Press Releases

Oxfam Ireland boosts response to COVID-19 in Gaza Strip with funding from Irish Aid

Oxfam Ireland is working to make sure families in Gaza remain protected

On March 5th, the Palestinian Authority declared a state of emergency in response to the first cases of novel coronavirus (Covid-19). With two million people living in the Gaza Strip - one of the most densely populated areas of the world - the risk of transmission is unavoidably high, while the result would be unimaginably devastating.

On March 21st, the first two cases of Covid-19 were detected in the Gaza Strip – and as of April 6th, there were 246 confirmed cases in the Occupied Palestinian Territory with further testing in progress.

Good public health as a strategy to counter the spread of infectious disease has been long-undermined in Gaza by a now 13 year-long Israeli blockade that has restricted importation of materials essential to the repair and maintenance of water and sanitation infrastructure. Restrictions on the movement of medical workers means they have not been able to take part in training opportunities or exchange medical knowledge and skills.

With support from the Government of Ireland, Oxfam has mobilised teams to urgently respond to the threat of COVID-19 and the process of procuring and delivering essential supplies that will protect the lives of the near two million Gazans trapped in the Strip is well underway.

Colm Byrne, Humanitarian Manager with Oxfam Ireland, said: “Our immediate priority is to reduce the risk of Covid-19 rapidly spreading among vulnerable communities in the Gaza Strip. To do this, it is critical to ensure quarantine centres have sufficient water and sanitation systems and are stocked with essential medical supplies. It’s also critical to carry out life-saving hygiene promotion in the communities we work with."

“In response, we are working with Irish Aid to utilise the Emergency Response Fund Scheme (ERFS) so that we can urgently reach those most in need in Gaza, to save lives and reduce suffering. The emergency grant will support schools, which are now being used as quarantine centres, as well as protective equipment for critical frontline staff in health care facilities. Hygiene kits will also be distributed."

“This crisis has highlighted our interconnectedness – how easily all of our lives can be disrupted or threatened, and how we cannot say we are safe if that is not true for all of us, especially those most at-risk among us. If we cannot offer a helping hand and solidarity with the most vulnerable during this global crisis, we go against our undeniable interconnectedness as people. In the past, communities and countries across the world extended that hand to Ireland – I am very grateful that we are now in a position to do the same for the people of Gaza.”

Mohammed Ammar, Oxfam’s Saving Lives Programme Manager in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel said: “People in confinement around the world are experiencing what it means to be Palestinian, to live under lockdown and movement restriction. There is a lot of empathy and we can only hope some good will come out of this once the storm has passed.”

“We are bracing ourselves for the worst. Hospitals and clinics face incredible challenges such as electricity, water, and equipment shortages due to very fragile conditions. There is an inadequate amount of Intensive Care Unit beds and ventilators for the population of two million in Gaza. More funds are urgently needed to respond to the worst-case scenario of a major outbreak that would bring Gaza’s health system to its knees."

For many years, Oxfam has continued to work on maintaining and repairing the water distribution network in Gaza. Oxfam teams in Gaza are also finalising the maintenance of more than a dozen public water taps in vulnerable areas. They are gravely concerned about the deep impact Covid-19 will have on the women, men, and children already living under immense pressure from the economic repercussions of the blockade, the lack of clean water, and a very fragile health system.

Shane Stevenson, Oxfam‘s Country Director in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel, said: “On behalf of the team here, we are deeply grateful for the allocation of the funds to Oxfam’s COVID-19 response in Gaza. We are continuing to explore other funding mechanisms to further support our COVID-19 Response Plan not just in Gaza but also in the West Bank."

“Thanks to Oxfam Ireland, and especially to the people of Ireland who are supporting this response through Ireland’s overseas development programme, Irish Aid.""

