Blog

COVID-19: Stay healthy and, above all, keep calm

Did you know we’re experts at stopping the spread of deadly disease? For nearly 80 years, we’ve been working in communities across the world to promote hygiene training and provide clean water and safe sanitation – things like taps and water tanks as well as loos and showers.

In times of crisis, it’s our priority to ensure that the people we work with – some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable – are kept safe from preventable disease and death.

Our colleague Abdullah is a frontline responder and public health promoter in the countries we work in - here he shares some thoughts on the COVID-19 outbreak:

humanitarian worker public health
Abdullah Ampilan at work in South Sudan. Credit: Oxfam in Asia

Abdullah says:

"Almost two decades ago, I left my comfort zone as a teacher and a nurse to do humanitarian and development work with Oxfam, first in the Philippines, and then in other countries. As a frontline responder and publich health promoter assigned to communities affected by the deadly Ebola virus in Libera and Sierra Leone from 2014 to 2015, I have some insights from the field on the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

First of all, we should not panic. Rather, we should be aware, alert, and exercise the protocols set by our relevant health authorities, including the World Health Organisation (WHO). During the Ebola outbreak, which left at least 11,000 people dead in West Africa in 2014 to 2015, I remember that a strict “No Touch” policy was implemented at work, following the directives of the governments of Liberia and Sierra Leone. It was prohibited to touch anyone, regardless if they were sick or not. Although we were all advised to avoid public contact, local contexts were considered in implementing this protocol.

In both Liberia and Sierra Leone, health authorities banned large gatherings of people and imposed a mandatory curfew. Handwashing stations were installed in doorsteps and gates of offices, restaurants, and homes. In the case of COVID-19, we should heed health warnings, and wash our hands properly and stringently. Where handwashing is not possible, another good strategy is to always have hand sanitiser on the ready. The battle against the virus is not solely solved through treatment. Prevention is also equally essential to break the transmission chain and stop the disease from spreading.

I was part of the team that conducted active case finding for Ebola which means that we detected people who were sick so that they can be referred to health centres and hospitals. This contributed to the whole system of breaking the transmission chain, and it was done alongside other actions like contact tracing and hygiene promotion.

The Ebola response taught me that, whether for health threats or actual outbreaks, engaging with the public and communities by giving out the correct information is a must. This lesson is helpful considering that the WHO already declared the COVID-19 outbreak a public health emergency of international concern. Without meaningful and active community participation, COVD-19 will travel beyond barriers and borders. Preparedness is critical – local government units will have a huge role to play. Mobilised communities will be better equipped to actively participate in containing, controlling, preventing, and managing the disease. On the other hand, the government must ensure that treatment centres are ready with staffing, supplies and facilities, which include safe access to water, sanitation, and hygiene. A contingency plan must be set in place even before the disease reaches other areas.

More than ever, we will need strong measures to reduce, if not completely prevent, affected people and communities from being stigmatised. I have seen and experienced first-hand how these types of negative reactions interfere with the efforts of governments, NGOs, and the international community during health emergencies. I remember experiencing stigma, even if I did not have Ebola, because nobody wanted to touch me or even sit beside me for months after I worked in West Africa.

Now is not the time for fearmongering, racism, and stereotyping. Instead, let us all be informed, stay healthy, and, above all, keep calm."

Syria crisis anniversary: Stitching lives back together

This coming Sunday (March 15th) marks nine years since the start of the conflict in Syria. The crisis continues to cause tremendous human suffering to people both inside and outside the country.

Since the conflict started in March 2011, hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost. Homes and schools have been destroyed, neighbourhoods lack clean running water and sanitation, and people lack the means of making a living to feed their families. 2 in 3 Syrians – over 13 million women, men, and children – continue to find themselves in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.

woman refugee regains her livelihood
Asmaa, 40, a dressmaker, sits in her little shop in AlBwaidieh, a rural area in Deir Ez-Zor, Syria. Credit: Dania Kareh/Oxfam

No one ever thinks it'll happen to them...

Our work in Syria includes providing people with support to help make a living and grow food, such as the distribution of seeds and assets to farmers, cash for work programmes, and supporting women and men to gain new skills through training.

