Blog

Oxfam responds to the urgent needs of people fleeing conflict to Bangladesh

Friday 8th September 2017

Statement by Lan Mercado, Oxfam in Asia’s Regional Director:

“Oxfam is deeply concerned about the plight of more than 160,000 civilians who have crossed the border into Bangladesh, and countless others caught up in the conflict in Rakhine State, Myanmar resulting in a large-scale humanitarian crisis.  Every day, thousands of people are taking the dangerous journey across the border, and due to access restrictions in northern Rakhine, it is unknown how many more are missing or trapped.

“Women, children, older people and persons with disabilities are among those taking shelter in the two South-Eastern districts of Cox’s Bazaar and the Bandarban. They are facing extreme difficulties with many living without protection and under open skies. They have little or no access to clean drinking water, food supplies, sanitation facilities, and other basic needs. A significant number were wounded while crossing the border, are physically and emotionally traumatised, and are in urgent need of life-saving humanitarian assistance.

“In Myanmar, humanitarian operations in Rakhine State have been severely disrupted through administrative restrictions, security constraints, and heightened tensions. While ongoing humanitarian operations for displaced people in Central Rakhine are now resuming, humanitarian access for people affected by conflict in northern Rakhine is severely restricted.

“In Bangladesh, Oxfam has started to respond to the immediate needs of the people fleeing conflict by working with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).  We are providing containers for clean drinking water, portable toilets and sanitation facilities, plastic sheets, and other essential Non-Food Items (NFIs). 

“Oxfam calls on all authorities to guarantee humanitarian access to all civilians and ensure their protection from ongoing conflict. There is an urgent need to scale up humanitarian assistance for the people.

“We recognise the efforts of the Bangladesh government in providing access for the people fleeing the conflict in Myanmar and responding to the urgent humanitarians needs.  We urge the Bangladesh government to extend free and unimpeded access to all humanitarian agencies willing and able to deliver essential life-saving assistance to Cox' Bazaar and Bandarban districts. 

“In Myanmar, Oxfam is ready to provide life-saving relief to people, and we call on the authorities to guarantee the safety and security of humanitarian workers and for an immediate cessation of violence and conflict.

“We also underline that special attention must be paid to the needs of women and girls. The protection, privacy, health, and hygiene needs of women, girls and nursing mothers must be met and measures must be taken to prevent any form of sexual or gender based violence.” 

ENDS

CONTACT:

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND:          Alice Dawson on 00353 (0) 83 198 1869 / alice.dawson@oxfamireland.org

NORTHERN IRELAND: Phillip Graham on 0044 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org

Hurricane Irma: Oxfam in Haiti focuses on likely damage to water and sanitation facilities

Some areas in Haiti have not recovered from Hurricane Matthew - and now they face Irma

Thursday 7th September 2017

Many supermarket shelves in northern Haiti are now empty and people in coastal areas are being evacuated inland to schools and public buildings in preparation for the worst of Hurricane Irma today and tomorrow.

In Cap Haitien, Haiti’s second city with a population of 280,000, Oxfam’s 27-person team is urgently working with authorities to assist the evacuation. The government has prepared 793 temporary shelters across seven departments and, together with Oxfam and other agencies, is trying to move as many people away from the coast.

Tania Escamilla, Regional Communications Coordinator with Oxfam who arrived in Cap Haitien on Wednesday, said: “I get the sense that people here are used to hurricanes and no-one seems frantically scared, but I’ve heard from many that some areas of the country haven’t even fully recovered from Hurricane Matthew last year – and now they’re facing this.

“While many are moving, there are quite a few people who have decided not to evacuate but to stay put instead, afraid to lose their belongings and home.”

The Oxfam team in Cap Haitien is already preparing to mount emergency repairs to water and sanitation facilities, under the DINEPA division of the Ministry of Public Works.

Escamilla continued: ““Overall, we fear that half-a-million people could be affected even in the best-case scenario – or as many as 3 million in the worst.

“My engineering and humanitarian colleagues tell me that although cholera cases are considered low and under control at the moment, the disease remains their biggest concern should the storm wreck infrastructure.

