Policy and Advocacy

West Africa: Extreme inequality in numbers

Disheveled boy carries plates
Northern Ghana has poverty levels two to three times higher than the national average. The region is covered by dry savannah land and lacks key infrastructure such as roads and markets. Credit: Adam Patterson/Oxfam

West Africa has had an impressive economic growth in the past two decades. In 2018, the region was home to six of the top 10 fastest growing economies in Africa: Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Benin and Niger.

However, for the majority of countries, the benefits of this unprecedented economic growth went to a tiny few. Today, inequality has reached extreme levels in the region. The rich have grown richer while the poor have become even poorer. The region has also the least public health care coverage and the least populations with access to water and decent education.

Let’s look at the numbers

1% Compared to other regions on the continent, West Africa has the greatest number of countries with more than 30 percent of the population living on less than $1.90 (€1.72/£1.48) a day. The top one percent West Africans own more than everyone else combined in the region.

$1.25 Five of Nigeria’s richest men have a combined wealth of US$29.9 billion (€27.1 billion/£23.2 billion) – more than the country’s entire national budget for 2017. However, about 60 percent of its citizens live on less than US$1.25 (€1.13/£0.97) a day, the threshold for absolute poverty.

1 M In Ghana, West Africa’s second biggest economy, one of the richest men earns more in a month than one of the poorest women could earn in 1,000 years. In the decade ending in 2016, the country added 1,000 US dollar millionaires while nearly one million more people were added to the poverty pool.

Girl smiles in mothers arms
West Africa has high rates of child marriage. Niger, Mali and Nigeria are home to the highest number of children married before 18 years in Africa. Credit: Laeïla Adjovi/Oxfam

$9.6 BN West Africa countries lose an estimated $9.6 billion (€8.7 billion/£7.5 billion) each year through corporate tax incentives offered to multinational companies. This would be enough to build about 100 modern and well-equipped hospitals each year in the region.

70% Inequality is also rife in the provision of public services such as education. Women from rich families in Mali are 15 times more likely to have received a secondary education than women from poor families. An estimated 70 percent of the poorest girls in Niger have never attended primary school.

3.5% In Nigeria, women constitute between 60 percent and 79 percent of the rural labour force but they are 10 times less likely to own their own land than men. They represent only 3.5 percent of the population owning farmland in the country. This level of inequality has negative impacts on women, including making them more vulnerable to gender-based violence.

How committed are West African governments to reducing inequality?

While a small but growing group becomes fantastically rich, a clear majority of West Africa’s citizens are denied the most essential elements of a dignified life like access to quality education, healthcare and decent jobs. Yet the West African governments are much less committed to reducing inequality than all other regions of the African continent.

The Oxfam’s Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index (CRII) regional report, which ranks countries according to their commitment to tackle inequality, reveals that the West African’s governments are exacerbating inequality by underfunding public services, such as healthcare and education, while under-taxing corporations and the wealthy.

Without radically increasing their commitment to reduce inequality, this crisis is likely to worsen. It’s time for West African governments to act decisively. Unless they significantly close the gap between the richest and the rest, ending extreme poverty will remain a dream.

Oxfam calls for international community urgent action to prevent humanitarian crisis in North-East Syria

Oxfam Ireland launches emergency appeal for North-East Syria

Oxfam is calling for urgent action from the international community to do all in their power to ensure that the humanitarian situation in north-east Syria does not worsen further.

Oxfam Ireland has also now launched an emergency appeal for public donations, following on from the aid agency’s announcement that it is providing new funding for the unfolding and ongoing humanitarian crisis.

Amid news reports of an increasingly chaotic situation and escalating humanitarian concerns following the US withdrawal from north-eastern Syria, and Turkey’s offensive, Oxfam is primarily concerned for the safety, security and rights of the civilians caught in the middle.

Oxfam is calling on all sides to protect civilians, adhere to international humanitarian law and to allow full access to aid.

Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager Colm Byrne, recently returned from Syria, said: “As concerns continue to raise for the humanitarian consequences of on-going hostilities, we re-iterate the need for the international community to respond.

“For too long, the conflict in Syria has risked becoming a forgotten crisis and the world can no longer stand idly by. Urgent action is needed to prevent potentially dire consequences for families and children who find themselves once again caught up in deadly violence. All children must be protected and provided humanitarian assistance.

“With an ongoing major crisis in Idlib and huge needs across the country, the aid response in Syria is already stretched to breaking point.

“This latest violence is compounding the suffering of civilians in Syria – nine years after the crisis began. Before this latest escalation in conflict 12 million people needed humanitarian aid and 300,000 have already lost their lives.

“The security situation in the area is already fragile, with tens of thousands of fighters and their families being held in camps and detention centres.

