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West Africa Crisis: food shortages threaten millions

The devastating conflict in West Africa is continuing to cause severe food shortages, plunging the region into a serious humanitarian crisis, and leaving nearly 11 million people in need of emergency aid.

Violent acts by militant insurgency group Boko Haram over the last seven years, along with military operations to counter them, have displaced around 2.6 million people in the Lake Chad Basin region, which is made up of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. This is Africa’s fastest growing displacement crisis.

The number of displaced people in the most affected areas has tripled over the last two years. Most of the displaced families are sheltered by communities that count among the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.

Food insecurity and malnutrition in the affected region have reached alarming levels. Thousands of people are estimated to have died already, many of these young children. There is a strong likelihood that at least 400,000 people could currently be experiencing famine in North East Nigeria.

FORCED TO FLEE

Since Boko Haram kidnapped Kadija* and forced her to marry a fighter to whom she bore a child, Kadija* faces stigma from her community, as does her child who is seen to carry ‘bad blood’. She currently lives in a camp for people displaced by the conflict with Boko Haram because her father disowned her. Kadija* was taken to the bush where she gave birth with no medical facilities. Once she deemed the baby strong enough she made her escape.

After fleeing from Boko Haram she was detained by the Nigerian military. She said: “I was kept with other women who had been forcibly married. We were tortured and dehumanised by the military. We were called wives of Boko Haram and we spent one month in detention. It was a harrowing experience. Then they released me.”

Kadija*, 18, holds her baby at a house in Maiduguri, Nigeria. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

Kadija and her baby aren’t the only ones struggling in north-eastern Nigeria right now. Brothers Digma* and Omar* (pictured below) are helping their father Hassan* in a field he rents on the outskirts of Maiduguri, Nigeria, as it’s the school holidays. Their father Hassan* was a prosperous farmer before fear of violence from Boko Haram forced him to flee his village.

Hassan* said: “We were so afraid, even if we had food we couldn’t eat what was put on the table. It was terrible. We couldn’t even come to the farm. If we came to the farm Boko Haram would come on motorcycles and kill or abduct you. We had to leave our farm and our livestock and run to the city. Before Boko Haram attacked I had a bigger farm but now I am too scared to farm it – maybe next year.”

While Hassan’s* old farm previously left him with surplus to sell, he now has to work as a labourer in order to make up the shortfall in food for his family. He said: “I have to feed my six children, my wife, my grandmother and two grandsons. How many days will [this food] last us? It’s just not going to be enough. The government have not supported us. We have to do things ourselves.

“This land has been worked on for so many years. At the other farm we had millet, sorghum, groundnuts and beans and the harvest was great. The fields there are much denser and much richer compared to this farm. The soil at the other farm is loamy. This is just sandy.”

Brothers Digma* (aged 8, and Omar* (10) stand in a field their father rents on the outskirts of Maiduguri, Nigeria. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

The conflict between Boko Haram and governments in this region has affected some of the world’s poorest people. Most of them in rural areas are farmers, and many like Hassan* have not been able to grow any crops for three years. They are in urgent need of food, water, and medical care. They are living in camps for displaced people and among host communities and are struggling to survive.

WHAT OXFAM IS DOING

The situation is dire across this region. People are in urgent need of food, water, medical care, shelter and safety.

Oxfam has helped more than 250,000 people in Nigeria, Niger and Chad since it began responding to the crisis two years ago.

In Nigeria Oxfam is distributing emergency food support food and cooking equipment, providing people with clean water and better sanitation, as well as seeds and tools to help traders and farmers. We have also set up community protection groups for women to give them information about access to support facilities if they have suffered from sexual violence and exploitation.

In Niger, Oxfam is rehabilitating and constructing boreholes to provide safe, clean water to people who have fled their homes and communities, and we are delivering life-saving food assistance to families severely affected by the crisis.

In Chad, Oxfam is distributing cash and tarpaulins for shelter, and providing clean water to help prevent the spread of diseases.