“Haiti’s geography and environment – and level of poverty – make people extremely vulnerable to flooding and landslides. The damage that could likely happen from the winds and storm surge would be devastating for a large part of Cap Haitien and surrounding towns”

In Haiti, Oxfam has moved emergency aid into five locations across the country, three of which are in northern areas that will be the most exposed to the hurricane’s impact. Already four teams, made up of five or more specialists in emergencies, have been mobilised in Cap-Haitien, Ouanaminthe, Anse-Rouge and Gonaives. Oxfam also has nine cholera response teams now ready to deploy.

Oxfam teams in Dominican Republic and Cuba are also preparing to respond. Oxfam has worked in the Caribbean region for over 30 years and has expert teams in providing safe water and carrying out sanitation and hygiene work to prevent the spread of deadly diseases among those most vulnerable when an emergency strikes.

ENDS

CONTACT: Oxfam spokespeople are available. To arrange an interview or for more information, contact:

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Alice Dawson on 00353 (0) 83 198 1869 / alice.dawson@oxfamireland.org

NORTHERN IRELAND: Phillip Graham on 0044 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org

Oxfam is ready to respond to Hurricane Irma

Oxfam country teams and partner organisations in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba are now preparing to respond to damage from the impact of Hurricane Irma and to support communities likely to be hit the hardest.

The Category 5 hurricane (based on the Saffir-Simpson scale) has just made landfall in the Caribbean with winds up to 185 miles per hour, passing over Barbuda and moving towards the north into Hispaniola Island on Thursday.

In northern Haiti, Oxfam has a team in place in Cap Haitian that is primed to reach the most affected areas immediately after Irma hits. They will determine Oxfam’s initial humanitarian response. Teams in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba have activated their contingency plans and are coordinating response efforts with partner organisations and government agencies there.

Oxfam teams are also closely monitoring tropical storm Jose which is developing in the southern Caribbean.

Oxfam has worked in the Caribbean region for over 30 years and has expert teams in place for delivering immediate aid when disaster strikes, including providing safe water and carrying out sanitation and hygiene work for the most vulnerable people. Oxfam responded to last year´s Hurricane Matthew in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba.

ENDS

CONTACT: Oxfam spokespeople in-country are available for interview. For more information or interviews, please contact Alice Dawson, Oxfam Ireland, on +353 (0) 83 198 1869 or at alice.dawson@oxfamireland.org

Posted In:

Helping a Yemeni village fight hunger

Yemen is on the brink of famine after two years of devastating conflict. So far thousands of people have been killed and over 3 million forced to flee their homes. More than half of the country is without enough to eat. We are delivering emergency aid but we urgently need your help to do more.

We drive west through steep rocky terrain, dotted with ancient mountain-top fortresses studded with tall circular towers of rough-hewn stone. Rural Yemen is serene, isolated and medieval. We are heading from Oxfam’s emergency humanitarian office in Khamer, in the northern tribal heartland of Amran governorate, to Othman village on its western edge. 

Othman’s 200 families are battling hunger, like many others across Yemen.

Othman village, in Yemen’s Amran district, where 200 families are fighting hunger. Credit: Mohammed Farah Adam/Oxfam

A perilous drive

The drive is nerve-wracking. Our driver Abdullah says pointedly he has been driving for 10 years around these hairpin turns and vertical cliff-face drops. I think he’s noticed how scared I am.
We wave to some men and women working the tiny cultivated terraces, and to curious child shepherds moving goats and sheep through the sun-baked mountains. 
 
We lose mobile phone reception and modern-day communication. After one and a half hours of a perilous ride over 27 kilometres, we descend into a valley dotted with fields of sorghum (a type of cereal), and to a hamlet of scattered stone dwellings in the cliffs high above the valley floor. 
 
This is Othman village.

Food is scarce

Othman’s people eke out life in stricken conditions. Food is mostly home-made bread and a boiled wild plant known locally as Cissus or Hallas. We’re here to measure how Oxfam’s cash assistance project of €81/£76 per month for each extremely poor family has helped put food on their tables and avert starvation.
 