“An estimated 450,000 people live within 3 miles of the Syria-Turkey border and are at risk if all sides do not exercise maximum restraint and prioritize the protection of civilians. According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there are at least 1,650,000 people in need of humanitarian assistance in north-east Syria. The population includes more than 90,000 internally displaced people, who have already been forced to flee their homes at least once in Syria’s unrelenting war.

“Oxfam is on the ground, already helping over one million people in Syria with aid including clean water, cash and essential clothing items. Those now forced to flee are facing a winter of dreadful conditions with little means to survive it – they urgently need food, water, clothing, warm blankets, stoves and fuel. As winter approaches and the conflict escalates we urgently need to continue our live-saving work to reach even more women, children and men in desperate need.”

People wishing to support Oxfam’s emergency appeal for Syria can donate online via www.oxfamireland.org/syria-appeal, or through Oxfam Ireland’s network of 47 retail shops across the island. To find the Oxfam shop nearest to you, visit www.oxfamireland.org/shops .

ENDS

Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager Colm Byrne, recently returned from Syria, is available for interview. For more information please contact:

Phillip Graham on 00 44 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfam.org

NOTES TO EDITORS

  • In 2018/19, Oxfam in Syria helped over 1.2 million people with aid including clean water, cash, essential clothing items, and support to help make a living and grow nutritious food. In Lebanon and Jordan, Oxfam has to date helped some 300,000 people affected by the Syria crisis.

Omar* (27 years old), Fatima* and their 2-year-old son. Photo Credit: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

New Shocking Facts About the Impact of Fast Fashion on our Climate

 

Our planet is in serious trouble and our nation’s addiction to new clothes is doing more harm than you may think.

Half a tonne of clothing every minute is dumped into a landfill in Ireland. That amount produces over 12 tonnes of carbon emissions – the same as driving 65,000 kilometres in a car.

Buying just one white cotton shirt produces the same amount of emissions as driving 56 kilometres in a car. 

Earlier this year, 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg stood up in front of world leaders at Davos to deliver a chilling wake up call. “We are facing a disaster of unspoken sufferings for enormous amounts of people.”

 
 
Greta sparked a wake-up call across the globe demanding drastic change to save our planet and in turn, ourselves. We’re all feeling the effects of the climate emergency, but it is not affecting us all equally.
 
The world’s poorest people have contributed the least to the climate crisis, yet are suffering the full force of its impacts – increased flooding, droughts and storms destroying lives, homes, jobs, livestock and crops.
 
When Greta said, “our house is on fire” she wasn’t wrong. We are seeing unprecedented wild fires spreading across the Amazon rainforest, the lungs of our planet, producing 20% of the world’s oxygen.
Greenland’s ice sheet is melting so fast it has caused global sea levels to rise 0.5mm in just one month. Our planet is in serious trouble.
 
But things could be different. As Greta pointed out “The main solution is so simple that even a small child can understand. We have to stop our emissions of greenhouse gases.”
 
Obvious actions stand out – flying less, driving less, taking more public transport. But how about buying fewer new clothes? With the global textile industry producing more greenhouse gas emissions than international aviation and shipping combined – it could be a more important change than we think.
 
Help raise awareness of how damaging our shopping habits can be by sharing the graphic below on your social channels.
 
 
 
 
 

The Rohingya crisis: a matter of life and death

On 25 August 2017, the Myanmar military began a brutal crackdown on Rohingya communities causing more than 700,000 people to flee to Bangladesh. Since then, refugees having been living in camps and Bangladesh communities with little hope for the future. Refugee and Bangladeshi communities are intertwined, and harmony between them is essential for the security and peace of mind. Elizabeth Hallinan, Oxfam’s Advocacy Manager in the Rohingya crisis explains why we must move beyond the emergency response in Bangladesh and give people better infrastructure and the chance to earn and learn.

For over a year, I have been working in the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar where I have seen the refugee and host communities settle into a life together. One member of the Bangladeshi host community with a keen sense of history is Abu Jahed from the Teknaf area. His life story demonstrates the intertwined histories of Rakhine and Cox’s Bazar. 

Abu Jahed at his home in the Teknaf area. Photo credit: Mutasim Billah/Oxfam

Situated between the Bay of Bengal to the west and the Naf River to the east, Teknaf is a peninusula with paddy fields and river embankments from where you can see beyond to the high green hills of Myanmar. Two years ago, Bangladeshi villagers watched smoke rising from these hills and prepared themselves for the new arrivals. 

Safety in Bangladesh

Abu Jahed remembers those early days: “We could see the smoke of their burning houses from here.  They came, crossing the river – can you see how big that river is to cross? Many of them died doing so. Those that made it here had nothing – no food, no water, and barely dressed. I went to the main road to invite them to my house.”

