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4 links between the war in ukraine and the horn of africa hunger crisis

A woman with two children and carrying bags walk on a road to leave Ukraine after crossing the Slovak-Ukrainian border in Ubla, eastern Slovakia, close to the Ukrainian city of Welykyj Beresnyj. Photo: Peter Lazar/AFP via Getty Images

The world is facing a powerful convergence of crises. Conflict, COVID-19 and climate change are all contributing to record emergency aid needs.

The devastating humanitarian crisis in Ukraine has reminded us all of the need for global solidarity. But as the world watches Ukraine, we must also remember other crises around the globe. This is important since the economic impacts of the Ukraine crisis – including unprecedented food and energy price inflation – will be felt by the most vulnerable in our deeply unequal world.

One of the situations Oxfam is most concerned about is the hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa – spanning Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia.

Here are some similarities, and connections, between this crisis and the war in Ukraine.

Sowda Omar Abdile makes black tea in her home in Wajir County, located in Kenya’s northeast. Photo: Khadija Farah/Oxfam

The Ukraine crisis will worsen hunger in the Horn of Africa

In recent years, conflict, COVID-19 and the climate crisis have deepened catastrophic food insecurity in the Horn of Africa. Over 14 million people in the region – about half of them children – were already experiencing extreme hunger. Now, the Ukraine crisis threatens to make things even worse. The war in Ukraine is disrupting supply chains and causing food prices to skyrocket. This will push more people to the brink of famine in the Horn of Africa, which imports 90% of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine. The number of people on the edge of starvation will rise to 20 million by the middle of 2022 if rains continue to fail and prices continue to rise.

In both crises, women and girls are suffering most

Humanitarian crises are hard for everyone, but particularly for women and girls. This is the case in both the Ukraine and Horn of Africa crises.

In the Horn of Africa – especially in conflict-affected areas – women and girls are facing extraordinary dangers to secure food for their families, including gender-based violence and sexual exploitation and abuse. Food insecurity also has tragic consequences for young girls. Desperate families sometimes resort to harmful coping mechanisms like pulling their daughters out of school or marrying them off in exchange for a dowry to secure some income. Since women are often responsible for caring for, and nourishing, their families, they tend to eat last and least. This makes them more likely to suffer from malnutrition, with consequences for their own health and the health of the babies they are carrying or breastfeeding.

In the Ukraine crisis, women and children make up 90 per cent of those fleeing the country. The gender and age profile of these refugees – who have lost everything and are often forced to put their trust in strangers – significantly increases the risk of gender-based violence, trafficking and abuse.

Both crises are equally urgent

The escalating violence and massive displacement in Ukraine are shocking and have rightly captured the world’s attention. The geopolitical significance of the Ukraine crisis, together with 24/7 media coverage, has led to near record levels of funding for the humanitarian response. This fast and generous support stands in stark contrast to the attention given to other crises – including the hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa. Despite increasing needs, the humanitarian response for the region is woefully underfunded.

While the world watches Ukraine, we must remember the millions of people in neglected crises who are also suffering and in need of urgent support. Meeting humanitarian needs in Ukraine is vital, but donors must not displace funds that are badly needed to respond to challenges elsewhere. They must dig deeper and get creative. We shouldn’t need to choose between helping a refugee from Ukraine or a Somali farmer who lost her harvest. All lives are equally valuable. Both these humanitarian crises are worthy of urgent support.

Oxfam and local partners provide packages that include hygiene products and non-perishable food items to internally displaced people at the Ebnat aid distribution centre in Ethiopia’s Amhara region. Photo: Serawit Atnafu/Oxfam

Oxfam is responding to both crises

When disaster strikes – whether it’s war or a hunger crisis – Oxfam responds with high quality lifesaving assistance, emergency supplies and essential protection for the most vulnerable.

In Europe, Oxfam is working to set up safe travel routes for Ukrainian refugees. We are supporting partner organizations who are providing vulnerable families with essential items like food, water, warm clothing, hygiene equipment and legal support.

In the Horn of Africa, in response to the worsening food crisis in the region, Oxfam is providing cash and vouchers. Communities will be able to use these to purchase essential food items and to meet basic nutritional needs. We also provide agricultural inputs, including seeds and tools, with training on more climate-resistant production to better prepare farmers for the future.

