Rights in Crisis

  • We believe that the women, men and children who are affected by conflicts and disasters have a right to live in safety and dignity. Those most at risk – whether because of an earthquake, a drought or civil war – have a right to a life free from violence, and to have clean water, shelter and food. They also have the right to be heard and to take control of their own lives.

BEIRUT: One month since the blast and thousands can’t afford a front door

On August 6, 2020 communities, young and old, started sweeping the streets, and cleaning up the wreckage caused by the explosion in Beirut.

By Sahar Elbachir, Senior Media and Communications Officer, and Bachir Ayoub, Policy Lead - Oxfam in Lebanon

One month since the massive explosion in Beirut, tens of thousands of vulnerable people are unable to rebuild their homes — with a front door costing two months’ minimum-wage salary.

Longstanding inequality, massive inflation and COVID-19 have compounded this humanitarian disaster for tens of thousands, making it almost impossible for them to recover.

Huge inflation has meant the cost of basic materials needed to rebuild homes and businesses is out of reach for thousands of people who were already struggling to get by before the explosion sent shockwaves through the city. While the minimum wage is just under €380 a month, the cost of replacing one window is now nearly €420 and a door is up to €845.

The blast came at a time when thousands of people were already on the brink. An estimated 50 percent of the population was living under the poverty line, the Lira’s value had dropped 80 percent since October, migrant workers were being abandoned and forced out on the streets, cash was almost impossible to access, and restrictive measures to contain the pandemic prevented casual workers from getting to their jobs.

Following the blast, approximately 70,000 additional workers are now jobless and half of all wholesale, retail and hospitality establishments near the blast site have been destroyed.

In the most affected areas, the majority of people are low- and middle-income workers who earn the minimum wage or less. Most of them have lost their jobs in the port or businesses in the devastated areas and many people are struggling to put food on the table.

A team of volunteers with Oxfam partner, Lebanese Centre for Human Rights (CLDH), visit the neighbourhood of Geitawi to assess the psychosocial support needed for people affected by the explosion.

Oxfam’s Response

Oxfam is working with Lebanese organisations to ensure that Beirut’s most marginalised people are not left behind and instead have the support they need to recover from the explosion.

Oxfam’s joint response with partners will focus on supporting local leadership, and will prioritise reaching people with disabilities, the elderly, women and girls, migrant workers, refugees (Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees per capita in the world – one out of every four people) and the LGBTQ+ community.

Oxfam’s partner-led response is providing over 9,000 people with support including distribution of food parcels and the provision of emergency and temporary cash assistance, legal assistance and consultation, psycho-social support and medication, and help to repair and rebuild their homes and businesses.

Celine, 37, a social worker & support centre supervisor working with Oxfam Partner Kafa KAFA, is photographed by boxes of food packed by staff and volunteers, that will be distributed to help vulnerable families.

Trauma

But there is still so much that needs to be done for Beirut to begin to recover. Celine El Kik, a social worker from Oxfam partner KAFA, says the mental scars of the blast will linger long after the physical damage has been repaired.

“The port explosion affected all of us, but especially women who were already vulnerable. We're providing social and legal support, as well as cash assistance for people who lost their jobs or their houses.”

Hanaa uses plastic to cover her windows which were shattered in the explosion.

Hanaa, her two daughters and her son, have been living in her small house in Karantina – one of the neighborhoods closest to the port – for decades. The family was inside their house when the blast went off.

“We were standing in the house,” Hanaa explains from her home. “At first they said it was fireworks. The first explosion went off, and the kids started screaming. I told them it was only the fireworks factory. And then the huge blast went off, it threw my kids and me across the room.”

Hanaa’s house was cracked, pieces of actual concrete fell off, and the windows exploded, sending glass raining across the room.

“Everything was full of smoke, it was indescribable,” Hanaa recounts.

Dina, Hanaa’s second daughter, was mildly injured during the explosion. Although she has almost completely recovered, the invisible scars the blast left aren’t about to disappear. For Hanaa’s youngest son, every loud noise is a reminder of the blast.

“Until now, he doesn’t sleep at night, he asks me to talk to him all throughout the night,” says Hanaa.

Although her family is safe and suffered only minor injuries, Hanaa still fears that her home is unsafe – that it now barely stands on its own.

“We still are afraid that the wall might collapse on us.”

For now, the family uses plastic to cover the windows or pieces of wood to create a makeshift door, but they fear that once winter, with its cold weather and harsh rains sets in, they might not even have a house anymore.