One of those who has benefited from our help is 40-year-old Asmaa, a dressmaker from al-Bwaidieh, in Syria rural Deir Ez-Zor district.

Asmaa said: “Before the war, I was known to friends, family and customers as an incredibly talented dressmaker. I built myself a career to the beat of the needle and the bob, and my designs made for an excellent source of income for me and my family. I even had my own shop where I would work the day away.

“But all that changed seven years ago when my town of al-Bwaidieh, in rural Deir ez-Zor, was sucked into the violence. We had to leave and couldn’t carry much. I hid my most prized possession, my sewing machine, beneath a bundle of hay and even said a little prayer that it might be there when I returned – if I returned that is.

“We headed for Qamishli in north eastern Syria for safety. There, we lived through what would become our worst days. For nearly four years we worked random jobs, none of which were sustainable or provided enough to keep us from having to rely on others to make it through this war. It was a struggle; a real struggle for me, my brother and my mother.

“Oh, how I wished I had my sewing tools on me so that my family and I could live in dignity. You see, no one ever thinks it’ll happen to them until it does. Humans, we think we are immune… to war, violence, displacement. But it could happen to anyone, and it happened to us.”

Now it's all about survival

Asmaa continued: “Our entire lives have changed; taken a turn for the worse. We spent all our savings, sold our jewellery and whatever else we had just to survive.

“We returned to our home only recently, and the first thing I did was look for my sewing machine. And there she was, waiting for me in the same place I had left her.

“Strange how sometimes the smallest things become so dear to us. Such is life when you are living in a warzone: a sewing machine becomes so much more than just a tool; it is a means to an independent life, to self-sufficiency.

“Now, we are stitching back together the pieces of our lives. I still long for the old days, when I first started my career. Back then, people wanted the finest garments in town; now it’s all about survival.”

What we are doing - with your support

In Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, we are helping more than 1.5 million people with life-saving clean water, sanitation, essential clothing items, cash and vital food aid, supporting people to grow nutritious food, protecting them from violence and abuse, as well as helping refugees make a living.

#9YearsofWar

Syria crisis anniversary: Nine lives after nine years

On the ninth anniversary of Syria’s conflict, families continue to brave through a humanitarian catastrophe.

The violence has seen hundreds of thousands of people killed and displaced millions more. It continues to drive the largest refugee crisis in the world, with 6 million people displaced from their homes within Syria and more than 5 million refugees living in neighbouring countries including Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, the majority in extreme poverty.

Violence continues to rage in the country’s northwest, threatening thousands more lives and further compounding a crisis now entering its tenth year. This year must be the war’s last.

Our aid workers have listened to the stories of numerous Syrian refugees now living in often challenging conditions in Lebanon and Jordan; and of those who have remained in Syria, often fleeing themselves or seeing the communities around them so drastically affected.

Here are nine stories of hope, and of despair, as Syrians reveal how the war has turned their lives upside down.

Syrian refugee woman talks to Oxfam
Badria sits on the floor of her Tripoli home after making tea. She still wears her wedding ring. Credit: Sahar el-Bachir/Oxfam

“I miss our home in Ma’ret al-Nohman. It was small, but it had a garden with three olive trees around it. I used to plant herbs and vegetables in it, and never had to worry about electricity or water the way I do in Lebanon.  When our neighbourhood in Syria was bombed, my husband decided that it would be best for us to flee - all 25 of us. Lebanon was safer, we were told. Little did we know that our entire life was about to turn upside down. We thought it would only be for a month, but a month turned to eight long years. My son, who was 12 at the time, had to drop out of school to support our family. He took a job at a restaurant, working long hours. His entire life has changed, as have the lives of his siblings. The first few months were a complete turnaround for us, we found ourselves harvesting olives in exchange for a home in north Lebanon: our labour for a roof. It wasn’t much but at least we were safe, and we were together. But that only lasted for a season. As soon as the last of the olives were picked, my husband took off with his third wife. Now, there is only Oum Jomaa and I and our children. Oum Jomaa is my husband’s first wife. We decided to move to the city together in hopes that we would make a better life for ourselves. My four children and I eat, sleep, and prepare our meals in the same room. We share an apartment with Oum Jomaa and her children. We can’t afford a place of our own. Our life didn’t take a turn for the better. The city is a hard place to live. My youngest son sells napkins and gum on the streets, and both he and two of his siblings are out of school and we are heavily in debt. I thank God though that we have a roof over heads. Many of our Syrian brothers and sisters are either homeless or live in makeshift tents. This has been our life for the last nine years. We are exhausted. Our home in Syria was destroyed and many of our friends and family have left.” Badria, 43, Tripoli, North Lebanon