We are ramping up our programmes and are seeking funds to expand our response to help 1.5 million people in the next 15 months.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Oxfam is urgently seeking funds to help where it’s needed most.

Please help the people of West Africa – give what you can and get food and clean drinking water to people who urgently need it.

* All names have been changed to protect identities.

World Humanitarian Day: The people behind emergency responses

"World Humanitarian Day is an annual reminder of the need to act to alleviate the suffering. It is also an occasion to honour the humanitarian workers and volunteers toiling on the frontlines of crises. I pay tribute to these dedicated women and men who brave danger to help others at far greater risk." — UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon

On this World Humanitarian Day, we recognise the people who work tirelessly to deliver crucial humanitarian support to families and communities around the world. Each year more than 30 million people flee their homes as a result of conflict and natural disaster and over 500,000 people are killed in war. Oxfam is currently working in emergencies in over 30 countries. Some are in the public eye; some are forgotten and out of the spotlight. Thanks to the continued dedication of humanitarian workers such as those featured below, we’re able to respond to wherever we’re needed.

Sara Zehl (29) from Germany volunteers as a team leader with Oxfam, managing the distribution in the Kara Tepe camp on the island of Lesvos.

Speaking about her decision to come to Greece, Sara says: “I was at home literally sat on the couch watching the news. And I just wanted to come over and help, both the people arriving and the Greek population too, to support everyone. So I left my job working in hotel management and flew over. I have been here for six months now and whilst it is hard seeing families in this situation, I am passionate about helping and trying to make a difference."

Colm Byrne, Oxfam Ireland's Humanitarian Manager, is pictured here during a monitoring visit to Malakal, South Sudan. This region was the first place where Colm was deployed as a humanitarian worker and so when the opportunity arose to return with Oxfam, Colm says he “couldn’t say no”.

Colm’s motivation to engage in humanitarian work stems from a moment many will remember - the 1984 famine in East Africa which inspired Band Aid and subsequently Live Aid.  Speaking about how his perspective on aid work has changed over time, Colm says: “I’ve learnt that being a humanitarian is broader than I originally thought. It’s not just about people on the front line. There are lots of ways of being a humanitarian – whether you’re an urban planner creating safe spaces for people to live or local fundraiser who generates vital income.” 

Marianna Kapelle is a member of Oxfam's gender and protection team in the Filippiada camp, Epirus Region, northwest Greece. Speaking about her work, Marianna says: “As a Protection Officer with Oxfam I spend most of my time in the camps, talking with the refugees mostly in Arabic, which is my passion and helps people to share their thoughts and feel more comfortable. Part of my role is to provide as much information as possible so people are able to make the best choices for themselves and their families. I am so grateful to be able to support people who are so resilient and brave, despite everything they have been through. Everyone has so much hope still and open-hearted smiles. This is something that inspires me every day."

Vincent Malasador was part of Oxfam’s rapid assessment team that responded in the immediate aftermath to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013. Vincent’s dedication to the cause is clear when he describes a typical work day: “We would wake up very early, take our lunch at sundown and take our sleep hours past midnight; this was the life we had to live so that we could provide the support that the struggling communities needed to survive.”

Be part of the festival crew – volunteer as an Oxfam steward

Summer at Oxfam Ireland means festivals and each year at events across Ireland, a dedicated crew of volunteers generously give their time to help raise awareness and funds for Oxfam’s work worldwide.

STEWARDING

Oxfam stewards in action!

Our volunteers act as stewards at some of Ireland’s biggest music events and festivals, helping festival staff and security teams ensure that everyone has a fun and safe experience. In return, Oxfam Ireland receives a donation from the event organisers towards our work worldwide.

Volunteering as a steward at festivals, events and gigs is a fantastic way to learn about music event management and gain valuable work experience too.