Since the hunger crisis in much of the region is caused by a prolonged drought, we are trucking water to remote communities and drilling wells to get clean water flowing. Many families rely on livestock for food, so we are supporting livestock treatment and vaccination campaigns. We are also helping people who have been displaced by conflict and drought by training protection volunteers on gender-based violence issues, and distributing solar lamps to protect women and girls at night.

Fleeing Conflict in Ukraine

Julia, 44, her mother-in-law Leana, 58, her son Andrey*, 9, and nieces and nephews from Kharkiv at the Hallo Kijowska reception centre for refugees from Ukraine. Korczowa, Poland.
Julia, 44, her mother-in-law Leana, 58, her son Andrey*, 9, and nieces and nephews from Kharkiv at the Hallo Kijowska reception centre for refugees from Ukraine. Korczowa, Poland. Photo: JB Russell / Panos / Oxfam

Conflict has forced over 4 million people to flee from their home country of Ukraine. They are arriving with only what they can carry. Right now Oxfam is working with partners in countries bordering Ukraine, including Moldova, Romania and Poland to ensure the changing needs of those who’ve been forced to flee can be met as they seek safety.

Julia fled her home in Kharkiv, Ukraine, with her family. She tells Oxfam they are traveling to Georgia to stay with relatives.
Julia fled her home in Kharkiv, Ukraine, with her family. She tells Oxfam they are traveling to Georgia to stay with relatives. JB Russell / Panos / Oxfam

Julia

When Julia left Kharkiv, Ukraine, she took one last look at her home. “You look at your house and think about what to take with you, and then you realize you don’t need anything,” she says.

Julia left with her mother-in-law, her 9-year-old son, and nephews and nieces during a break in the bombardments they had endured for days, sheltering in a bunker. Her husband, like all men between 18 and 60, was forbidden by the government from leaving Ukraine.

"Children played jokes and smiled, they did not understand what was happening – they gave us strength to live on."

Tanya, 31, a book keeper from Cherkasy, Ukraine at the Przmeyśl Glówny train station after fleeing to Poland. Przmeyśl, Poland. Photo: JB Russell / Panos / Oxfam

Tanya

In Ukraine, Tanya 31 was an accountant in a fairly well-known corporation. Tanya and her family left their hometown of Cherkasy on a 18 hours bus journey to travel to Przmeyśl, Poland.

“Everyday there is an air raid siren and missiles fly nearby - it is very scary. I was forced to leave my country in order to ensure the safety of my children.

"I have a friend in Poznań, she is also a refugee. She has recently arrived and has settled down there for a while. She will help us to settle things too.

"It's incredibly scary when military planes fly overhead. Even now in a safe country where the situation is calm, I am frightened by every loud sound."

Ludomira, 74, from Kharkiv, Ukraine at the Lodyna transit centre for refugees. She is on her way to Rewal, Poland. Lodyna, Poland. Photo: JB Russell / Panos / Oxfam

Ludomira

Ludomira 74 left Kharkiv, Ukraine and hopes to return and live back in her home.

"I had a nice apartment with good furniture, a lot of handmade things. The building has lost electricity and is without heating, but it is still standing. My husband's grave is there too. I miss him, and what will happen now? I don’t know where we are going, why are we going.

"All I want is that there be peace as soon as possible, that we return to our homes, to our friends, to our neighbours, and that I can visit my husband's grave."

Liuudmyla, 37, a pharmacist from Sumy, Ukraine, and her daughter Natalia*, 11, at the Przemyésl Gléowny train station on their way to Germany after fleeing their home. Przmeśl, Poland. Photo: JB Russell / Panos / Oxfam

Liuudmyla

In Ukraine Liuudmyla 37 worked as a pharmacist and her daughter Natalia* was in fifth grade at school who played the piano and participated in competitions. On the 8th March, with thanks to the humanitarian corridor, they left Sumy, north-east Ukraine.

They travelled for 12 hours by bus and then 20 hours on one train, and then another 10 hours by train to get to Poland. Liuudmyla’s husband has stayed in Ukraine. Her sister and her husband’s mother who is 76 years old also stayed behind.

“I felt anxious when I arrived here and realised that my relatives stayed behind as it is now very unsafe there. I am calm for my child because she is here with me in Poland, but I am very worried about my relatives who stayed behind in Ukraine.”

