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Rigged rules that create inequality can be changed

Extracted from address given at a joint event hosted by Oxfam Ireland, the Institute for International and European Affairs (IIEA) and Irish Aid at the IIEA in Dublin on Thursday, November 27th. The theme of the discussion was 'Inequality: The defining challenge of our time'. The Millennium Development Goals were signed in 2000 with the intention of making substantial progress on human development by the year 2015.

From left to right: Michael Gaffey, Director General, Irish Aid; Cormac Lucey, Chartered Accountant and Lecturer in Finance at UCD, IMI and Chartered Accountants Ireland; Dearbhail McDonald, Associate Editor and Legal Editor of the Irish Independent; Alison O’Connor, Irish Examiner; Jim Clarken, CEO, Oxfam Ireland; Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director, Oxfam International; Dr Colm O’Reardon, Economist and former Government Advisor at the inequality debate at the Institute of International and European Affairs in Dublin. Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

2015 is almost upon us and next September, world leaders will be reflecting on the fact that during that period:

  • Extreme poverty was reduced by 50%
  • 90% of all children are now attending primary school
  • Maternal mortality has been reduced by 50%
  • We have reached the Millennium Development Goal target in relation to the number of people who have access to safe sanitation
  • We have made good progress on the fight against major killer diseases such as HIV and AIDS, TB and malaria
  • We are very slowly winning the fight against extreme poverty.

However, these successes and our realistic ambition to end extreme poverty by 2030 and to advance many other areas of human development during this next period are deeply threatened by the extreme and rising inequality.

The emergence of some parts of the world from what appears to be extreme poverty is heavily masked by the fact that wealthy elites in poor and middle income countries have become extremely wealthy whilst poor people have remained stuck in poverty.

Two countries that have emerged as economic powerhouses (albeit of differing scales and on different trajectories) in recent years are India and Brazil. In the past 20 years, India has emerged as one of the most important economies on the planet. Within the next couple of years, it will have more billionaires than the US and it has its own space programme. Yet 400 million Indian citizens live in extreme poverty. For most, the economic miracle has had little or no impact.

Brazil has also emerged as a global power with tremendous economic success. But it is a country where the bottom half did not get left behind – or certainly not to the same extent. The main reason why India is so unequal while Brazil is reducing inequality among its citizens is simple – government policy.

Brazil had a very focused investment in health, education and a social protection floor to protect people on the bottom rung, where India did not. The trajectory for most Brazilians is now one where optimism and hope for a better life is a reality. The same cannot be said for 400 million Indians.

Emerging from the financial crisis, the global economy is slowly strengthening and growing. Ireland too is currently emerging from the worst economic crisis in living memory. No part of society here has been spared from the impact of this but we know that those most well off were least affected.

According to Social Justice Ireland Budget Review 2015, more than 750,000 people live in poverty (including one in five children) and Budget 2015 has widened the rich/poor gap in Ireland by €499 per year.

Too much of today’s global growth is neither inclusive nor sustainable. Governments, institutions and corporations have a collective responsibility to tackle extreme inequality.

And the right policy choices are crucial in changing the tide and allowing many more millions of people to lift themselves out of poverty instead of condemning future generations to it.

Above: Leonard Kufeketa (39), a brush seller, stands in front of Ferarri in Parkhurst, an expensive suburb of Johannesburg. “Things are changing in South Africa for the worst,” he says. “The public schools are no good. Those in the government, they are very rich, the rest of us are poor.” South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world. Zed Nelson/Oxfam

Oxfam’s new report, Even it Up: Time to end extreme inequality, shows the scale of the problem of extreme economic inequality, and reveals the multiple dangers it poses to people everywhere.

Most importantly, the report highlights some of the concrete steps that can be taken to change things. So, let’s talk about the solutions.

These measures are:

1. Support a global goal to end extreme economic inequality in every country by 2030. (The effect of curbing inequality would be as dramatic as would be the failure to act. In India, for example, halting the recent increase in inequality could enable 90 million more people escape extreme poverty by 2019).

2. Act decisively on the toxic global taxation system which has been denying citizens in developing countries and in this part of the world the resource which is duly theirs.

3. Aim to achieve universal free public services by 2020. People’s right to free public health and education should be a cornerstone of policy and investment in health and education makes a huge impact on the lives of poorer people.

4. Pay workers a living wage instead of minimum wage (a fair amount to allow them to live rather than just survive) and close the income inequality gap.

