or recover from disaster – have increased people’s vulnerability and made it harder for people to recover.

Flooded shops and homes in Lamego district, Mozambique as of February 2020. Photo: Elena Heatherwick/Oxfam

Virginia Defunho, a farmer who lives in Josina Machel village in Mozambique with her husband and seven children, lost everything in the cyclone - their home, crops, chickens and most of their possessions. She replanted her fields in December, but her crops were damaged by another severe flood this January. Oxfam’s partner Kulima is providing Virginia with tools and seeds to plant again on a rented plot on higher ground.

“The hardest thing now is the lack of food. Sometimes I go to bed hungry. The child cries, wanting something to eat, and it makes me feel angry sometimes, because the child is crying because he wants food and there is nothing to give.

Amelia (right) and Virginia (left) have been neighbours since 1996. They cannot farm where they live any more because of frequent flooding so they are renting plots on higher ground to grow crops using the seeds provided. Photo: Elena Heatherwick/Oxfam

“Idai has destroyed my mind. I have a child who has succeeded to grade ten, but I don't have the money to pay for him to enrol back at school. If life was normal, I would have some crops to sell and I would get some money and my child would be back at school.   

“We are worried about the future because we don't know if the weather is going to be like this or if it will change back to normal like it was before. We worry about another cyclone coming. If it comes a second time, what will our lives be? How is it going to be?”

Oxfam raised funds to assist people across Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe in the aftermath of the cyclones. With our partners, we provided emergency assistance such as food aid, blankets and hygiene kits; installed latrines and water pumps in temporary camps; and helped raise awareness of issues such as gender-based violence - which often spikes after a disaster. In the long term, Oxfam is working with communities to help them adapt in the face of a changing climate – for example by helping smallholder farmers diversify their crops and adapt their farming techniques.

Cyclone Idai is just one of many extreme weather events to have hit southern Africa in recent years. Despite the escalating climate crisis, poor communities are not getting the help they need to adapt, and world leaders have failed to ensure a dedicated global fund to help countries rebuild from the loss and damage caused by climate fuelled disasters.

Donate now to support Oxfam’s work in southern Africa and beyond.

Oxfam among finalists for EU's €1m Blockchains for Social Good prize

At Oxfam Ireland, we have our eyes on the prize – the prize being a €1 million award for an EU competition entitled Blockchains for Social Good. Our innovative UnBlocked Cash Project was one of just 24 projects picked from 178 applications for the finals. Last week, Oxfam staff and our technology partners – Sempo and ConsenSys – delivered their pitch to a jury in Brussels, with the winners to be announced in the coming weeks.

Oxfam staff and representatives from ConsenSys and Sempo recently presented their findings of the project.

The project uses a decentralised platform to improve the delivery of cash aid in emergencies, allowing us to make transfers in the form of vouchers to communities caught up in disasters. What’s different, however, is that these are blockchain-powered smart vouchers, making it easier and faster to get aid to the areas where it’s needed most.

This suite of blockchain-based, stable cryptocurrencies enables efficient cross-border transactions. It is also fixed to the price of the local currency to enable people to spend as they would in their local shops and markets.

Local store owner Melika at her store with a customer using the blockchain-powered technology. Photo: Keith Parsons/OxfamAUS

The project has been piloted in the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu, where users have shown not only is it a speedy and efficient way of transferring vouchers in an emergency, but also how the smart system updates in real time. This helps to reduce the number of resources needed to be devoted to transparency, accounting and monitoring.

Sandra Hart from Oxfam in Vanuatu described the island nation as being “the most, or the second most, disaster-prone country in the world. Because it’s a country of over 80 islands, disaster assistance takes ages to get to people. We did a nationwide study and the average time it took for people to receive assistance after a disaster was four weeks or more.”

Oxfam's Pacific Cash and Livelihood Lead Sandra Hart. Photo: Keith Parsons/OxfamAUS

But with the help of the blockchain pilot, Oxfam was able to deliver cheques to more than 13,000 volcano-affected households between December and March. “They… didn’t have to go through the process of lining up for a bag of rice,” said Sandra. “They were able to go shopping right away in their local markets.

“The key one for us, is that this will greatly reduce the timeframe, not just to deliver disaster assistance in Vanuatu, but to deliver vouchers… For the first time in Vanuatu, a community is familiar with a disaster relief system, familiar with a whole distribution system, meaning they are now well placed to design their own response and participate in that process. We really have community and tech-driven disaster assistance in the preparedness phase before something happens.”

Pages