Xenia, 35, from Ukraine and Armel, 38 from Ivory Coast, and their son Gabriel* 3 at the "Tesco" Humanitarian Aid Center for Ukrainian refugees. Przmeyśl, Poland. Photo: JB Russell / Panos / Oxfam

Xenia and Armel

Xenia 35 and Armel 38 travelled with their son Gabriel* 3 from Kharkiv to Przmeyśl, Poland who are going to stay with a friend in Wroclaw.

“We had a basement and my neighbours and I organised it as a bomb shelter. We hid for a couple of days, then we tried for a long time to get to the station, but it was impossible, there was no public transport, there was not even a taxi. It was just awful.”

“When my son hears a siren, he says ‘Papa, siren!’ He doesn’t understand what is going on. Before I was so scared for his destiny.”

Elena, 43, a beautician from Gorishnwi Plauni, her son, Petro* 14, daughter, Olga* 9, and their dog Stephanie at the Hallo Kijowska reception center after fleeing Ukraine. Korczowa, Poland. Photo: JB Russell / Panos / Oxfam

Elena

Elena 43 a beautician from Gorishnwi Plauni, with her son, Petro* 14, daughter, Olga* 9, and their dog Stephanie fled Ukraine to Korczowa, Poland.

“At the moment we have everything necessary for life, we are very happy and grateful for the help from the Poles.

"The children continue to study online (post pandemic) and dream of going to school. We do not have a computer for the children, only a smartphone to help in their studies”

Oxfam Response

These stories were gathered Oxfam staff who were in Poland assessing the needs of refugees and identifying partners that can provide services for people fleeing Ukraine. Oxfam is working with partners in countries bordering Ukraine, including Moldova, Romania and Poland. These partners will lead on projects that Oxfam supports.

Our activities with partners currently range from:

  • Sharing information with refugees at border points and providing access to reliable information through hotlines and social media
  • Distributing the resources that people need to survive today, including food parcels and hygiene kits
  • Setting up handwashing stations and toilets, including ones that are accessible for people with disabilities, and showers.
  • Providing psycho-social support and advice to help people to deal with what they are going through.
  • Access to legal aid so that people arriving from Ukraine can receive support and learn about their rights.
  • Focusing on the needs of vulnerable groups and minorities, including Roma, LGBTQIA+, women travelling with young children and people with disabilities
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Over a quarter of a billion more people could fall into extreme poverty this year

Rising global food prices alone could push 65 million more people into extreme poverty, Oxfam estimates

Over a quarter of a billion more people could fall into extreme levels of poverty in 2022, a new brief from Oxfam reveals today. This is as a result of COVID-19, rising global inequality and food price increases supercharged by the war in Ukraine. 

“First Crisis, Then Catastrophe”, published ahead of the World Bank and IMF Spring Meetings in Washington DC, shows that 860 million people could be living in extreme poverty — on less than €1.75 ($1.90) a day — by the end of this year. This is mirrored in global hunger: the number of people without enough to eat could reach 827 million in 2022.

The World Bank had projected COVID-19 and worsening inequality would add 198 million people to those facing extreme poverty during 2022, reversing two decades of progress. Based on research by the World Bank, Oxfam now estimates that rising global food prices alone will push 65 million more people into extreme poverty, bringing the total to 263 million more this year — equivalent to the populations of the UK, France, Germany and Spain combined.

Jim Clarken, CEO of Oxfam Ireland, said: “Without immediate collective action, we could be witnessing the most profound collapse of humanity into extreme poverty and suffering in memory. The triple threat of COVID-19, rising inequality and skyrocketing food prices is having a devasting impact on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.

“As many people now struggle to cope with sharp cost-of-living increases, having to choose between eating or heating or medical bills, the likelihood of mass starvation faces millions of people already locked in severe levels of hunger and poverty across East Africa, the Sahel, Yemen and Syria. One woman from Akobo in South Sudan, told us, “This is just too much. I am tired of living”.

The brief notes that a wave of governments is nearing a debt default and being forced to slash public spending to pay creditors and import food and fuel. The world’s poorest countries are due to pay $43 billion in debt repayments in 2022, which could otherwise cover the costs of their food imports. Global food prices hit an all-time high in February, surpassing the peak crisis of 2011. Oil and gas giants are reporting record-breaking profits, with similar trends expected to play out in the food and beverage sector. 