5. Promote women’s economic equality and women’s rights (Women in many countries won’t be paid as much as men for another 75 years) and within that focus on a woman’s right to live free from violence.

6. Implement a universal social protection floor.

7. Target development finance at reducing inequality and poverty.

While all these measures deserve a full debate, I’d like to particularly focus on taxation as a key tool.

There is evidence that globally our economic system is set up to facilitate tax dodging by multinationals and wealthy individuals.

Governments around the world are losing €120 billion in revenue each year, according to a 2013 Oxfam study, putting more pressure on their finances as they look to balance their budgets by hitting ordinary citizens with higher taxes.

The tax gap for developing countries – the amount of unpaid tax liability of companies – is estimated at $104bn every year, including profits shifted in and out of tax havens.

Until the rules are changed and there is a fairer global governance of tax matters, tax dodging will continue to drain public budgets and undermine the ability of governments to tackle inequality.

To give a specific example, the world is now grappling with the Ebola crisis. Liberia is one of the worst affected countries. Liberia has 51 doctors for its entire population. This is a country the same size as Ireland. If Liberia received what it is entitled to it would be much better equipped to handle this crisis.

Above: Children learn about the importance of hand-washing training through an Oxfam Ebola programme in Liberia where there are only 51 doctors for a population of 4.2 million people. Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

The economic inequality demonstrated in Liberia also highlights the fact that the world’s poorest citizens are also the world’s most vulnerable citizens – without the resilience and support systems to be able to cope with crisis. Oxfam sees evidence of this in every emergency response we carry out – responding to disasters costs a lot more than preventing them in the first place. Reducing inequality would reduce the need for support when a disaster strikes.

Inequality is not inevitable – it’s the result of years of rigged rules, like rigged tax rules that allow the richest people and corporations to avoid paying their fair share.

But these rules can be changed in favour of the many.

There is a lot to do. Tonight, one in every seven of us sharing this planet will go to bed hungry. Tomorrow morning, there will be 60 million children of primary school age who won’t be going to school. It is not so long ago that people across Ireland were in a similar position.

The answer is justice: fair use of the world’s natural resources; a global economy that reduces inequality; a world that does not discriminate against women or minorities.

Inequality and sustainability are unifying global concerns. People across all walks of life, across the political spectrum, and even the richest people on earth are close to agreement that major change is needed.

So we have a shared agenda. Now what's needed is a shared plan of action. If we don’t take action fast, we will soon live in a world where equal opportunity is just a dream.

Jim Clarken is Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland

Jim Clarken on inequality

RTE’s Morning Ireland interview with Jim Clarken on inequality and Lux Leaks

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Christmas at Oxfam

There is something for everyone at Oxfam Ireland this Christmas with the Christmas at Oxfam gift range. From refurbished iPads and retro games to the gift of clean water or Fairtrade chocolates, there’s the perfect present for that big box under the tree as well as a host of novelty stocking-fillers and festive essentials.

We’ve also got the ideal gift for the person who has everything with the Unwrapped range, which supports our life-changing work worldwide and helps those who have lost everything by providing cooking stoves that keep families safe and warm in emergencies as well as helping poor farmers to thrive and lots more besides. 

oxfam unwrapped

By purchasing an Unwrapped gift, you’ll be helping people like Yang Pal who lives in UN House in Juba, a camp for internally displaced people. Yang Pal is one of 1.5 million people forced to flee their homes after fighting broke out in South Sudan last December. 

Above: Yang Pal at an Oxfam cooking stove distribution, UN House, South Sudan Photo: Mackenzie Knowles Coursin / Oxfam

A fuel-efficient cooking stove (€9/£8) means that Yang Pal can cook more economically and efficiently as well as keep warm. It also helps keep her safe by reducing the need for women like her to venture out in search of firewood into areas where they are at risk of attack. 

Yang says: “[The cooking stove] saves time, as you don’t have to keep adding charcoal and it saves money because you don’t have to keep buying charcoal after the vouchers [also distributed by Oxfam] have been used.”

 
Above: Melissa Cameron, Oxfam Unwrapped supporter and shop volunteer: "I've always supported Unwrapped. My parents have been supporting Oxfam Canada and buying Unwrapped gifts at Christmas time for as long as I can remember, since I was a kid, so when I moved to Ireland it was just a natural thing to do. You could say it’s a family tradition.
 