 

ENDS

CONTACT

Oxfam Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel in-country Spokespeople available for interview

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org | +353 (0) 87 912 3165

Alice Dawson-Lyons | alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org| +353 (0) 83 198 1869

 

Notes to editor

  • How people in gaza are affected:
    • Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza have no safety net to fall back on. Small shops have shut and business-owners have no income to pay their employees or provide for their own families. In Gaza, the unemployment rate sits at a 47%. With movement restriction to prevent a further spread of Covid-19 in the blockaded enclave, those supporting their families won’t be able to put enough food on the table.
    • Food prices in the Gaza strip rose when the outbreak started and could further increase. Families with no stable income will be the most affected as they won't have enough money to buy what they need. In Gaza, the poorest communities, women-headed families, the elderly and disabled will bear the biggest brunt of this crisis.
    • Many families in Gaza depend on free water distribution. Because of the Covid-19 outbreak, these families are the most at risk of contracting the disease while gathering at public water taps to get water for their homes. These families have no proper alternative for safe drinking water in case they cannot access these taps. Ensuring access to safe drinking water and sanitation is a main concern in relation to increased restrictions.
    • Women shoulder the vast burden of unpaid care, which is bound to increase dramatically as caring for sick relatives and looking after children at home becomes more urgent. Being quarantined for weeks at a time can also raise the risk of domestic violence while women are unable to escape to a place of safety, as social and economic tensions increase the likelihood of violence in the home.
  • What is Oxfam doing in Gaza:
    • Oxfam is providing protection equipment for health workers as well as, beds for patients in quarantine centres, soap and other essential personal hygiene products.
    • Oxfam are helping the poorest and most vulnerable families put food on the table and buy hygiene items and access clean water to protect them from the outbreak. They are currently maintaining 14 water filling points in vulnerable communities in Gaza. Oxfam’s WASH team is coordinating to finalise maintenance before further lockdown measures.
    • Oxfam are working with other agencies such as WHO and UNICEF to raise awareness about best hygiene and health practices in order to avoid further spread of cases across the West Bank and Gaza.
  • Irish Aid’s Emergency Response Fund Scheme (ERFS) supports humanitarian response during the initial weeks after the onset of an emergency. Through ERFS, Ireland pre-positions funds with participating Non-Governmental Organisations at the beginning of the year to enable them to respond quickly and appropriately to humanitarian crises. Irish Aid is the Irish Government’s overseas development programme, which is funded by the Irish taxpayer. The programme is managed by the Development Co-operation and Africa Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
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Monsoon season and COVID-19 – Rohingya refugees face double threat of disaster and disease

Oxfam urgently appeals for public donations to support response in Bangladesh and beyond.

At the time of writing, 49 cases of COVID-19 were recorded in Bangladesh. Having witnessed how quickly the virus is spreading across Europe, Oxfam Ireland has expressed serious concern for the welfare of the women, children and men living in overcrowded camps, specifically in Cox’s Bazar – the world’s largest refugee settlement – where practicing social distancing and good hygiene practices is almost impossible.

Against the backdrop of a world on hold, the Rohingya community approach the three-year anniversary of a crisis that resulted in their forced displacement. Conditions for Rohingya people on both sides of the border are getting worse, and now they face the double threat of impending monsoons and the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Monsoon season is a particularly challenging time of year, with close to a million people living in fragile bamboo shelters on muddy hillsides. When the valley that Cox’s Bazar lies in floods, it can sweep houses and even little children away. Flooding and landslides present an immediate risk to life, and in the aftermath, outbreaks of disease.

Emer Mullins, Director of Public Engagement with Oxfam Ireland, who recently visited Cox’s Bazar said:

“Over half the population of Cox’s Bazar are children, while the camps’ population density is more than four times the UN recommendation for refugee camps.

“Diseases are already common including respiratory infections, acute diarrhoea and malaria. Health facilities are insufficient and currently it can be a long process to get a permit to leave the camp to go to hospital.

“Many people arrived injured and deeply traumatised by their experiences, including having seen loved ones killed. Yet most are not getting the support they need.