This was not the first time refugees from Myanmar braved the Naf River to arrive here. The Government of Bangladesh currently hosts more than 912,000 refugees (https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/70585): about 710,000 of whom came in 2017, but about 200,000 have been here longer, since conflict in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Refugees have come to Bangladesh, searching for safety, about a dozen times since Myanmar became a country in 1948.

The fight over natural resources

Like many places in Teknaf, refugees landing in Abu Jahed’s village, arrived quite literally in the host community’s backyards. They put up shelters in paddy fields, chopped down precious jungle forest, crowded the water pumps.

“We, the local people, are dependent on three things – the forest, the land and the river.  These people have chopped down our forest, they have taken our land, and now even the army does not let us cross the river for fishing and trade. You can see why people say that the Rohingya took everything from us. In no time at all, we were quarrelling.”

Poverty and limited social services

Cox’s Bazar is the second poorest district in Bangladesh; the host community was struggling even before the latest arrivals.  There are about 335,000 Bangladeshis, and nearly three times that many refugees. The strain is undeniable. 

I asked Abu Jahed why he decided to take people in?

“Let me tell you something about me,” he says.  “In 1971, during the Bangladesh Liberation War, I myself was a refugee in Myanmar. I was 10 years old when we woke in the night to find our houses burning, and we made the awful journey to Myanmar to save our lives. People there took us in. We had nothing, but we were safe there.

“To this day, we are very thankful to them and now feel a responsibility to pay them back for this kindness.”

Repaying the kindness

Many host community members have expressed this kind of sentiment to me.  Some were themselves displaced in the 1970s, others felt a bond with fellow Muslims or said that helping the refugees just seemed like the right thing to do. While many local community members expressed empathy for the refugees, they also see that the sheer scale of the new population is a larger issue.

Abu Jahed put it like this: “Let me tell you a story… Some boys were playing by a river where some frogs were floating. The boys started throwing stones at the frogs, when a passing village elder asked the boys what they were doing. ‘We are playing,’ they answered. Listening to the boys’ reply, the frogs called out, ‘Throwing stones at us might be a game for you, but our lives are at risk.’ The Rohingya people and the people of Cox’s Bazar are like the frogs of the story. The world is playing with us. This situation is a game for them, but for the hosts and the refugees living in these conditions it is a matter of life and death.”

Refugees need legal status

Refugees in Bangladesh do not have legal status, so they cannot work, move freely around the country or access a formal education.

This presents a huge problem, explained Abu Jahed: “It is undeniable that education is a must for everyone. If the government can find a way to support their education without causing more problems for us, everyone could support that. Otherwise, what can we expect of the next generation growing up in conditions where their rights are violated, and they have no proper education? We can’t expect anything good.”

International support is urgent

The Government of Bangladesh is under a huge amount of pressure to provide for the refugee population, while also managing the legitimate frustrations of the local communities hosting them.

It is a delicate line to walk, and Bangladesh needs support from countries around the world to continue to develop Cox’s Bazar.  For 2019, the response has only 36% of the funding it needs to help these communities [https://fts.unocha.org/appeals/719/summary].

Myanmar also needs to take steps to address the root causes of the conflict. It must implement the Rakhine Advisory Commission Recommendations, including equal access to  to citizenship for Rohingya while putting an end to movement restrictions and other discriminatory policies [http://www.rakhinecommission.org/the-final-report/].

Listen to the people

Abu Jahed told me, “I would urge our government and other countries to put pressure on Myanmar, so that they stop this and listen to what Rohingya people want to say. They are asking for their citizenship, nothing else. If Myanmar does not listen then the world should come forward to help Bangladesh.

“Remember the story I shared? It might be a game for them, but we are risking our lives.”

Oxfam has been working with Rohingya refugees since the beginning of the crisis. We have supported more than 266,000 people, providing them with clean drinking water, latrines, sanitation and hygiene, fresh food vouchers, lighting, and protection programs. Oxfam also works with host communities providing protection and livelihood opportunities. We advocate at the highest levels for the rights of refugees in Bangladesh and communities impacted by conflict in Myanmar. Oxfam will continue to support refugees, working with national and international partners, to ensure that everyone’s rights are respected and that they have access to basic services while working towards durable solutions to this crisis.  