As a steward, you can soak up the atmosphere, watch your favourite artist or band play for free and raise vital funds, from saving lives in emergencies like the current refugee crisis and helping people build better lives through long-term development work to speaking out on the issues that keep people poor. 

Sound too good to be true? Just ask our volunteers about their experience.

SIOBHAN SCURRY, FESTIVAL INTERN AND STEWARD

Siobhan Scurry works the entrance at Longitude, Marlay Park in 2015. 

Stewarding with Oxfam Ireland is the best way I can imagine spending my summer. I have worked at a heap of festivals/concerts for Oxfam including Paul Weller at Royal Hospital Kilmainham and Arcade Fire, Kings of Leon, Macklemore and Longitude at Marlay Park and I highly recommend it."

“Stewarding with Oxfam Ireland gives you the opportunity see amazing acts live and meet new people, all while giving you experience in the production of some of Ireland’s biggest summer events and experience working with the people who make them happen." 

“Every year, I have an amazing time! My highlight so far would be catching The Pixies performs ‘Hey’ on my break at Arcade Fire at Marlay Park in summer 2014!” 

RACHEL STOOPS, STEWARD

Rachel Stoops (right) and Molly Stevenson brave the rain at Croke Park for One Direction’s gig in summer 2014. 

“I got into Oxfam Ireland stewarding when a friend recommended it and after hearing how much fun it was I couldn't resist. I went on to the Oxfam Ireland website and put in my details and eagerly waited for an email. 

“I got asked to do various concerts and festivals but my favourite was One Direction at Croke Park, not only was I volunteering with my friend but we were seeing an awesome band. 

“We were selling ponchos for two reasons, the Irish rain and to #TurnCrokerGreen. We ended up raising a good bit of money for Oxfam Ireland’s work worldwide whilst having a great time. 

I couldn't urge people enough to become an Oxfam steward, it is exciting and so worthwhile.”

NATHANAELLA CORNET, STEWARD 

Nathanaella gets ready with the team of Oxfam Stewards at Longitude, Marlay Park in 2014.

“Volunteering with Oxfam Ireland made my summer magical! I did some stewarding and campaigning too. Stewarding was an amazing experience. The security crew working at gigs and festivals welcome you into their family with open arms. Most of them have amazing stories, like Brian who had a cigarette with Faithless’ singer, and so much more!

“All the volunteers are united together by the love of music and the will to change things. Laura O’Leary, Oxfam Ireland’s Public Engagement Executive, and the rest of the Oxfam crew take very good care of us, bringing crisps, water and sun cream (it was needed at one point…).

“I really did not realise I was doing anything except having fun! I had a free ticket to the last day of Longitude but I decided to volunteer instead. Just because I could and because it's so much more fun! Each gigs I attended gave me an incredible smile and energy, even the rain would only make me happier! 

“In two words: DO IT! I know I'll do it again! “

get involved

Applying to be a steward is simple. Just fill in the application form on our website to get started and fill your summer with festivals today.

Be a cool kid, buy your dad a goat gift this Father’s Day

All the cool kids know it – goats make people smile! This Father’s Day, you could spread smiles the world over with the gift of a goat from the Oxfam Unwrapped range.

It’s the present that keeps giving back by changing the lives of families who depend on animals for their livelihood.

Goats are easy to care for, hardy and resilient even in times of drought which means they play an essential role for families living in poverty. They provide nutritious milk as well as fertiliser for crops and the money earned from selling extra milk can be sold at the local market and used to buy supplies for school, medicine and other household essentials. Plus their little kids can be passed on to another family when they grow up so many others will reap the same benefits.

Be a cool kid and buy your dad a Goat (€35/£25).

Augustina with her husband Joshua and two of their three children – daughters Ava and Emily. Photo: Adam Patterson/Oxfam

Augustina Danaa (32) is from northern Ghana and part of an Oxfam programme, run with local partners, which helps farming families to thrive despite the effects of climate change.