Syrian refugee works as a football coach
Mohamad holds his cricket bat in a Beirut field as he waits for the refugee and Lebanese children he will be coaching for the day. Credit: Sahar el-Bachir/Oxfam

“It’s been too long since I’ve heard from friends back home. I don’t know what has become of them and I don’t know what will become of me.  Seven years since arriving in Beirut, life has not gotten easier. Legal work in this country is near impossible for people like me – which is what I did before in Syria - as obtaining a work permit is a bureaucratic nightmare, so much so that even a Syrian organization I once worked with refused to sponsor me. But we must persist and must fight for our dreams. I arrived in Beirut on Thursday August 8, 2013 at 10:30 pm. I remember everything vividly: how I crawled on the floor of my home in Barzeh, north of Damascus, to reach the phone so that I could tell my family that I was still alive, the sound of bullets now behind me, the smell of the bus station on the Lebanese side of the border when I finally made it there, the sound of my younger brother’s flip flops as he paced upon my arrival, the look on the face of the police officer standing on the border crossing who, at first, didn’t want to let me in because I was a Palestinian refugee from Syria and Palestinian refugees, well, we were seen as the other of the other, and were no longer allowed entry, how I told him that I would only be in the country briefly to visit family and maybe apply to university to continue my studies, how he signed my papers, and how two hours later, I was in the city with 500 Syrian Liras (around €4/£3) in my pocket. All these memories are etched in my brain. The city is a difficult place to live when you have big dreams; dreams that even the war itself failed to destroy. But Beirut was also the place where I first got to stand on stage; where I got a small acting gig in a movie that made it all the way to international film festivals – a very proud moment for me! You see, I want to be an actor, a star! I am told I have an innocent face, but I am always cast as a mean officer type of guy. I also want to be a famous cricket coach. Even though the game is not super popular in Lebanon, I love it, and spend hours coaching Lebanese and refugee kids. I really think it might pick up! My journey has been difficult. I only pray that I am not asked for my papers when passing a checkpoint. My life is still so uncertain.” Mohammad, 35, Palestinian refugee from Syria, Beirut

Syrian refugee shows his life before the war
Oxfam helps vulnerable refugees like Fathi make a modest income while gaining valuable skills training at Za'atari Refugee Camp. Credit: Nesma al-Nsour/Oxfam

“I still remember how nervous I was before my first-ever performance in Syria. I was in my early 20’s and I was so intimidated by the enormity of the crowd. It was both exhilarating and nerve-wracking. I’ve always loved the Oud but from that day on, performing became an extension of my life. For over a decade, it seemed like the only thing I knew. Nine years ago, that all changed. The war changed everything.  Suddenly, survival, safety and escape became priorities. We had no choice but to leave everything behind – including the music. I went from being a proud composer and performer to a refugee. Someone recently showed me a picture of our house in Syria. What was once a beautiful space always filled with family and friends, sat around trays of sweets and bottomless cups of tea, strumming fingers on instruments and playing or listening to our favourite songs –has since been reduced to rubble. Only pieces of the concrete structure are left upright. My heart aches when I think of everything we lost. It’s easier to avoid reminiscing. Even the music. I don’t actually remember when I stopped playing but I did, for years. It took me six years to pick the Oud up again. I still remember the immediate comfort and relief that took over me when I realized you can’t abandon musical instruments or leave them behind. I’ve spent the last two years sharing my love of music with my students at the refugee camp. We have regular classes and seeing them grow brings me so much pride and joy. They’ve since become my closest friends, an extension of my family. While the future remains uncertain, and while it’s too painful to think about the past, my present is spent making sure I give us all regular music classes to look forward to.” Fathi, 43, Za’atari Refugee Camp, Jordan