“My thoughts are drawn to Naila - a woman I met in Cox’s Bazar last November. Naila was born in Myanmar and forced to flee her village with her five children when violence erupted in 2017. Her basic needs have been met, but Naila said what her and her family really need is ‘safety and security’. In our current reality, of a world on lockdown under threat from an indiscriminate foe, I think we can all understand the need for Naila, indeed for all Rohingya people, to return to a safe and normal life as soon as possible.

“We’re urgently appealing to people to support our monsoon preparation appeal – crucial work that is now all the more important as COVID-19 further threatens the health and lives of Rohingya refugees.”

Oxfam is providing vital aid, including clean water and latrines, to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees on both sides of the border. It is also working to improve camp infrastructure by installing flood-proof wells, better toilets and improved roads and has contingency plans in place to restore water supplies and distribute essential aid if needed once the monsoons strike. Oxfam calls on both governments (Bangladesh and Myanmar) to work with humanitarian agencies to improve conditions and build resilience within the camps in preparation for the monsoon season and a possible COVID-19 outbreak.

The monsoon season could devastate this camp, and COVID-19 could devastate the community living within it. Further support will be needed to ensure that vital life-saving measures can be taken now, before it is too late.

To support Oxfam’s Monsoon Response Appeal for Rohingya refugees, visit: https://www.oxfamireland.org/monsoon

ENDS

Contact

ROI:     Caroline Reid  | caroline.reid@oxfam.org | +353 (0) 87 912 3165

NI:       Phillip Graham| phillip.graham@oxfam.org | +44 (0) 7841 102535

Notes to the editor

o   Spokespeople available for interview upon request, including Emer Mullins who recently visited Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh

o   Visual content available for use – images available upon request.

o   Short video available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yF8nVZPLSSE

o   What Oxfam is doing:

Oxfam is providing vital aid including clean water and food to Rohingya people in Bangladesh and Myanmar. So far, it has helped more than a quarter of a million (360,000) people in Bangladesh and continues to support 105,000 Rohingya and other Muslim minorities living in camps in Myanmar with clean water and sanitation services. 

o   In Bangladesh

Oxfam has 207 staff in Cox’s Bazar – of whom 184 (90%) are Bangladeshi (as of August 2019).

Oxfam is helping people stay healthy by installing water points, toilets and showers, and distributing soap and other essentials like sanitary cloths. Oxfam has recruited more than 600 Rohingya volunteers to help reach 165,000 other refugees with information about safe hygiene.

Oxfam opened the biggest-ever sewage plant in a refugee camp, funded by UNHCR, which can process the waste of 100,000 people safely on site. Oxfam has designed a solar-powered water network to distribute safe chlorinated water more effectively to refugees.

Oxfam employed over 1,800 Bangladeshi locals on community construction projects including repairs to roads, schools and water sources. Almost 400 local people received grants to start or expand their small businesses.

Oxfam has installed more than 350 solar-powered street lights around the camp and provided 20,000 torches and portable solar lanterns so that refugees – especially women – feel safer leaving their shelters after dark to reach water points and toilets.

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Despite progress, political and economic systems continue to favour men over women, says Oxfam Ireland

 

  • Hidden care work: The female engine that props up our economies and societies
  • Oxfam Ireland publish their submission to the Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality

Read Oxfam Ireland’s full Submission to the Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality

Over reliance on undervalued care work and gender segregation of the labour market stems from outmoded social norms and assigned gender roles, Oxfam Ireland said today as they published their submission to the Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality ahead of International Women’s Day 2020.

After more than 70 years of campaigning and advocating with women and communities for gender equality in over 90 countries, Oxfam’s submission draws on their learning and expertise to detail how Ireland can progress towards achieving gender equality on a global scale.

Oxfam Irelands’ Submission gives recommendations on:

  • Gender responsive budgeting
  • Gender pay gap
  • Gender Equality in leadership and participation
  • Gender equality in the care economy
  • Gender equality in development and aid

Despite Ireland’s work towards achieving gender equality in recent years, the gender pay gap remains an issue, and female employment rates are slightly lower than the European average – something that should be considered against the backdrop of Ireland’s relatively low level of state funding for subsidised childcare and the lack of investment in childcare infrastructure.