Augustina and her family have received a kid goat as well as chickens and pigs. She has also received training on how best to care for animals so that they stay healthy and strong as well as practical, weather-resistant farming techniques like composting which increases crop yields.

Augustina is also one of the first women to be involved in a bee-keeping project in the area.

Augustina harvesting honey. Photo: Adam Patterson/Oxfam

Before she got involved in the project, Augustina harvested and sold shea nuts. The work was very labour intensive and dangerous too as she was constantly at risk of being bitten by snakes when at work. Her income was small and erratic and the family relied heavily on what her husband Joshua earned. For four months of every year, her family did not have enough to eat.

Augustina says: “We couldn’t grow or buy enough food. I used to feel sick and unhappy. It was a bad situation. I couldn’t get enough food to feed my children, which made me feel bad as a mother. We would survive on a cup of rice each day, which meant each had just two spoonfuls. That was it.”

Now the future is much brighter for Augustina and Joshua and their three daughters since she joined Oxfam’s project. Their honey is a valuable commodity, which also keeps the family healthy. Their animals provide them with a more nutritious diet as well as additional income. Last year, she and Joshua enjoyed the best harvest in years thanks to their training in new composting techniques.

“I cannot express enough joy for the support and training we have received in these projects,” Augustina explains. “There is a great difference in my life. Now the story is different. I am benefitting from the bee farming, agricultural activities and livestock. Now we have food. We eat a variety of foods and meat. I can now buy school books, pencils and uniforms. With the rest, we can save for our children’s education.”

Feeding time on Augustina’s farm. Photo Adam Patterson/Oxfam

Other great gift ideas from the Oxfam Unwrapped range include ‘A Share in a Farmyard’ €7/£5 gift which makes sure people have the best opportunities to sustain and grow their livelihoods while Educate a Girl (€25/£19) is full of girl-power – giving girls and women the chance to learn, grow and reach their potential!

You can purchase any of our 15 life-changing Unwrapped gifts here.

Our full range of gifts are also available from your local Oxfam shop.

Building back stronger in Nepal, one year on

Oxfam has provided water and sanitation in temporary schools in Gorkha, Nepal, after many were destroyed in the 2015 earthquake. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

On 25 April 2015, Nepal was struck by the first of two major earthquakes that left nearly 9,000 people dead and destroyed or damaged more than 850,000 homes.

I was in Nepal in the immediate aftermath of the first quake and saw first-hand the difference your donation made as we were able to provide clean water, sanitation, emergency shelter materials, food and other vital relief.

Your donation has helped not only provide immediate aid like shelter, blankets and clean water but also now the hope of a return to normality.

Critically, your support also means that Oxfam can continue to support affected communities throughout what will be a long road to recovery.

Over the last year, Oxfam’s response has benefitted 481,900 people in seven of the worst-hit districts of Nepal with:

  • 49,978 emergency shelters
  • 13,097 winter kits including blankets and thermal mats to provide protection in freezing temperatures
  • 54,365 hygiene kits to enable people drink and wash safely Installation of more than 150 large clean water storage tanks
  • Over 7,000 toilets or latrines
  • 2,300 cash grants, tools and training to help families rebuild their livelihoods
  • Cash-for-work programmes for over 20,400 families

Bimala, Gana and Netra are just some of the thousands of people supported at the most challenging of times. Their stories are powerful examples of how your support has enabled Oxfam to rebuild communities, restore livelihoods and help people return to normality, stronger and better prepared than before. 

BIMALA’S STORY

Bimala Balami can piece her life back together after participating in an Oxfam cash-for-work programme in Kathmandu Valley. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

Bimala Balami’s life was devastated by the earthquake, which destroyed her home in Dachi Nkali municipality, in the Kathmandu valley. Bimala recalls: “My mind went completely numb. I couldn’t think. I only cared about my baby. I just wanted to protect my child.

“After the earthquake people didn’t know what they would do or how they would earn. Oxfam came in and now the women in the village know they can provide for their families.”