Staff and volunteers at Oxfam partner KAFA pack boxes of food that will be distributed to help vulnerable families affected by the explosion, which killed over 180 people, injured more than 6,500 and displaced some 300,000 residents.

Oxfam is calling for fair and just distribution of aid to provide critical support to vulnerable communities and people who will be unable to rebuild their lives without targeted and transparent aid.

Our worry is that the growing inequality and suffering we were already seeing in some of Lebanon’s most vulnerable communities – like refugees and migrant workers, the elderly and LGBTQ+ community – will only get worse, and they will fall even farther behind.

These communities need urgent assistance to recover from this disaster and rebuild their lives.

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What makes humanitarians special is the choice they make – the choice to help others even when the risks are great

By Nigel Timmins, Humanitarian Director for Oxfam

Reading the latest reports of aid workers killed, kidnapped and attacked, or reading personal, human stories of loss can be crushing. COVID-19 has added to the threats faced by humanitarians but also the needs of so many from whom the pandemic, and its economic fallout, has taken everything.  On this World Humanitarian Day, we pause to remember the colleagues, workers, and community members who are our inspiration as they risk their lives in the service of others.  

It has become depressingly familiar to hear of colleagues that have been targeted by violence, sometimes killed, while doing their jobs. The Aid Worker Security Database (AWSD) of Humanitarian Outcomes recorded 277 incidents against aid workers last year, the highest number in 10 years.   We were deeply saddened to read of a recent attack, which killed eight people including ACTED colleagues in Niger, while Oxfam is still mourning the loss of two of our colleagues in Syria earlier this year.  

In addition to the threat of violence has come the risk of infection from COVID-19.  Humanitarians in the health sector are knowingly putting themselves at greater risk of disease to help others, but additionally, according to Geneva-based Insecurity Insight, more than 265 violent incidents related to COVID-19 have been reported, with some attacks on health workers driven by fears they could spread the virus. This is not unique; during the Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo, aid workers trying to slow the spread of the disease became targets of attacks from fearful communities.

We have also seen health workers and human rights activists become the target of attacks by governments for protesting and challenging official infection figures, or Government’s responses to the pandemic.  At a time when transparency, communication and sharing data is an essential means of overcoming communicable disease, we have seen the politicisation of information and the rise of “fake news”, which creates confusion and means that many citizens are not sure who can be trusted.

The act of caring is not free, but costly. That is what makes carers special – we recognise in them the willingness to give of themselves with no consideration of receiving. The highest example of this is the work undertaken by local humanitarians; the great majority of humanitarian assistance and caring is provided by local people in local communities, and by women in particular. 

So, on this day, we honour Oxfam colleagues, the staff of local and national organisations and the countless unsung community members on the frontline of humanitarian action and the COVID-19 response, and acknowledge their commitment and bravery in the face of tremendous challenges. 

Every day, in countless situations, people undertake extraordinary tasks to help their fellow humans. Those that rushed to help dig others out of the unstable rubble in the aftermath of the Beirut explosion; the women calling for peace and freedom in protests from Sudan to Belarus, or the people who wash and feed the sick in their community. The doctors and nurses who risk infection daily to treat patients, or the human rights activists who stand up in public, aware of the retaliation that may come, to push for change where change is needed. Acts of costly caring like this inspire and galvanise the rest of us to action.  

On this World Humanitarian Day, let us take a moment to pause and acknowledge the pain and loss of so many in the service of others. Then, while we work for things to be different, let us go forward with humility and determination inspired by the price our colleagues and fellow people have paid. 

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This Father’s Day, we celebrate dads who put family first – no matter what

On Father's Day, we celebrate and remember dads around the world. And on this Father's Day, we wanted to share the stories of Ali and Tawab – two dads who battled conflict and climate change to take care of their families.

Ali and his son Muhamed* in their container home on the Greek island of Lesvos. Photo: Andy Aitchison/Oxfam

Ali, his wife Ikhlas and their 14-month-old son Muhamed* were brought to the Greek island of Lesvos after being saved by the coast guard. The bombings and violence they witnessed in Syria forced them to flee their home, leaving everything behind. They had hoped to reach Italy but their journey across the Mediterranean almost ended in tragedy.

“We were at sea on a boat with another 47 people,” said Ali. “The sea got very rough. It was terrifying. My wife and my little boy were with me, and I cannot swim. Thankfully the Greek navy came and helped us.”

Only one of Ali’s seven brothers is still in Syria – the rest are now living in Germany.

“We would like to join them and start a new life away from bombs and violence,” he said.

