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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

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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. 

Michelle's vlog from Nigeria

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. 

Samson's passion for humanity

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. 

Searching for safety: lessons from Syria's refugees

What is life like for Syrian refugees in Lebanon? Oxfam conducted research to find out how safe refugees feel and to understand the challenges they face. For Oxfam researcher Nour Shawaf, it was a humbling process.

I thought I knew it all, I thought I had seen it, I thought I had read about it, I thought I had heard all their stories… After all, I am Lebanese, I have Syrian and Palestinian friends, I have been interacting with refugees on a regular basis for the past four years, I speak their language and I follow the news closely! Why would I not know it all?

Well I was definitely wrong. I knew nothing at all.

“Every time we went to a place the war would follow us.” She personified war and it scared me. My imagination took me beyond the discussion. I dropped my papers and just listened to her. The young woman sitting in front of me was my age. She had experienced multiple displacements and the war was following her. This was not just another research exercise, and this young woman talking to me was not just another story.

While carrying out Participatory Protection Research for Oxfam in Lebanon to explore the perceptions and expectations of refugees from Syria over the past, present and future, my own perceptions and expectations were altered. The stories refugees from Syria told left me completely shocked.

Reality struck me hard, especially when people started describing their routes from Syria to Lebanon. I had heard about the “mountain.” It is the word all refugees from Syria use to indicate they have come into the country through unofficial borders. But never had it occurred to me that the ‘mountain’ was a “death plateau.” People talked about walking for hours and days, being left by smugglers in the middle of nowhere, walking in the snow or under the sweltering sun, and having to leave their belongings en route to carry children and elderly on their backs when they could no longer walk.

Bekaa Valley informal refugee settlement in winter. Credit: Sam Tarling/Oxfam 

They went through the “mountain” looking for safety from the bombings, the shelling and the airstrikes. There are neither bombings nor shelling nor airstrikes where they are now… but they have still not found safety!

The rampant fear and the deteriorating living conditions are obstacles that prevent them from feeling safe. Their inability to meet their basic needs, obtain legal statuses and avoid arrests, deprive them from the sense of safety they are longing for.

Though this came as no surprise to me, experiencing it along with the refugees who volunteered to participate in the research shifted my perspective. They explained to me the range of factors they had to worry about. If they leave home, they have to worry about the checkpoints. If they stay home they have to worry about raids. If they find a job they have to worry about inspectors along with different forms of exploitation. If they don’t find a job they have to worry about meeting their families’ basic needs.

In their own words, their quest to find safety is costing them their dignity: “When you are displaced you start ignoring your dignity to find safety”. When an older Lebanese woman made the aforementioned statement, she summarised everything the refugees were trying to tell me in one sentence. The times may have changed, but the experience of displacement remains the same.

A portrait of Jemaa Al Halayal and his two-year-old daughter, Lebanon. Credit: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

Despite the dire conditions and the lack of better prospects, Ahmad told me: “We won’t lose hope”. Ahmad is a 22-year-old Syrian refugee from Homs. He fled his hometown at the very beginning of the war. He had always dreamt of becoming a Computer Engineer. Although his dreams have not unfolded so far, he is striving to achieve the best given the current circumstances. He says: “Even if you are a refugee, you must have a message, a mission. I want to serve my country, my people. I hope I can spread a positive message.”

As part of our research we invited participants to take photos. The above photo was taken by Ahmad (of his former home), as it reminds him of his past. I sometimes tend to forget that Ahmad was not a refugee before 2013 and that he led a different life. This photo is my constant reminder.

People like Ahmad are what keeps me going, that much I know!

Posted by Nour Shawaf, Protection Research and Policy Advisor for Oxfam in Lebanon

 

Oxfam shows 'We Care' in Zimbabwe

For families in many parts of the world household tasks such as laundry, cooking, cleaning, collecting water and caring for dependents take a huge amount of time and energy. Limited access to time-saving equipment, public infrastructure and services exacerbates this situation.

For women, domestic and care work is often heavy, inefficient and unequally distributed. Women globally spend, on average, more than twice as long as men on unpaid work – that can mean as much as five hours per day on household tasks like laundry and cooking, and on caring for children and family. It can mean less time spent learning new skills, earning money or taking an active role in the community. This limits women’s choices and undermines efforts to achieve gender equality and overcome poverty. Oxfam’s We Care initiative aims to change this.

Why Oxfam cares about care

Care has long been considered the responsibility of women. As a result, providing care falls disproportionately on their shoulders – limiting women’s time to learn, to earn or to take part in political and social activities of their choice. This is an issue in every country; however, the effects of unequal care are more extreme in poor communities. Tasks such as laundry and cooking can take most of the day when there is limited access to water and fuel, let alone washing machines or stoves. Drivers of poverty, such as lack of services and exposure to disasters, increase the demand for care work – preventing women’s empowerment and trapping families in poverty.

Ulita Mutambo said: “We started the ‘We Care’ programme in 2014, that’s when things changed for the better. At first my husband did not help me at all. I would do all the work on my own, carrying firewood from the mountains, fetching water from the borehole which is far from here. Things got better when he accepted to join the programme and started helping me. Now the work is lighter. 

“The chores that have to be done are laundry, fetching water, cooking, bathing the children, as well as working in the fields. When I had just got married I would do all the work, my husband would only help now and then. Now we help each other. While I do the washing, cooking or sweeping, my husband goes to fetch water. After that we go together to collect firewood. Getting help is good because now I get time to rest. Before we joined the programme I would never have time to rest.

“Now that I have free time, I can help my children with their homework. Before the We Care programme, I never had time to help my children with school work, so I am happy. I am also able to spend time with my children, getting closer to them. The programme has changed life a lot within this family. We now live together in harmony as a family.”

(Top) Ulita Mutambo (26) stands with her husband Muchineripi Sibanda (36), her son Blessing, 9, and Sandra, 6, outside their home in Ture Village, Zvishevane region, Zimbabwe. (Bottom left) Ulita with her daughter Sandra. (Bottom right) Ulita with her young nephew outside her home. Photos: Aurelie Marrier d'Unienville/Oxfam

(Top) Ulita and her husband Muchineripi walk to collect water from an Oxfam-built water pump just over 1km from their home. (Bottom left) Ulita and Muchineripi take a break from farming together in their corn field close to where they live. (Bottom right) Muchineripi helps Ulita with the laundry in a nearby river . Photos: Aurelie Marrier d'Unienville/Oxfam

(Top-Left) Ulita’s husband Muchineripi helps her hang up laundry outside their home. (Top right) Muchineripi with Sandra outside their home. (Bottom left) Ulita with her daughter Sandra. (Bottom right) Sandra relaxes in a wheelbarrow. Photos: Aurelie Marrier d'Unienville/Oxfam

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