Childcare costs in Ireland are among the highest in the EU – young families can pay the price of a second monthly rent or mortgage for crèches, which can limit or impede a woman’s choice to return to work or pursue employment in certain fields or professions.

In addition, women in Ireland are over-represented in the low paid sector, can be working reduced hours due to care responsibilities and are also more likely to have to leave paid employment to fulfil unpaid care work of children or elderly dependents. This in turn results in reduced benefits and pension contributions – creating a pension gap - possibly extending cycles of financial insecurity or poverty into retirement age.

The responsibility for caring in Ireland is deeply gendered and severely unbalanced. Oxfam Ireland estimates that in Ireland, women’s unpaid care work contributes at least €24 billion to the economy every year - the equivalent of 12.3 percent of the entire annual Irish economy.

Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland, said:

“The roots of the gender pay gap in Ireland run deep. It will require commitments from multiple stakeholders, and collaboration across all sectors, if the gap is to be closed. Gender segregation of the labour market stems from outmoded social norms and assigned gender roles - harmful stereotypes that devalue the role of women in society and the economy.

“A gender responsive budget is one that works for everyone, not just women. Equality budgeting requires investment in care systems rather than relying on women’s unpaid, or often under paid care work. The allocation of funding and resources to vital services like healthcare, education and childcare – will provide supports to people who need it most and help to mitigate the effects of the care crisis, while tackling gender inequality.

“Gender equality is not just the concern of women; it is the concern of everyone. Tackling it is one of the most effective ways of achieving positive economic and social outcomes for everyone in society. Increased investment in childcare, healthcare, and education can reduce the burden of unpaid work on women and create pathways to increased economic, civic and political participation, thereby helping to close the pay and pension gaps, and increase gender equality in Ireland and around the globe.”

ENDS

Contact

Caroline Reid, caroline.reid@oxfam.org, +353 (0)87 912 3165

Notes

Read Oxfam Ireland’s full Submission to the Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality

  • The Economic and Social Research Institute published a report that revealed that there is a gender pension gap of 35 percent in Ireland.
  • A gender responsive budget requires an analysis of government budgets from a gender perspective - including how they respond to outmoded gender norms and roles. It is the active gathering of information across multiple budgetary areas including health, education, income to see how their impact may differ depending on gender, ethnicity or age.
  • Gender quotas can be used as an effective tool in the fight against gender inequality. In certain contexts, such as business or politics where progression of gender equality is slow, the utilisation of gender quotas have proven successful and have helped to diversify landscapes – Irish politics being one. However, the structural inequalities that prevents or restricts women from taking up leadership positions across all spheres including economic, social, and political need to be addressed.
  • When talking gender equality, international development cooperation and humanitarian action is no exception – it needs to be adapted accordingly. Successful aid ensures that gender justice is at its heart. A feminist approach to foreign policy and official development assistance will help to tackle the root causes of gender inequality, discrimination against women, girls and other minorities and challenge existing patriarchal power structures that have benefited men whilst discriminating against women and girls globally.
  • ‘4R’s’ framework that takes into account the principles of:
  • Recognition of unpaid and poorly paid care work as a type of work or production that has real value
  • Reduction of the total number of hours spent on unpaid caring through access to affordable and quality time-saving devices and care-supporting infrastructure
  • Redistribution of unpaid care work more fairly within the household but also in shifting the responsibility of unpaid care work to the state and the private sector
  • Representing the most marginalised caregivers to ensure that they have a voice in the design and delivery of policies, systems and services that affect their lives.

 

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Oxfam reaction to situation at the Greek border with Turkey

2nd March 2020

Reacting to the latest developments in Turkey and at the border with Greece, Oxfam’s Europe migration campaign manager Evelien van Roemburg said:

“Governments are using people fleeing violence and persecution as pawns in a political game to avoid taking responsibility. There is no justification for the decision by the EU and the Greek government to leave people stranded in a no-man’s land at their borders without access to food, shelter and medical care. Instead of supporting Greece’s efforts to keep people trapped at its external border, the EU should remember its humanitarian and legal obligations and make sure that these women, men and children can safely access protection.