After Mozambique was devastated by Cyclone Kenneth last year, fathers like Tawab rushed to protect their families. When his two-year-old son Calado* developed an eye condition and breathing difficulties in the aftermath of the cyclone, Tawab carried his little boy through the floodwaters to their local hospital.

With climate change hitting the world’s poorest people the hardest, Tawab said he fears for the future: “Two walls of our house have gone, and half of the roof. I was very afraid. The wind was so strong. Trees were falling through the electricity lines, and one even hit the wall of our house. Most of the crops in my village have been taken by the water.

“And we are an agricultural community so we depended on those crops. Every year there is some flooding here but not like this. This is so much worse. These rains are like nothing we've ever seen before. There is so much damage. It will not be easy to rebuild our house like it was before. Life is not easy for us now.”

*Names changed to protect identities

Mariam, Burkina Faso

The music has stopped in the heart of the desert, the savannahs, and forests of the Sahel and the Central African Republic - taking with it the joy of better days. Fear has spread across the region, and people are facing it on two fronts: firstly, where armed groups devastate villages, driving more than five million people to flee their homes.  Secondly, the rise of COVID-19 is creating additional fear and uncertainty amongst communities.

And for the majority of displaced women, their dance partners have also disappeared. Many men of working age have been killed by armed groups, disappeared or have left in search of a better future. In Burkina Faso, women and children represented 84 per cent of the displaced population. Women find themselves in extremely precarious situations, struggling for their survival and for those depending on them. Many bear the scars – visible and invisible - of acts of violence. In the Central African Republic, a woman is victim of sexual and gender-based violence almost every hour.

These Sahelian and Central African women are hundreds of thousands, survivors and heroes - waiting for music to resume in their lives. Whilst they do not sing, they still have their stories, and hope, to imagine another future.

A team of female humanitarian workers with Oxfam collected the following stories. They are accompanied by illustrations made by the artist Sophie Le Hire, who has lived in Senegal for four years and who, in her artistic approach, proudly carries the voice of women, whom she considers as "giants". By juxtaposing two styles, she illustrates the reality of the present and the dream for the future of these women

Mariam*, Burkina Faso

“We are in the crossfire: behind us there are attacks, in front of us is the disease. How will we cope? I will be so glad when this illness ends.”

My name is Mariam. I am 25 years old, and I come from the Center-Nord region in Burkina, near Dablo.

My dream was to have a high school diploma. I became a mother while still in school but I hung on and continued until 10th grade. However, in April they closed the school - because of insecurity classes stopped completely.

I wanted to be either a teacher – to educate children and to share knowledge with them – or to be a doctor and to save lives. All of this fell apart.

When attacks by armed groups became more and more frequent, I chose to flee my home so that I would not end up like so many other victims of violence or rape.

Everyday life is not easy here. We don't have enough to eat, and I have to ration our lunch if I want something left to eat in the evening. There is no firewood and, as a woman, I am afraid when I have to go and collect it in the bush; I do not feel safe. To survive, I try to do laundry in town for other families, or pound millet or sorghum for 500 CFA [0.83 USD]. At the moment, we need support for everything: water, food, shelter.

With the arrival of COVID-19, our life has changed: markets are closed, and with it any place where we can find work. Preventative measures have changed our daily lives. We can no longer move around when and where we want to. To protect my family, we wash our hands regularly before doing anything else: cooking, eating, going to the toilet.

The disease has made our lives more difficult, especially when it comes to accessing water. So as to avoid finding ourselves in a crowd, we leave at dawn to go to the well. If there are a lot of people, we leave the cans at the well and return to the house.

We urgently need water and hygiene kits - if we were able to get these items, it would improve our daily lives.

Interview by Syntyche Ouedraogo, Oxfam in Burkina Faso.

*Name has been changed to protect identity

Oxfam’s response

In the Sahel and the Central African Republic, Oxfam provides humanitarian aid and carries out advocacy actions for communities affected by large-scale humanitarian crises. Women and girls are the most exposed in crisis and it is fundamental that their specific needs and their protection are at the heart of humanitarian responses. Women also play a major role in developing social cohesion and peacebuilding.

Oxfam and its local partners provide humanitarian aid to more than 400,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) and host communities in the region, in terms of food aid, access to water, hygiene and sanitation and to protect the most vulnerable, especially women and girls. Oxfam also work alongside communities in conflict transformation programs to foster cross-border dialogues and the inclusion of women and young people in peacebuilding processes.