Syrian refugee works to regain her life
Oxfam helps ensure women at Za'atari Refugee Camp, like *Zahra, are empowered to become leaders in their own communities, whilst earning a decent wage and gaining career training. Credit: Nesma al-Nsour/Oxfam

“I’d wake up early every day and spend hours tucked away in our garden consumed by the smell of the rose bushes and jasmine trees that filled our yard, pen in hand, journal in lap and a hot cup of tea by my side. Every Friday, my girlfriends and sisters and I would hop into one of our cars, let the road lead us on what felt like endless journeys full of laughter and adventure. I lost it all to the war in Syria nine years ago. I lost my friends, my mother and my husband. It was devastating. Lost that garden, the friends and the endless road trips. I never imagined how much personhood was attached to official documentation like an ID card and a passport. Losing those in the blast that destroyed our home, destroyed our sense of self at the same time. I sold all my gold jewelry to pay a trucker enough to drive us to the Jordanian border searching for safety. There were so many families waiting when I arrived. Lives packed into bags. Fear-filled eyes were everywhere. That and the weight of the silence – broken occasionally by the cry of a cold child or the tired whimper of a hungry baby as we waited to cross. My youngest is six years old now. The camp is the only life he’s ever known. He still physically reacts when he hears planes overhead. Fear is a disease. My heart aches when I think of the life I had, the beautiful etched pillars resembling ancient ruins that stood outside our home, the road trips, the friends. When the memories become too much, I’ll sit outside my caravan, close my eyes, imagine the smell of the roses and that jasmine and let my finger trace thoughts into the sand the same way they did in my journal in our beautiful garden those many years ago.” Zahra*, Za’atari Refugee Camp, Jordan

refugee man walks among Syria rubble
Oxfam helps people like Ibraheem in Arbin by rehabilitating water networks and ensuring families have food. Photo: Dania Kareh/Oxfam

“For days, the sound of the bullets hitting the walls, was all we could hear. That’s when we realized that staying in our home in eastern Ghouta was no longer an option. My family of six and I made the decision to flee in 2017 and left everything behind. We returned a year later to find that what was once our home was now just a pile of rubble. We took a nearby abandoned, half-damaged apartment in Arbin. It’s only a five-minute walk, but it feels lightyears away from the life we once lived. We barely have mats covering the floors, or any furniture at all. I’m a public-sector employee and the 60,000 Syrian Pounds I’m paid per month (approx.€50) is barely enough to cover my family’s basic expenses. It breaks my heart to know that I lost years of hard work and money on making my now lost house a home. A home that we no longer have. I’m always wondering will I be able to restore the life we once had before the war? I guess some dreams don’t come true that easily.” Ibraheem, 48, Arbin, southwestern Syria

Syrian woman rebuilds her home from pieces
Oxfam helps people like Fatouma across 17 towns in rural Aleppo by repairing water pumping stations, helping water to flow to thousands more households. Credit: Dania Kareh, Islam Mardini/Oxfam

“It was a little after midnight, sometime in 2015, when we left our village of Arran, just north of Aleppo, and made our way to a faraway camp. We stayed there with other families who had also fled their homes and conditions were extremely poor: no latrines, poor sanitation, and barely enough food to fill our children’s stomachs – a long way from what our lives used to be. We once had cattle and a small farm. It was a modest way of life, but we didn’t need anyone. We lost so much to this war. My two sons left a few years ago. The day I said “goodbye” is still etched into my memory. I gazed into their eyes and something inside told me that it would be the last time I would see them. I didn’t think I’d live to tell the tale. I am 65 years old now and the war in Syria has been unlike anything we have experienced before. Our entire life changed the day we woke up to find that our village was overrun by ISIS militants. They forced us women to change the way we dressed. They forced us to have a male guardian accompany us on our every move. It was hard and one night I decided enough was enough, and that’s when we left. Three years ago, and after the ousting of ISIS, we returned to our village, but it has been a difficult journey since. Our cattle were stolen, most of our possessions too. Water is scarce; we have to walk long distances to collect drinking water from shallow, unprotected wells. We have been rebuilding our lives since, little by little. We are now saving some money to buy two sheep and maybe start a small dairy farm. It’s hard, but I am sure, we will stand on our own two feet again, someday.” Fatouma, 65, Arran, north Aleppo