Boiled, the wild plant Cissus – or Hallas as it is locally known – is the main food along with home-made bread that people eat in Osman village. Credit: Mohammed Farah Adam/Oxfam
 
There were 80 severely malnourished children in Othman. Oxfam set up cash assistance projects around the Khamer district, with other agencies, to buttress their battle against starvation. The children got health treatment from our partners, while Oxfam gave cash to the most desperate of the families here. We also ran a programme to raise their awareness about malnutrition and good hygiene. 

No teachers for the schools

At Othman school, a frail old man whirls black prayer beads through his fingers, leaning against the wall of a classroom. The school rooms are now only used for community meetings. There are no teachers in Othman. 
 
The village announcer shouts out over the loudspeaker: “Oxfam is here to monitor the conditions of the malnourished children.” Curious folk join us. Parents have dressed their children, who before had been on the brink of death, in their very best clothes. They seem well on the mend. Over the four-month duration of our cash assistance project in Othman we’ve reduced malnutrition by 62%.
 
Though pale, these children are no longer on the verge of starvation.

You’ve saved our lives

Nine-month-old Mohamed Amin, the youngest of five siblings and still tiny, is cradled by his father. He has certainly been saved from an early unnecessary death, by a small assistance.
 
Crammed into a classroom, we ask about Oxfam’s work. How many times do you eat a day? How is the baby’s condition? What do you do for a living? And so on.
 
Rabee Qassem holds his young daughter while worrying for her future. He's one of thousands that used to receive Oxfam's cash assistance in Amran governorate. Credit: Mohammed Farah Adam/Oxfam
 
Children smirk at my Arabic as their parents take turn in answering. Others nod along.
 
“Your assistance saves our lives,” says Rabee Qassem, holding his young daughter.

The effects of war

Many of these villagers used to work on small farm plots along the valley but their incomes were so meagre they could no longer afford their essential needs when the price of basic commodities skyrocketed due to the conflict and the de-facto blockade of Yemen.  
 
Since the war exploded open in March 2015, more than 10,000 Yemenis have been killed and 17 million people – 60 percent of the population – do not now have enough to eat. More than 7 million of them are a step away from famine. 
 
As they were here in Othman. 

Hope for peace

I ask the mother of 10-month-old Marwan about her hopes. She takes a deep breath, a moment of silence as she gathers her thoughts, and tears well up. “Peace! My only hope is peace,” she says. Others nod. 
 
At the end of our meeting, I had to announce the news. “We have run out of money to continue the cash assistance.” 
 
Their banter dies down to silence. “But why? Our situation is still miserable,” Mohamed Amin’s father says. 
 
“The cash assistance project was funded by donors for only a specific period of time, which has come to an end. We are still looking for more donor funds but we haven’t secured any yet,” I explain. “We know your situation and we are doing our best.” 
 
“Thank you. God will help,” says the old man with the beads.
 
An Oxfam water distribution point. Photo: Moayed Al.Shaibani/Oxfam
 
It is a wretched time. Our programme was funded for four-months and – although this was made clear at the start – the people of Othman are dismayed now and afraid. It’s my job to start winding-down this part of our work now that we only have a month left of funding toward it. 
 
We hoped to maintain it. We tried. It saved their lives. But the cruel truth is that earlier this year, the big aid donors made the tough decision to triage their money only to governorates that were at “level 4” emergency status – that is, one level below famine. 
 
Although still itself in an emergency situation as a village, Othman is part of a governorate – Amran – that is classified overall as “level 3”. Therefore, there are other governorates which are, overall, in worse straits. 
 
Othman no longer makes the cut. 
 
This is exactly what we mean when we say Yemen is an “overwhelming” crisis. Our unconditional cash transfer projects are immediate life-savers; last year Oxfam ran cash transfer projects worth nearly €3.3 million/£3 million, to more than 7,100 families in Yemen (the Othman project cost about €27k/£25k, by way of example). 
 
But these are typically short-term and irregular projects, and with the constant funding pressure we’re forced to keep tightening our criteria of people we can help to only the most desperate.