“The announcement of the Greek government that it will not accept asylum requests for one month is gravely concerning. It is reminiscent of the disastrous lack of leadership in 2015/2016 when no government in Europe wanted to take responsibility for people in need, and the EU concluded its migration deal with Turkey which was fundamentally flawed.

“The EU-Turkey deal turned people in need of safety and dignity into political bargaining chips. Treating human lives as pawns in political negotiations is unacceptable, and puts fundamental human rights second to political gain, violating both international and EU law.

“Greece and its EU partners must cooperate to share responsibility for those arriving and support them to rebuild their lives. In particular, EU member states should urgently relocate children and other vulnerable people from Greece to safe places in Europe. Greece, with the help of the EU, must urgently improve the dire situation in refugee camps on the Aegean islands and transfer people to safe and dignified conditions on the mainland.

“It is critical that all states live up to both the letter and the spirit of the Refugee Convention, and remember that the EU cannot effectively fulfil its role as a leading humanitarian actor when it continues to prioritise policies of self-interest over the rights and dignity of human beings.”

ENDS

CONTACT: Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org | +353 (0) 87 912 3165 

Notes to editors:

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Syria: Conflict is keeping civilians trapped in an endless winter

In late 2010, Ireland was gripped by the ‘big freeze’, a cold snap which wreaked havoc on our daily lives. It was an unusual weather event for the country, and left many people yearning – probably for the first time – for the typical damp Irish winter. Although the ‘big freeze’ came to an end within weeks, it appeared to delay the arrival of spring. By March 2011, snow still dusted the mountains and a bitter chill lingered in the air. The weather was cold but manageable. Life as we knew it was back to normal.

What we did not know, however, was that a huge storm was brewing in another part of the world. That same month, security forces in the southern Syrian city of Daraa fatally shot protestors demanding the release of political prisoners. The deaths sparked violent unrest that spread steadily across the country in the months that followed. The horrors that the people of Syria have suffered in the nine years since that first gun was fired are unimaginable. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed. Millions of families have been forced to flee. Hundreds of children have been maimed.

Rafik's house in Hamourieh/Eastern Ghouta has been destroyed. Photo: Dania Kareh/Oxfam

Today, more than 6.5 million Syrians are living in abject poverty. A third of the population does not have enough food and 15.5 million people have no access to clean, running water. On average, every second person is unemployed, while desperation has forced children into child labour and early marriage. Almost 12 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance while close to 6 million people are displaced within their own country.

The conflict is also driving the world’s largest refugee crisis, with 5.6 million Syrians having fled to seek refuge in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. As they face into the ninth year of the conflict, those who have lost everything are slowly emerging from another harsh winter of snow, rain and freezing temperatures in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. There, huge numbers of refugees live in ‘informal settlements’ – makeshift wooden structures with little more than plastic sheeting to protect them from the bitter winter winds.

Imm stands at the entrance of her shelter in the Bekaa Valley. Photo: Adrian Hartrick/Oxfam

Yet springtime will not bring any respite because the war in Syria is far from over. A five-hour drive north from the Bekaa Valley, across Syria’s northwest Idlib region, the UN now estimates that a staggering 900,000 people have fled renewed violence since December alone. Today, as shelling and violence intensifies, this number is rapidly approaching 1 million.

Oxfam is working in Syria, where we have reached more than 1.2 million people with aid including clean water, cash, essential clothing items, and support to help make a living and grow nutritious food. While this work is vital, we know that it will not end the suffering of the Syrian people.

The ‘big freeze’ of late 2010 and early 2011 brought dark skies and sub-zero temperatures to Ireland but the bitter chill eventually passed. As the Syrian conflict enters its ninth year, there is no end in sight for millions of people trapped in a seemingly endless winter – devoid of sunlight, hope and any sense of normality – from which, for now at least, there is no escape.

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