Syrian woman regrows her garden and livelihood
Oxfam helps people like Seeham by installing irrigation pumps along the banks of the Euphrates River, helping to restore livelihoods in the agriculture sector. Credit: Dania Kareh/Oxfam

“I would compulsively count every few minutes as we escaped: ‘one, two, three, four, five...’ and could only breathe again once I got to number nine. Nine children, nine children alive. That was all I prayed for as we escaped our village of Bugros in Deir Ez-Zor in early 2016. The journey was eerily silent; the only sounds I remember were that of tired breaths and beating hearts. We were all just trying to get to safety as quietly, and as fast as possible. It is a difficult time to look back on. It was a difficult decision to leave our home after ISIS militants took over lands, crops and cattle. The day we fled, we had no destination in mind. We didn’t care where we’d end up so long as we were safe. We didn’t mind sleeping out in the open. There were many children and elderly. A few months ago, we returned to a home that has been all but destroyed and lands scorched. So far, we have managed to farm a third of our land. Recovering from war and rebuilding the life we once had is a long, arduous journey. But the sight of green shoots springing up everywhere among the ugly, blackened ground gives me hope.” Seeham, 40, Bugros, rural Deir ez-Zor

Syrian dressmaker returns to her livelihood
Asmaa, 40, a dressmaker, sits in her little shop in AlBwaidieh, a rural area in Deir Ez-Zor governorate. Photo: Dania Kareh/Oxfam

“Before the war, I was known to friends, family and customers as an incredibly talented dressmaker. I built myself a career to the beat of the needle and the bob, and my designs made for an excellent source of income for me and my family. I even had my own shop where I would work the day away. But all that changed seven years ago when my town of al-Bwaidieh, in rural Deir ez-Zor, was sucked into the violence. We had to leave and couldn’t carry much. I hid my most prized possession, my sewing machine, beneath a bundle of hay and even said a little prayer that it might be there when I returned – if I returned that is. We headed for Qamishli in northeastern Syria for safety. There, we lived through what would become our worst days. For nearly four years we worked random jobs, none of which were sustainable or provided enough to keep us from having to rely on others to make it through this war. It was a struggle; a real struggle for me, my brother and my mother. Oh, how I wished I had my sewing tools on me so that my family and I could live in dignity. You see, no one ever thinks it’ll happen to them until it does. Humans, we think we are immune… to war, violence, displacement. But it could happen to anyone, and it happened to us. Our entire lives have changed; taken a turn for the worse. We spent all our savings, sold our jewelry and whatever else we had just to survive. We returned to our home only recently, and the first thing I did was look for my sewing machine. And there she was, waiting for me in the same place I had left her. Strange how sometimes the smallest things become so dear to us. Such is life when you are living in a warzone: a sewing machine becomes so much more than just a tool; it is a means to an independent life, to self-sufficiency. Now, we are stitching back the pieces of our lives together. I still long for the old days, when I first started my career. Back then, people wanted the finest garments in town; now it’s all about survival.” Asmaa, 40, al-Bwaidieh, rural Deir Ez-Zor

Syrian man builds new livelihood by beekeeping
Oxfam helps people like Ahmad through cash-for-work programmes, helping people earn money that provides an opportunity to look after themselves and their families. Credit: Islam Mardini/Oxfam