Stand with Yemen

Over the last two years, Oxfam has provided humanitarian assistance to more than 130,000 people in the most dire humanitarian needs in Khamer and in three other neighbouring districts. We enable vulnerable communities to access water through the rehabilitation of rural and urban water networks. 
 
We’ve invested in rain-water harvesting, repaired water networks, and provided fuel, sanitation services, solid waste management and hygiene promotion. We’ve given out winter clothes to families living in open displacement camps, helping their children to survive freezing weather. 
 
With heavy hearts, we leave Othman and its children and their parents.
 
Oxfam is still running a cholera response project there, including distributing hygiene kits, but our cash assistance work in Othman is done – at least for now – decided for us, because there are “worse” priorities elsewhere.
 
I hope Othman’s people survive. I hope they can eventually thrive. I hope that donors can find more funding and expand the humanitarian work to the scale it needs to be, including back into the pockets of desperation like Othman. 
 
I hope Yemen can achieve peace. 

What you can do now

World Humanitarian Day: Meet Michelle and Samson

This World Humanitarian Day, meet two inspirational aid workers, supporting people in need through our programmes in Nigeria.
 

Meet Michelle

Michelle Farrington is Oxfam’s specialist in public health during emergencies and is currently working in Rann in North-eastern Nigeria. Last year there was a cholera outbreak in Rann and so Michelle and the team are there helping to make sure that doesn’t happen again. 

Michelle writes: “For the last five months, I have been planning for a possible cholera outbreak in Rann, in North-eastern Nigeria.

Rann is particularly vulnerable to outbreaks: previously a town of approximately 35,000 people, it has now swollen to a population of over 70,000 because of people forced to flee their homes. Rann is already flooded which means people will be cut off from the rest of Nigeria with no access by road when the rainy season is in full swing. This means that NGOs like Oxfam will be unable to bring any supplies – of food, medicine, water treatment chemicals, construction materials for latrines and shelter – into Rann for at least four months.

Preparing for a cholera outbreak involves thinking through worst case scenarios and making a plan to ensure the items we would in case of an outbreak are present - safe water, sanitation and information for people affected. I have been working with colleagues to get supplies to Rann so that the items we need to respond are already in place before the town becomes inaccessible to trucks. We have built over 300 latrines (toilets) for people living in temporary settlements and we are starting to treat water at each water point as a precautionary measure.

It’s not only in Rann that we have been doing these kind of activities; preparing for cholera outbreaks has been happening in all of the places where Oxfam works in North-eastern Nigeria.

We have trained community volunteers in the signs and symptoms of cholera, and taught them how to work with their neighbours and communities to take preventative steps against spreading the disease. The same volunteers will help Oxfam mobilise communities in case an outbreak does happen, and will provide a vital source of communication between Oxfam and communities so we can adapt our response rapidly. 

It has been difficult, especially in Rann. Due to security concerns, Oxfam teams can only access Rann via helicopter three times a week, but everyone has been working hard to ensure we are prepared should a cholera outbreak occur. 

Meet Samson

Like Michelle, Samson is a fellow humanitarian aid worker in Nigeria. Samson works in the government-run Farm Centre camp in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria. It is a camp established by displaced people themselves when they moved into empty unfinished buildings the government was building for government workers. There are also people living in makeshift shelters, especially those who have arrived more recently. Oxfam is providing water, latrines and sanitation in the camp. 

What is Oxfam doing in Nigeria?

With the help of people like Michelle and Samson, Oxfam has been working in north eastern Nigeria since 2015, and over the last year we have expanded our response so that now we are working in eight different locations across Borno and Adamawa states. Some of the areas that we work in – Madagali and Rann – suffered from cholera outbreaks last year, whereas others are already facing outbreaks of other water and sanitation diseases.

Oxfam is also responding to the hunger crisis in north-east Nigeria where over 4 million people are in desperate need of food. So far, Oxfam has helped about 300,000 people affected by the crisis by providing emergency food and cash as well as clean water, sanitation and building showers and toilets. 

Pages