 

Time for G7 to End the War in Yemen

On 9 August 2018, a 500lb GBU-12 Paveway II laser guided bomb was dropped by the Royal Saudi Air Force on a school bus in Dahyan, Sa-ada Governorate of northern Yemen killing 40 boys aged between six and eleven. They were on a trip, excited, playing together, seemingly happy despite the war that has dominated their lives for over four years. [1] 11 adults were also killed. This brutal act was one of over 50 attacks on civilian vehicles recorded by Human Rights Watch in Yemen during 2018.[2,3]  
 
This is part of a pattern in four years of war where civilians have borne the brunt of the fighting. The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED)[4]  reports nearly 4,500 direct civilian targeting events resulting in approximately 11,700 reported civilian fatalities since March 2015. Over 8000 of those civilian casualties come from airstrikes launched by Saudi Arabia and its allies in the war on Houthi rebel forces.[5]  
 
And it’s not just the bombs. Imports of food, fuel and other goods have fallen because of the fighting. Access to food aid is difficult, and prices in markets have risen greatly because of the war. Save the Children estimated last year that 85,000 Yemeni children may have died of starvation since 2015 – far more than have been killed by guns or bombs.[6]  Cholera has killed over 2500 people in Yemen, and 58% of those victims were children.[7]  Clean water is barely available in Yemen as airstrikes have destroyed water purification and piping stems. These casualties are as much victims of the war as those killed directly by the fighting.
 
Being careless as to whether civilians are hurt by military action isa serious violation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), and deliberately targeting civilians is a war crime, and western governments that back the Saudi-UAE-led Coalition say the Saudis are investigating such incidents. But by 2018, out of thousands of attacks, the Coalition Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) created to investigate such bombings said it had looked at only 79.  [8]Worse, in 2015, the Coalition had declared Sa-ada, a city home to 100,000 civilians one giant military target, something that was raised before the UK Court of Appeal in the case relating to the illegality of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia under the Arms Trade Treaty and UK law.
 
Destruction of civilian houses that were hit during airstrike raids in Sana’a. Photo Credit: Bassam Al-Thulaya / Oxfam Yemen
 
And that’s the crux of the matter. The G7 nations (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States) who meet this month sell tens billions of dollars’ worth of arms each year to Saudi coalition members. The US is the biggest supplier, with major coalition partners. 
 
Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt receiving some $19.5bn in arms deliveries from the US since 2015. [9]  The UK has licensed well over £5.3bn in arms sales to Saudi Arabia alone since 2015. Even a relatively small player like Canada sold CAN$1.2bn to Saudi Arabia in 2018, with a massive CAN$15bn contract for armoured vehicles pending. 
 
It’s not just the bombs, planes and other arms, The UK, through both Ministry of Defence and major contractor BAE Systems retains over 7000 personnel in Saudi Arabia, supporting and maintaining the Royal Saudi Air Force.[10]  Under contracts and agreements that date back to the 1980s, UK personnel maintain planes and support military operations. The government denies knowledge of what is going on, maintaining an arm’s length relationship despite years of war crimes committed by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. Since 2008 British personnel have not directly loaded bombs onto planes for combat operations, but oversee and support Saudi personnel to do this. They also service the planes which need continuous maintenance to remain operational. According to UK civil servants and BAE Systems personnel,  the coalition “, absolutely depend on BAE Systems” and, if the outside support stopped,  couldn’t continue the war after “seven to fourteen days”.  
 
So egregious are the breaches and violations of IHL that Germany (a partner with the UK in building Tornado and Typhoon aircraft used by Saudi Arabia) has withdrawn support for the export of spare parts to the Saudis. The highest Belgian court has ruled 20 arms export licences to Saudi Arabia illegal. The Italian Parliament has voted to stop sales to Saudi Arabia. The UK Court of Appeal has also ruled UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia illegal. 
 
The G7 nations claim to lead the world, they will undoubtedly deplore the continuing fighting and human suffering in Yemen. But the stark truth is that without them the war would have been over years ago. While they continue to fuel the conflict there is no chance that peace can prevail, and Yemenis of all ages will continue to the price of this with their lives.
 

[1] https://edition.cnn.com/2018/08/13/middleeast/yemen-children-school-bus-strike-intl/index.html

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/19/us-supplied-bomb-that-killed-40-children-school-bus-yemen

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/16/yemen-school-bus-bombing-one-of-50-strikes-on-civilian-vehicles-this-year

[4] See more detail at https://www.acleddata.com/?s=Yemen.

[5] https://www.acleddata.com/2019/06/18/press-release-yemen-war-death-toll-exceeds-90000-according-to-new-acled-data-for-2015/

[6] McKernan, Bethan (21 November 2018). "Yemen: up to 85,000 young children dead from starvation". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 November 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/21/yemen-young-children-dead-starvation-disease-save-the-children

[7] Federspiel F, Ali M (December 2018). "The cholera outbreak in Yemen: lessons learned and way forward". BMC Public Health (Review). 18 (1): 1338. doi:10.1186/s12889-018-6227-6. PMC 6278080. PMID 30514336

[8] https://theintercept.com/2018/08/24/yemen-airstrikes-saudi-us-coalition/

9 Figures from securityassistance.org

10 https://www.mikelewisresearch.com/RSAFfinal.pdf

Yemen War - 1000 Child Casualites in a Year

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