People in poverty are being hit harder by these shocks. Rising food costs account for 17 percent of consumer spending in wealthy countries, but as much as 40 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa. Even within rich economies, inflation is super-charging inequality: in the US, the poorest 20 percent of families are spending 27 percent of their incomes on food, while the richest 20 percent spend only 7 percent.

In Ireland, we are witnessing the effects of these price shocks not only in people’s protests against fuel prices, but in a wider cost of living crisis that Social Justice Ireland has characterised as forcing people to make “unavoidable trade‐offs” in Reasonable Living Expenses (RLEs).

For most workers around the world, real-term wages continue to stagnate or even fall. The effects of COVID-19 have widened existing gender inequalities too — after suffering greater pandemic-related job losses, women are struggling to get back to work. In 2021, there were 13 million fewer women in employment compared to 2019, while men’s employment has already recovered to 2019 levels.

The report also shows that entire countries are being forced deeper into poverty. COVID-19 has stretched all governments’ coffers but the economic challenges facing developing countries are greater, having been denied equitable access to vaccines and now being forced into austerity measures.

Despite COVID-19 costs piling up and billionaire wealth rising more since COVID-19 than in the previous 14 years combined, governments — with few exceptions — have failed to increase taxes on the richest. An annual wealth tax on millionaires starting at just 2 percent, and 5 percent on billionaires, could generate $2.52 trillion a year —enough to lift 2.3 billion people out of poverty, make enough vaccines for the world, and deliver universal healthcare and social protection for everyone living in low- and lower middle-income countries.

In Ireland, Oxfam has proposed an even more modest wealth tax to the Commission on Taxation and Welfare, at rates of 1.5% and 2% levied only on net wealth held above EUR 4.3 million, which could bring in revenues of over €4 billion.

Clarken said: “We reject any notion that governments do not have the money or means to lift all people out of poverty and hunger and ensure their health and welfare. We only see the absence of economic imagination and political will to actually do so.

“Now more than ever, with such scale of human suffering and inequality laid bare and deepened by multiple global crises, that lack of will is inexcusable. The G20, World Bank and IMF must immediately cancel debts and increase aid to poorer countries, and together act to protect ordinary people from an avoidable catastrophe. The world is watching”.

Oxfam is calling for urgent action to tackle the extreme inequality crisis threatening to undermine the progress made in tackling poverty during the last quarter of a century:

  • Introduce a fair and sustainable rate of wealth tax in Ireland to fund the recovery from this economic crisis and a just transition to carbon neutrality. Argentina adopted a one-off special levy dubbed the ‘millionaire’s tax’ that has brought in around $2.4 billion to pay for pandemic recovery.
  • End crisis profiteering by introducing excess profit taxes to capture the windfall profits of big corporations across all industries. Oxfam estimated that such a tax on just 32 super-profitable multinational companies could have generated $104 billion in revenue in 2020.

  • Cancel all debt payments for developing countries that need urgent help now. Cancelling debt would free up more than $30 billion in vital funds in 2022 alone for 33 countries already in or at high risk of debt distress.

  • Boost aid and pay for Ukrainian assistance and the costs of hosting refugees with new funding, rather than shift aid funds earmarked for other crises in poorer countries.

  • Reallocate at least $100 billion in Special Drawing Rights (SDR), without burdening countries with new debt or imposing austerity measures. The G20 promised to deliver $100 billion in recycled SDRs but only $36 billion has been committed to date. A new SDR issuance should also be considered and distributed based on needs rather than countries’ quota shares at the IMF.

  • Act to protect people from rising food prices, and create a Global Fund for Social Protection to help the poorest countries provide essential income security for their populations, and maintain these services in times of severe crisis.

ENDS

CONTACT: Alice Dawson-Lyons | alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org | +353 83 198 1869

Notes to editors

Download Oxfam’s briefing “First Crisis, Then Catastrophe”.

Download Oxfam Ireland’s submission to the Commission on Welfare and Taxation.

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Why is Clean Water Important?

Oxfam built a water desalination system powered by wind and solar energy on the west coast of Yemen to help families get clean water.
Oxfam built a water desalination system powered by wind and solar energy on the west coast of Yemen to help families get clean water. Pablo Tosco / Oxfam Intermon

Safe water, sanitation, and hygiene save lives during emergencies and in the long-term struggle against poverty.