I’ve already bought all my Unwrapped gifts for this year - my sister-in-law is getting Care for a Baby because she just had a baby. My brother is getting School Books and my grandmother is getting Educate a Girl - they both used to be school teachers. I'm vegetarian and I'm making my husband be vegetarian with me so that's why he’s getting A Clutch of Chicks this year. And I’m getting A Goat for my parents as they love animals and a Cooking Stove for my in-laws.
 
They're great gifts for people who are really hard to buy for or who already have everything. They always love reading about how the gifts help and where the money is going.”  Photo: Brian Malone / Oxfam
 

Whatever Unwrapped gift you decide to buy, Oxfam will ensure that your money has the best possible impact on the communities who need it most. To find out more click here, call 1850 30 40 55 (ROI) or 0800 0 30 40 55 (NI) or visit your local Oxfam shop.

 

our new gift range

This Christmas, we’ve also added the iPad 2 to our Born Again range of refurbished computers. Priced at just €299/£235, the iPads have been fully restored, tested and given a new lease of life and are the ideal gift for kids, teenagers, students and silver surfers. Born Again iPads and computers (laptops from €189/£149 and desktops from €125/£99) are available online here or at selected Oxfam shops across Ireland.  

The rest of the Christmas at Oxfam range is on sale now at Oxfam Ireland’s fifty shops nationwide, with stocking fillers that include ladies and men’s festive socks (€2.49/£1.99), retro games like Jacks, Noughts and Crosses and Tiddlywinks (from €5.99/£4.99) and Fairtrade stationery such as sparkly pens (€1.99/£1.49) and notebooks (€3.49/£2.49), among other gifts.

And for the foodies, there’s a delicious range of festive treats, including Fairtrade Divine Ginger Thins (€4.99/£3.99) and Fairtrade Divine Dark/Milk Chocolate Coins (€2.49/£1.99) as well as Mulled Wine Spices (€3.49/£2.99) – the perfect addition to any Christmas hamper!

There are also Christmas cards (from €1/£0.99 - €5/£3.99), advent calendars (from €3.99/£3.49) and crackers (from €4.99/£3.99) on sale as well as a selection of decorative bells in red and white (€4.99/£3.99). 

The Christmas at Oxfam range offers high-quality gifts that give back. The profits from the sale of each Christmas gift will support our work worldwide, helping to give hope this season to families and communities living in extreme poverty or affected by emergency situations like South Sudan or Syria.

The Christmas at Oxfam gift range is available at Oxfam shops nationwide. Find your nearest Oxfam shop.

 

 

Full range of Christmas gifts from Oxfam Ireland:

Festive socks – Ladies and men’s novelty socks: €2.49/£1.99
Retro games – Jacks: €5.99/£4.99
Retro games – Noughts and Crosses: €6.99/£5.99
Retro games – Tiddilywinks: €6.99/£5.99
Sparkly pens: €1.99/£1.49
Sparkly pen pot: €4.99/£3.99
Felt brooch (assorted colours): €3.49/£2.99
Set of three gold coloured elephants: €6.99/£5.99
Sparkly Compact Mirror: €2.99/£2.49
Paper covered notebook: €3.49/£2.99
Angels in a Bottle: €3.49/£2.99
Worry Dolls: €3.49/£2.99
Bell Curved Red/White: €4.99/£3.99
Bell Straight White/Grey: €4.99/£3.99
Advent Calendar Fairground Pop-up XM14: €3.99/£3.49
Chocolate advent calendar: €4.99/£3.99
Cracker MYO Kraft: €4.99/£3.99
Cracker Mini: €4.99/£3.99
Milk Chocolate Coins: €2.49/£1.99
Dark Chocolate Coins: €2.49/£1.99
Ginger Thins: €4.99/£3.99
Mulled Wine Spices: €3.49/£2.99

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Your Impact: One Year On From Philippines Typhoon

Two ships sat wedged on the land. Underneath their hulks lay the remains of houses and the bodies of those who called them home.
 
All around lay flattened. On a piece of corrugated iron read the words ‘HELP ME’.
 
A teddy bear was face-down nearby and underfoot were the remants of everyday life as we know it; school books, shampoo bottles and plates among the debris.
 
I was in the Barangay 70 and 69 district in Tacloban city in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. Earlier that day we saw bodies on the streets and drove past an evacuation centre which collapsed on top of those who had sought safety there, the steel structure twisted horribly by the storm.
 