“I was once a proud blacksmith, and our family-run shop made for a good income. But all that changed when the war broke out. There is nothing worse than having to make the hard choice to risk your life for food. But that is a choice I had to make, for the sake of my family, the sake of my two children. When our town of al-Zahraa in rural Aleppo was besieged, food became a hot and scarce commodity; supermarket shelves were getting emptier and emptier and whatever was left was getting more and more expensive. Many families in a desperate bid to survive, including my own, had to sell everything. I even resorted to peddling to survive. And then, the nearby fields were all we had. I would sneak around in the early morning before the shells started falling to collect herbs that we would later boil and serve as food. They were such difficult days for us and I thought, with my dwindling business, that I had seen the worst of it. But I was wrong. One day, in 2016, I was hit by a shrapnel and spent 16 days in a coma. I didn’t think I’d make it, but I survived, and by God’s grace so did my family. Our journey has been long and hard: from living a normal life, from me providing a good income as a blacksmith, to peddling, to nearly getting myself killed… this is life in a warzone. Today, I am a proud beekeeper. I started with just one beehive and used the money I made from the first to buy a second one. Though life can be uncertain, these bees give me hope.”  Ahmad, 39, al-Zahraa, rural Aleppo

What we are doing - with your support

In Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, we are helping more than 1.5 million people with life-saving clean water, sanitation, essential clothing items, cash and vital food aid, supporting people to grow nutritious food, protecting them from violence and abuse, as well as helping refugees make a living.

#9YearsofWar

*Name changed to protect identity.

Recovering Post-ISIS: What it's like to be a woman in Mayadin, Syria

By Aline Yacoubian, EFSVL Policy Officer, Oxfam in Syria

This is to all men, women and children fighting for survival.

Two years after the ousting of ISIS from Mayadin, east of Deir ez-Zor in Syria, the situation is dire. As I travelled through the town, I couldn’t fail to notice the devastating impact of the conflict. The intense fighting has left it in in total ruin. Among the shattered buildings, destroyed water and electricity infrastructure and broken streets – you can sense life is slowly returning. Hanging laundry lines amid rubble and ash, poorly stocked shops opened in the remains of buildings and children playing with whatever makeshift toys available, from empty tin cans to metal pieces left behind.

Mayadin witnessed a major turn of events as ISIS grasped control over the town in mid-2014, making it their ‘safe haven’ and financial capital. For three years, people in Mayadin lived under ISIS’s rule of terror. Though thousands fled from Mayadin, some people could not escape. I stood in the middle of what once was the second most populous town in Deir Ezzor and sensed the emptiness. Before ISIS, Mayadin was known for its agricultural production, filled with vast acres of fertile, green lands and rich livestock. Located on the western bank of the Euphrates River, Mayadin was once the breadbasket of nearby towns and it thrived on its wealthy agro-economy.

But all that changed under ISIS, particularly for the women there. They were forced to stop school and work. Hawra* is among the many women who was forced to quit school and marry. “I had a real passion for education. I had big dreams of becoming a nurse. Now, I channel that passion into growing our garden’s orange trees. That’s all I have left,” Hawra told me.

woman farming in rural Syria
Hawra, working on her family’s farmland in Mayadin’s Anneba, rural Deir Ez-Zor. Credit: Dania Kareh/Oxfam

The constant fighting under ISIS and continuous bombardments paralyzed the productive economic sectors of Mayadin, with burnt agricultural lands and demolished irrigation channels. Combined with drought, water has become scarce, and safe, clean water has become a commodity. Two years after ISIS, there has been some improvement. Agriculture production is slowly gaining momentum, but the farming communities in the town remain distressed. Mayadin inhabitants are at the brink of food insecurity due to dwindling production, shortage of functional bakeries, and high food prices.

The destroyed waste management systems have further added to the struggle, with serious health concerns on the rise, such as Leishmaniasis, a skin disease caused by a microscopic parasite spread by sand flies, widespread in Mayadin today. Medical facilities are almost non-existent, and access to healthcare has become rather impossible. Khansa, a 34-year old woman shared her story of how expensive healthcare has become as most inhabitants, who must travel to the city of Deir Ezzor, around 40 kilometres, to access medical services. “Travelling to and from Deir Ezzor city costs around 3,000 SYP (approx. USD $3), and the doctors charge around 2,000 SYP for a regular check-up. I don’t have that kind of money, so I only prioritize my son’s doctor visits,” she explained. Khansa used to work on her family’s farmland. Their land was destroyed under ISIS. Today, only a small portion of their land is suitable for farming. “We live off of debts throughout the year and pay them off during the agricultural seasons when we sell our produce,” she continued.

woman holds her son on farm in rural Syria
Khansa, 34, stands in her family’s farmland in rural Deir ez-Zor, holding her son. Credit: Dania Kareh/Oxfam

Conversations with women in Mayadin were bittersweet. Bitter to hear what they went through. Sweet to hear how they made it and their willingness to survive. These women are very resilient. “You are probably wondering how I am still smiling. This is what makes me want to fight for life,” said one woman, carrying her 10-day old baby wrapped in wool blankets to protect from the cold.