When a sustained drought in southern Ethiopia in 2017 killed all of Amina Ibrahim’s sheep, goats, and camels, it was an economic crisis for her family. Then the lack of safe drinking water became an even bigger threat. People in her village started drinking whatever water they could find, got sick (most likely from cholera, but Ibrahim could not say for sure), and started dying.

“I thought I would die also,” the 50-year-old mother of 12 said later. She and her family fled to a nearby town where Oxfam and the Ethiopian government provided clean water, decent latrines, and cash-for-work projects so she could buy some food.

Like Ibrahim, more than 2 billion people in the world lack a source of safe water at home, and as many as 4.5 billion don’t have a safe sanitation system either, according to the UN. It’s a crisis during emergencies, especially the current COVID-19 pandemic. But the long-term effects of unequal access to clean water and decent sanitation in people’s day-to-day lives are also a major contributor to poverty. That’s why water, sanitation, and hygiene are priorities for Oxfam’s work--which supporters like you make possible.

Clean water saves lives

Any conflict or emergency that drives people from their homes and forces them to gather in places with no safe drinking water or sanitation systems creates conditions that are ripe for water-borne diseases.

Cholera is one of the most severe diseases: When about a million Rwandans fled violence to eastern Congo in 1994, there were as many as 60,000 (some estimate 80,000) cases of cholera. Within about a month, more than 40,000 people died. In Yemen, more than six years of conflict has so severely damaged water systems that the country has endured a multi-year cholera epidemic that has killed thousands.

Oxfam helps reduce the threat of diseases in emergencies by providing clean water. With partners, we treat local water sources, or bring water to areas hosting refugees and displaced people by truck, store it in tanks and bladders, and set up pipes and taps to dispense it. We dig and repair wells, and train people to maintain them, so that after the emergency passes communities have a safe source of water.

Oxfam works with engineers to repair municipal water systems damaged in conflicts and earthquakes. After bombings in the Gaza Strip damaged water desalination plants in 2020, for example, Oxfam provided the chemicals needed to get them up and running. We also build systems to purify water where needed.

After air strikes damaged municipal water systems in northern Gaza in May 2021, Oxfam helped rebuild the sanitation system in Beit Lahia.
After air strikes damaged municipal water systems in northern Gaza in May 2021, Oxfam helped rebuild the sanitation system in Beit Lahia. Hosam Salem/Oxfam

Promoting good hygiene is also essential, especially during a pandemic. Oxfam partners train community leaders to encourage handwashing at critical moments. We provide hygiene kits with soap, water purification tablets, and other necessities that help people displaced by emergencies keep clean and avoid cholera outbreaks and COVID-19.

Safe sanitation is also crucial. Oxfam helps install latrines where people need them and ensures they are sited appropriately for women to access safely (installing solar lights if needed). Oxfam helped build about 8,000 latrines in the months following the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. After more than 800,000 Rohingya people fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh in 2017, Oxfam worked with the UN and people seeking refuge in camps to build a massive sewage treatment plant that processes waste from 150,000 people.

Clean water fights poverty

The lack of clean water kills people every day, and water-borne diseases and parasites are a significant hardship . Children under 5 are the most vulnerable. Diarrheal diseases are among the most common causes of mortality for children under 5, and can be easily prevented with clean water, decent sanitation, basic hygiene, and nutritious food.

A convenient source of water can also be a major improvement in the lives of women and girls, who are frequently tasked with carrying water home many times per day. Many girls and young women are deprived an education, just to carry water. This relegates them to an early marriage and limits their prospects of employment.

By helping communities improve their access to clean water and basic sanitation, and promoting good hygiene, Oxfam and the many organizations we partner with make an important contribution to fighting inequality, eliminating at least some of the time women have to spend carrying water, reducing health care costs, and improving the educational prospects of their daughters.

Water for livestock and growing food

Water is becoming more and more scarce in some parts of the world due to climate change. For example, in Central America’s Dry Corridor, an arid zone cutting across five countries, farmers are struggling to grow enough food to survive. In 2019, Oxfam provided cash and food aid to communities in Guatemala’s southern Chiquimula region at a time when farmers had not seen any consistent rain for four years.

Lucas Aldana used the cash to plant corn and beans, and says “I bought a hose to improve my mini-irrigation system so that the plants … don’t dry up.”

Oxfam has helped communities around the world with irrigation systems for farmers, water reservoirs to support livestock herders, and training to help communities manage their watersheds and forests to reduce erosion, improve soil quality, and replenish ground water.

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