More than 5,000 people were killed and 4 million were forced from their homes as Haiyan (or Yolanda as it’s known in the Philippines) wove its destructive path through the central Philippines. It was the strongest tropical cyclone on record to make landfall.
 
Grief was raw. We stopped at a church surrounded by newly dug plots. A photograph of a boy no older than three marked one resting place, surrounded by favourite sweets.
 
Back where the ships lay, we met a father who had lost his wife and three children. In an emotional encounter, he wept as he showed their pictures in the family photo album.
 
Amid the devastation, children played in the street and begged us to take their smiling pictures. Nearby, an Oxfam water bladder was providing clean and safe water. Opposite stood one of another Oxfam tap.
 
In spite of their overwhelming loss, people were trying to get back to some sort of sense of normality. Stalls were opening again on the side of the roads and the most popular items were torches, proving that demand dictates the market no matter what the circumstances.
 
Everywhere we went in the Philippines, people on spotting the Oxfam t-shirt would ask where we were from and express their gratitude for the support coming from the island of Ireland at this most difficult of times. Their resilience stunned us.
 
This was my first time in Asia and my first experience witnessing our humanitarian work in action. It was a real privilege to see how the generous donations of people across the island of Ireland translated into positive results on the ground. 
 
From those who came into our shops with cheques written out to the appeal (the odd one written in four figures), to children who saved up their pocket money, along with bucket-shaking, events and even a charity single, we are incredibly grateful for your support. 100% of the funds raised went to our emergency response and had a positive and long-lasting impact.
 
 
Photos:
 
Top left: Seaweed farms like Marissa Gegante’s on Bantayan island were destroyed by the typhoon. She says: “We are thankful again for having Oxfam. They helped us to recover from the typhoon and to the donors of the livelihood programme and cash-for-work – and for the love we received from them. God bless Oxfam.” Tessa Bunney/Oxfam.  
 
Top right: Enfracian Boca, pictured with her granddaughter Marcy Anne Fuentes (8 months), received  an Oxfam hygiene kit containing essential items including soap, detergent, toothpaste, and underwear. She says: “Thank you to Oxfam for the hygiene kit. It has been very useful – we have used everything, especially the soap.” Eleanor Farmer/Oxfam.  
 
Bottom left: Arlene Arceo, Manager of Latufa Farmers' Association, says: “We thank Oxfam for helping us to recover after the super typhoon Yolanda. You give us new hope for our livelihoods and a new job on our coconut lumber project.” Eleanor Farmer/Oxfam.  
 
Bottom right: Kenneth Caneda stands in front of two Oxfam latrines in Tacloban. “I use these Oxfam toilets,” he says. “We have no other toilets here. Also thank you for the cash for work for clearing the paths here.” Eleanor Farmer/Oxfam.
 
Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we were able to not only provide vital aid such as food, clean water, sanitation and shelter in the immediate aftermath but also be there for long-haul, helping people to rebuild their lives and livelihoods.
 
Typhoon Haiyan delivered a double blow. In the short term, it left more than 14.1 million people in need of immediate, life-saving assistance. But it also pushed millions of poor people further into poverty. Rice crops, coconut trees and fishing boats were wiped out, leaving people struggling to grow food and earn an income. 
 
In response, we have reached more than 860,000 people so far. Our first priority was to provide life-saving assistance, such as clean water, toilets, hygiene kits, and cash to buy food and other essentials. We then began helping people to recover the livelihoods that had been destroyed by the disaster.
 
For example, we provided rice seeds for farmers to replant lost crops and chainsaws for clearing fallen trees that obstructed fields. 
 
One year on from the disaster, the emergency phase of our response has finished. We’re now focusing on long-term recovery and rehabilitation. One way we’re doing this is by planning how water and sanitation facilities will be managed on a permanent basis. We’re also looking at how people will be able to earn a living. 
 
We need to ensure that communities not only recover, but are more prepared for the next disaster. 
 
The Philippines is the third most disaster-prone country in the world. In the face of predictions of more extreme weather, our new report Can’t Afford to Wait highlights the importance of being prepared for climate-related risks. It follows a warning last week from experts at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change about the irreversible impact of climate change on people and eco systems. But there is a solution, if we urgently reduce carbon emissions.  
 
Our Philippines campaign called #MakeTheRightMove calls on the Filipino government to get resettlement and rehabilitation efforts right, and immediately put in place their disaster preparedness and climate change adaptation plans. 
 