Despite the hardships, I sensed the women’s urge to rebuild their lives. Though living in Mayadin has become a game of survival, its women have become warriors. Of all the stories heard, the most beautiful are the stories of persistence. You can see it on their faces – these women can turn tides. They don’t give up, they pull through despite everything. They believe in second chances and silver linings.

#9YearsofWar

*Name changed to protect identity.

Cyclone Idai: One year on, communities are still suffering

Cyclone Idai made landfall on 14th March 2019, destroying livelihoods and homes across southern Africa. Today, hundreds of thousands of people in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique are still suffering the consequences of one of the worst cyclones to hit Africa.

family taking refuge under temporary shelter
Maria, 31, with her six children with their only belongings sheltering from the rain by the side of the road. Photo: Elena Heatherwick/Oxfam

A new Oxfam briefing, After the Storm, reveals that thousands of people in Mozambique and Zimbabwe are still living in destroyed or damaged homes and makeshift shelters, with an estimated 8.7 million people in desperate need of food as a result of extreme weather events and localised conflict. Critical infrastructure including roads, water supplies, and schools remain in disrepair, making it even more difficult for people to access vital services or get back to work.

A toxic combination of factors – including an intensifying cycle of floods, drought and storms; deep rooted poverty and inequality; a patchy humanitarian response; and the lack of support for poor communities to adapt to changing climate or recover from disaster – have increased people’s vulnerability and made it harder for people to recover.

flooded shops and homes in Mozambique
Flooded shops and homes in Lamego district, Mozambique as of February 2020. Photo: Elena Heatherwick/Oxfam

Virginia Defunho, a farmer who lives in Josina Machel village in Mozambique with her husband and seven children, lost everything in the cyclone - their home, crops, chickens and most of their possessions. She replanted her fields in December, but her crops were damaged by another severe flood this January. Oxfam’s partner Kulima is providing Virginia with tools and seeds to plant again on a rented plot on higher ground.

“The hardest thing now is the lack of food. Sometimes I go to bed hungry. The child cries, wanting something to eat, and it makes me feel angry sometimes, because the child is crying because he wants food and there is nothing to give.

friends join together to adapt to climate change
Amelia (right) and Virginia (left) have been neighbours since 1996. They cannot farm where they live any more because of frequent flooding so they are renting plots on higher ground to grow crops using the seeds provided. Photo: Elena Heatherwick/Oxfam

“Idai has destroyed my mind. I have a child who has succeeded to grade ten, but I don't have the money to pay for him to enrol back at school. If life was normal, I would have some crops to sell and I would get some money and my child would be back at school.   

“We are worried about the future because we don't know if the weather is going to be like this or if it will change back to normal like it was before. We worry about another cyclone coming. If it comes a second time, what will our lives be? How is it going to be?”

Oxfam raised funds to assist people across Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe in the aftermath of the cyclones. With our partners, we provided emergency assistance such as food aid, blankets and hygiene kits; installed latrines and water pumps in temporary camps; and helped raise awareness of issues such as gender-based violence - which often spikes after a disaster. In the long term, Oxfam is working with communities to help them adapt in the face of a changing climate – for example by helping smallholder farmers diversify their crops and adapt their farming techniques.

Cyclone Idai is just one of many extreme weather events to have hit southern Africa in recent years. Despite the escalating climate crisis, poor communities are not getting the help they need to adapt, and world leaders have failed to ensure a dedicated global fund to help countries rebuild from the loss and damage caused by climate fuelled disasters.

Donate now to support Oxfam’s work in southern Africa and beyond.

Pages