Since the arrival of the COVID-19, Oxfam has adapted its programs to protect the poorest and most vulnerable against this new threat. Oxfam also distribute hygiene kits to schools and health professionals and take action to ensure clean and safe water continues to flow.

Read Victorine and Tedy's reflections.

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Tedy, Mali

The music has stopped in the heart of the desert, the savannahs, and forests of the Sahel and the Central African Republic - taking with it the joy of better days. Fear has spread across the region, and people are facing it on two fronts: firstly, where armed groups devastate villages, driving more than five million people to flee their homes.  Secondly, the rise of COVID-19 is creating additional fear and uncertainty amongst communities.

And for the majority of displaced women, their dance partners have also disappeared. Many men of working age have been killed by armed groups, disappeared or have left in search of a better future. In Burkina Faso, women and children represented 84 per cent of the displaced population. Women find themselves in extremely precarious situations, struggling for their survival and for those depending on them. Many bear the scars – visible and invisible - of acts of violence. In the Central African Republic, a woman is victim of sexual and gender-based violence almost every hour.

These Sahelian and Central African women are hundreds of thousands, survivors and heroes - waiting for music to resume in their lives. Whilst they do not sing, they still have their stories, and hope, to imagine another future.

A team of female humanitarian workers with Oxfam collected the following stories. They are accompanied by illustrations made by the artist Sophie Le Hire, who has lived in Senegal for four years and who, in her artistic approach, proudly carries the voice of women, whom she considers as "giants". By juxtaposing two styles, she illustrates the reality of the present and the dream for the future of these women

Tedy, Mali

"I want my children to get an education worthy of the name, to be one day part of the elite in this country."

My name is Tedy, I am 40 years old, I am Malian, native of the region of Mopti in the Center of Mali.

Because of the violence, I had to flee my village, and I live today with other displaced people who have known the same fate, on a site near the capital.

Before the conflict, I was selling milk and I was also a hairdresser. I took care of my family and even managed to save money.

But one day, as intercommunal violence became more and more serious, we were forced to flee, to leave my house with my children, taking only my phone and the clothes I was wearing. We had to take a very long route to arrive in Bamako, forced to pass through Ouagadougou and stayed more than two days without eating anything. I had no money and without the help of one of my daughters who works in the capital, I don't know what would have become of us.

I haven't had a chance to study and the struggle of my life is to send my children to school. I will do my best to make them the most influential people in our community and even in Mali! Access to education is a right for every child.

Shortly after arriving at the site, I was appointed President of the displaced women because I speak the national Bambara language, so I can easily speak to the authorities. It was a big responsibility. I talked a lot with the other women, and we decided to develop activities to earn a living. I got the necessary support so that we were trained in making soaps and dyes, as well as in the practice of traditional henna and hairdressing. In Bamako, there are really a lot of weddings and we thus had the opportunity to put into practice what we had learned.

Like others, I am a mother and I take care of my children alone. At the beginning, I had started a small condiment business, it worked a little, but alone and with my children to take care of, I did not manage and I had to give it up. Together with the other women, it became possible.

Unfortunately, with Coronavirus disease, all of our activities have stopped. We hope this disease will pass quickly so that we can take control of our lives again. Here on the site, we protect ourselves against the disease by respecting the barrier measures decreed by the health authorities and we have received hand-washing kits.

I can’t imagine the future. We would like to return home, but the conflict persists and we are afraid of endangering the lives of our children. It is for them that every day I find the courage to fight and to encourage other women to do it too, we have a duty to guide our children on the path to a better future. In my dreams, this path is education and I will continue to believe in it and hope for it.

Interview by Sitan Coulibaly, Oxfam in Mali.

Oxfam’s response

In the Sahel and the Central African Republic, Oxfam provides humanitarian aid and carries out advocacy actions for communities affected by large-scale humanitarian crises. Women and girls are the most exposed in crisis and it is fundamental that their specific needs and their protection are at the heart of humanitarian responses. Women also play a major role in developing social cohesion and peacebuilding.

Oxfam and its local partners provide humanitarian aid to more than 400,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) and host communities in the region, in terms of food aid, access to water, hygiene and sanitation and to protect the most vulnerable, especially women and girls. Oxfam also work alongside communities in conflict transformation programs to foster cross-border dialogues and the inclusion of women and young people in peacebuilding processes.

Since the arrival of the COVID-19, Oxfam has adapted its programs to protect the poorest and most vulnerable against this new threat. Oxfam also distribute hygiene kits to schools and health professionals and take action to ensure clean and safe water continues to flow.

Read Victorine and Mariam's reflections.

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