On the hillside fields where her local community grow rice, wheat, mustard, peas, cucumber and other vegetables, the irrigation channel that provides water for the crops was badly damaged as a result of a landslide triggered by the earthquake.

Oxfam has responded with your support by paying groups of 30 women, including Bimala, to construct a new irrigation channel. This provides the women with an income and the community with prospects of a substantive harvest.

Bimala is part of the group working on the new channel. “I like the job that I am doing because I know it is for the welfare of my entire village. People do need proper irrigation for their fields and I know that. If I don’t do this work people won’t even be able to eat.”

For people like Bimala, trying to piece their lives back together after the earthquake, cash-for-work projects such as this make the critical difference between hope and despair. It creates opportunity to rebuild not only individual lives but also that of whole communities at the same time.

In all we have organised 25 similar cash for work programmes in the area where Bimala lives involving 600 people, including clearing debris and repairing roads damaged by the earthquakes and subsequent tremors. Across our response, over 20,000 households have benefitted from such schemes.

GANA'S STORY

Gana Butrai received livelihood support in the form of a small business grant from Oxfam. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

We have supported women across four districts with financial support in the form of cash grants to enable them to restart their businesses and get their livelihoods back on track, including shop-keeper Gana Butrai.

“The day the earthquake happened I was actually in my shop,” she recalls. “The only thing I was thinking was will I live or will I die. I didn’t look at my watch but it felt as though it went on for at least half an hour. The ground felt like it was shaking for almost an entire day.

“The building was damaged in the earthquake; it used to have a top floor but it fell down and the wall on the left fell down as well.

“I had to ask people to come and help me but I couldn’t retrieve all of the items and lots of them expired. So I had to start again, reconstructing the entire space. Things have become a lot easier since Oxfam has helped.

“The first help that Oxfam gave me was a grant of 4,000 rupees and since then they have helped me with material support. I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart.” 

NETRA’S STORY

Business is now booming for trader Netra Parajuli after Oxfam’s support. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam.

We are distributing vouchers so people can buy what they need to restart their farms, businesses and kitchen gardens – which is good news for traders like Netra Parajuli. Before the earthquake, Netra ran a thriving shop in Lamosanghu, but like thousands of others, his livelihood was destroyed in the disaster.

“Everything started moving and we all started running towards the door. Slabs of concrete were falling all around us. I thought they would kill me.

“I couldn’t breathe; there was dust everywhere. I tried to see someone around me but I couldn’t see anyone. I thought I was dead. Suddenly a wall broke and I saw light. I ran towards it.

“Everything was under the debris. We couldn’t even dig the dead people out. I started breaking the concrete so that we could pull people out. That day I pulled four people alive from the rubble. They were trapped and I could hear them crying. I had no idea how many people had died then.”

With the stock he salvaged, Netra has managed to set up a temporary shop, and thanks to Oxfam’s voucher scheme, business is now back on track.

“I’ve had almost 900 people come to my shop because of the vouchers being distributed. The most popular items have been the spade, then hoe and then the watering can. If people’s tools are damaged, I repair them. I make the hoes myself.”

Oxfam has distributed over 6,000 vouchers to help people buy agricultural tools and supplies, with each voucher worth 2,000 rupees (around €17/£13). The distribution supports not only the people receiving the vouchers, enabling them to restart their kitchen gardens and farms, they also support local traders and store owners like Netra and reignite the local economy.

A further distribution is planned to commence soon, supporting local communities with livestock and grain storage through cash grants. In addition to direct assistance, Oxfam is advocating with national and local authorities in Nepal for the roll-out of a recovery process and plan that ensures no-one is left behind – especially women and other marginalised communities with limited resources or opportunities even before this crisis and who are now only more vulnerable.

We are urging a reconstruction effort that builds back better, creating a fairer, more equal and inclusive society than before.

Colm Byrne is Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager.

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