As the world reflects on the events of November 8th, 2013, for those grieving nothing can ever replace their loss.
 
All we can do is continue to provide life-saving and life-changing support in times of crisis, and ensure people can face the future prepared, come what may.  
 
Sorcha Nic Mhathúna is Oxfam Ireland’s Communications and Content Manager.
 
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Farmers in Madagascar taking on climate changes & land grabs

It was 8am, the coffee was strong and welcome, the small cakes, some savoury and some sweet, made of rice flour, tasty, similar to the vitumbua that are common in Tanzania. I was in the small town of Mahitsy, about 30 kms from Madagascar’s capital Antananarivo. 

Richard Rabetrano was showing me around, giving me some idea of the life and work of farmers in this part of Madagascar. We had started at the market: the essential place for farmers to sell their produce, for the exchange of goods, for meeting, for learning and of course for eating.

At the market a wide range of fresh vegetables and fruit are available as well as other food. There are also shops and traders selling farm inputs, like seeds, equipment, tools and pesticides. 

The coffee stall we stopped at is on the side of the cobbled road running through the centre of Mahitsy. We leaned on the counter and watched the busses, oxcarts, cars and above all pedestrians passing in the crowded road, many bringing goods to and from the market and the surrounding shops.

The coffee, grown, roasted, ground, sold and drunk in Madagascar was great and only cost 200 Ariary (about 6c/5p) a cup, the small cakes 50 Ariary (about 1.5c/1.17p) each. 

Photos - Top left: Marc has coffee in Mahitsy market – it costs just 6c/5p.  Top right: Fresh vegetables at the market. Middle: A husband and wife work in their field of green beans. Bottom left: Rabetrano stands in his field where both he and his neighbouring farmers have to rely on a mere trickle of water to irrigate their fields  Bottom right: It is the dry season. In this valley we can see the irrigated fields and the dry land around.

Rabetrano is a local farmer who is part of the leadership of the Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers Forum. He and his national farmers’ confederation (Confédération des Agriculteurs Malagas) organised to get the government to allocate land and build better infrastructure for the market we were at.

Oxfam has for years supported ESAFF in its work to link up farmers from across the region, enabling the sharing of experiences and knowledge with each other and also joint advocacy for their essential interests. ESAFF has advocated for farmers, often alongside Oxfam, on issues like trade policy, climate change and land grabs.

Land grabs that in some cases have taken the land that the ESAFF members depend on for their prosperity. Rabetrano and the other farmers I met can work hard, produce crops and set up local markets, but there are policy and other decisions that can undermine all their work. 

After the market we visited farms. It is the dry season and crops are only growing in the river valleys where there is enough water. We talked to a husband and wife who were picking green beans in their field.

With carefully constructed irrigation channels these and other farmers are producing beans, peas and other legumes as well as some potatoes, tomatoes and green vegetables. The same fields will be planted with rice once the rain comes.

Rabetrano’s own fields were dry; the clay rich soil hard and empty, aside from some stalks of rice plants left from last season. “There is just not enough water this year,” he explained and showed me the trickle of water he and other neighbouring farmers have to rely on.

“Last year we had good rain and I was able to plant some land throughout the year,” Rabetrano said. Now he is waiting for the rain before ploughing and planting, rain that has become unpredictable over the last years.

Five days before there was a little rainfall and Richard had hired someone with oxen to plough land higher up the hill, but since then there has been no more rain and the soil is dry and dusty; there is no point in planting yet.

Despite the lack of water Rabetrano manages, with careful use of his 5 hectares of land, to produce food for the market and home, supporting himself and his family.

He combines different crops on the same land, sometimes at the same time, and sometimes by rotating crops, to replenish soil fertility and minimise the need for fertiliser. He farms with little environmental impact or carbon footprint.

In another village we found a vibrant cattle market, hundreds of men (yes, it was almost all men) gathered to sell and buy cows.  Alongside the field where the market was a line of small buildings contained eating houses (mostly run by women), where a busy trade was being done.

Other businesses were also there to take advantage of the market opportunities. I bought a handmade sisal rope; just in case I bought a cow and needed to lead it home. I had to explain to some of the sellers that getting a cow on the plane was going to be hard. The cattle are used for meat and milk as well as for ploughing and transport.

At Rabetrano’s neat two-floor house we had a tasty and nutritious lunch of rice (from Richard’s fields of course) and spinach with a just a few small morsels of beef mixed in. The meat a small part of this meal, just adding a bit of protein and flavour as meat has done in the diets of many throughout history.

This is not consuming meat in the way the rich of the world now increasingly do with huge environmental and sustainability repercussions.  

Rabetrano lives upstairs in the house with his wife and younger daughter (his older children have left home). His sister lives downstairs with her children. On the desk at one end of the combined living and dining room where we were sitting is a computer, the internet modem working via the cell-phone network.

The connection may be a bit slow and expensive, but Rabetrano can be in touch with fellow farmers in different parts of the world and his daughter, who is doing clothes design, can follow international fashion trends. Rabetrano also uses his smart phone to get online and Facebook has been the main way I communicate with him since returning home to Tanzania.

I had come to Madagascar to attend an Africa Forum of the International Land Coalition, which Oxfam is a member of. The Forum brought together organisations working on land rights and land governance issues across Africa to share experiences and develop approaches to ensure good land governance for sustainable development in Africa.

Over the last decades there have been improvements in land policy in many African countries. In 2009 the heads of state of all African countries, meeting in the summit of the African Union agreed on a Framework and Guidelines for Land Policy in Africa. This serves to encourage and guide countries to “Strengthen Land Rights, Enhance Productivity and Secure Livelihoods.” 

Such agreements can seem like a lot of talk with little action. Indeed there are real challenges in getting implementation of policies to make real difference in people’s lives. At the same time, however, we are seeing progress and all the organisations gathered at the Forum in Madagascar are working to make the policy commitments known to communities and to people in poverty and pushing to ensure there is implementation.

Rabetrano, like many other farmers in Madagascar, has a document from the local authority confirming his inheritance of land from his parents, but the legal strength of such documents is questionable. There are others who have no documentation at all to show their rights to the land that they depend on and need to invest in for their livelihoods.

Community practice and knowledge of which land belongs to whom continues to be important for people’s sense of tenure security, whether people have documents or not, but this can be hard to defend when there are large government or private investments.

Land reforms in 2005 aimed to give citizens in Madagascar stronger rights over their land and set up a more affordable process for those with land rights to get a proper certificate documenting that right. This has increased the sense of security on their land, for those who have got the certificate.

There are challenges, however, with only a limited number of the certificates issued. Rabetrano has not got one yet, and most of those issued have gone to relatively wealthy people. Although the law calls for gender equality, men are still seen as the owners of land with the result that over 80% of land held by couples has been certified in the name of the man alone.

Large-scale land grabs are a real threat that increases the need for secure land rights and strong organisation of people aware of and able to defend their rights. One land grab in Madagascar involved over a million hectares of land, but was eventually cancelled after protests.

So strong where people’s objections that the deal contributed to the overthrow of the president. Other land grabs continue and as investors seek to profit from the rich natural resources of the country they are too often threatening not only the livelihoods of farmers, like Rabetrano, but also the vibrant markets and other local economic activities that the local agriculture is a central part of.

The area I visited with Rabetrano is in the wealthier highlands of the country, close to the capital city, which means market opportunities and easier access. Not all farmers are as well situated; indeed Madagascar is ranked 155 on the United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index and does have extreme poverty.

What has been good to see is what farmers like Rabetrano can do when the conditions are right. Rabetrano is creating a good quality of life for his family and contributing to the economy. His children have got an education and are having greater choices about what kind of future they want.

This cannot be taken for granted though; the right conditions need to be extended to other farming areas and also defended from the real threats posed by climate change, bad trade deals and land grabs.

Marc Wegerif is a South African, currently based in Tanzania, who has worked on development and human rights issues in a range of organisations for over 25 years and has a Masters in Land and Agrarian Studies from the University of the Western Cape. Marc has focused on land rights issues for much of his professional life and is currently Food and Land Rights Advisor with Oxfam Ireland. In this role Marc is involved with international advocacy and running several multi-country projects. He is married with two daughters. This blog is a personal reflection and the views expressed are not necessarily those of Oxfam. 

 

 
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Hunger and conflict pushing South Sudan to the brink of famine

As humanitarian crises in the Middle East dominate news headlines and the world rallies to tackle the ebola outbreak, hunger and conflict have combined to push South Sudan – the world’s newest country – to the very brink of famine.
 
The recent Scottish referendum is a stark reminder that even in times of peace and democracy, the path to independence can divide a nation. In Ireland, we know too well the enduring struggles the journey towards independence can bring.
 
South Sudan became the newest country in the world in 2011 following two decades of civil war in what was then part of Sudan. A green country not unlike our own where the River Nile flows, independence brought optimism for a brighter future.
 
 
But the high hopes of just three years ago now lie in tatters. At least 10,000 people have lost their lives and over one million have fled their homes. Around four million people (more than the population of Leinster and Munster combined) are struggling to find enough to eat.
 
In a report titled ‘From Crisis to Catastrophe’, Oxfam Ireland and other aid agencies including Christian Aid, Concern, Goal, Trócaire, Tearfund and World Vision have warned that the number of people facing dangerous levels of hunger is expected to increase by 1 million between January and March next year.
 
They are not the victims of nature, but of a disaster which is the result of a political dispute between two leaders that has escalated into a conflict rooted in the unresolved tensions of the Sudan civil war combined with the proliferation of arms and the lack of development in what is one of the poorest countries in the world.
 
There are fears among those working on the ground that efforts so far this year to prevent the crisis from deteriorating will falter as rival sides are regrouping ready to resume violence once the rainy seasons end this month. The threat of famine is very real.
 
Despite this, the sheer number and scale of crises worldwide – Iraq, Syria, Gaza, Ukraine, the Central African Republic and now the ebola virus among them – means the rapidly deteriorating situation in South Sudan has slipped off the news agenda.
 
The UN has declared South Sudan the world’s worst food crisis. But if we wait for an official declaration of famine to put South Sudan in the global spotlight, it will be too late. By the time famine was declared in Somalia and the Horn of Africa in July 2011, more than 125,000 people, half of the famine’s victims, had already died.
 
Since the violence broke out in December, men, women and children have been targeted because of their ethnicity and many have lost the people they love most in the world. They are scared and hungry.
 
Many have had to leave behind their possessions, crops and livestock or sell their assets to escape and have no means to buy food, water and other essentials. The conflict has meant that people were not able to plant crops. Camps are becoming overcrowded and poor sanitation is increasing the risk of disease.
 
Gwada Joseph (27) walks through open sewers in the Malakal camp for internally displaced people in the Upper Nile province, where heavy rains are making life intolerable for civilians. Gwada fled her home in Malakal town during the second rebel attack on her town in February 2014. Her husband was unable to escape and died in the fighting, while Gwada, her mother and four children made it to the safety of the UN camp.
 
 
Above: Gwada Joseph, 27, with son Mark, 1, in the Malakal IDP camp, South Sudan, where recent rains are making life intolerable for civilians. Photo: Simon Rawles/ Oxfam
 
Her home in the camp routinely floods in the rains, making life unbearable for her and her children. The rains in Malakal mean flooding is a regular occurrence and it is common to see people having to wade through water and mud that’s knee deep with little escape from mosquitoes, sewage and disease.
 
International aid – including Ireland’s contribution – has had a significant and positive impact on Gwada and her people’s lives. Food distributions make the difference in people eating even one meal a day and clean water has prevented more serious outbreaks of disease, while the distribution of solar lamps is helping keep girls and women safe.
 
Yet a massive funding gap remains (the UN World Food Programme estimates that $78 million is needed each month to deliver assistance) and the outlook for 2015 is of great concern, with news that 2.5 million people are projected to be in crisis or emergency from January to March 2015.
 
Sadly, this is not a crisis that will be ended simply with more aid. There needs to be political pressure to end this conflict. If the international community really wants to avert a famine then it must take a stronger stance towards the leaders of South Sudan increasing diplomatic efforts to end the fighting.
 
The UN Security Council must impose an embargo on the arms and ammunition that are sustaining the conflict and ensure that it is rigorously enforced. Every political negotiation should focus on the most important priorities; overcoming the obstacles that South Sudan’s people face in reaching aid; ending the violence immediately; and searching for a sustainable political solution.
 
The world must protect South Sudan’s people from violence; without ending the violence, the threat of famine will never be far away. With more vigorous diplomacy and swift action to convene a political solution inclusive of all people in South Sudan, the world has a chance to prevent that.
 
Otherwise 50,000 children will die from malnutrition unless we wake the world up and act now.
 
Because declaring a famine is like declaring a car crash – once it happens, it’s too late.
 
 

South Sudan: From the Other Side of the War

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