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Brussels V Syria conference: Oxfam calls for the needs of the Syrian people to be put first

Oxfam media advisory

23 March 2021

Brussels V Syria conference: Oxfam calls for the needs of the Syrian people to be put first  

This Tuesday, 30 March, the international community will meet virtually for the Brussels V conference on Syria and the region to pledge funding and discuss the future of aid in the conflict-torn country.  

This month marks ten-years of the Syrian conflict. Although the fighting in Syria has decreased, Syrians are now struggling with a multifaceted crisis: repercussions of the prolonged conflict and coronavirus pandemic, deteriorating situation in neighbouring Lebanon, sanctions, a nosediving economy, and rising inflation. According to estimates: 

  • Over 80 percent of Syrians now live in poverty  
  • 1.1 million people need humanitarian aid to survive  
  • 12.4 million people now go to sleep hungry (almost 60 percent of the population) compared to 9.3 million people in early 2020  

Oxfam calls on the governments of Syria, host countries and donors in Brussels to put the needs of the Syrian people first. Access to both humanitarian aid, basic services and long-term development through employment and education is needed. Syrians must have the chance to stand on their own two feet.  

Yet, ongoing access restrictions in Syria, combined with limitations imposed by donor governments and the chilling effects of sanctions on the humanitarian response, make it extremely difficult for humanitarian organisations to provide the sustainable support that Syrians need. In Lebanon, humanitarian organisations also struggle to provide this support given the economic crisis and the security situation. Without investment into long-term development, Syrian's risk becoming dependent on aid.   

Oxfam is one of few organisations working inside the government-controlled regions in Syria to provide humanitarian assistance to people caught up in the conflict. Through working with partners, we have an extensive network to reach people in need in Syria and the regions. Oxfam and our partners will be speaking at the Day of Dialogue on 29 March 2021.  

Spokespeople in Brussels and the region are available for interviews, analysis and background information before, during and after the conference.  

Oxfam recently spoke to over 160 Syrian women to understand how their lives have changed since the start of the conflict. Overwhelmingly, their focus was solely on survival. Syrians must be able to dream for more. For now, as one woman replied “my hope is very simple. I don't want to deprive my children of their simplest wish. To go to bed with a full stomach”.

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Contact

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org | 087 912 3165

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Yemen, six years at war

Ammar bin Yasser camp

Home to 1,785 people, families here have fled terrifying violence in search of safety. Oxfam is helping people stay safe from disease in the crowded camp by training heath volunteers, providing clean water and handwashing stations, fixing toilets and distributing hygiene kits full of essentials.

Hanan lives in Ammar bin Yasser IDP camp with her young daughters. As a single mother she provides all food, water and medicine for her children, often resorting to scavenging for plastic bottles to raise a little income. Photo: VFX Aden / Oxfam

I was living in Al Hudaydah. My children were going to school. We fled our home because of war, as we were vulnerable to the bombing and hearing its roar over our heads from inside the house. We were living in constant fear ... when we saw the shrapnel and other exploded objects flying into our houses, we were afraid for our children to be hit by it, so we fled. Leaving behind our homes, clothes and our floor mattresses, we fled with our children.

Khalid lives in Ammar bin Yasser camp with his wife and children. He makes a small income by collecting empty drinks bottles and cans to sell to the scrap dealer for money to provide food and medicine for his family. Photo: VFX Aden / Oxfam

When I was in Al Hudaydah, I had a house. I was earning a living. My children were going to school. My sons were in the first, second and third grades, my daughter in the sixth grade. The school was close to our home and well-equipped. I was capable of providing them with school bags, textbooks and notebooks, everything they needed, even giving them their daily school expenses. But here, I can't enrol them in school because they will say, 'Dad, where is our daily school expenses?' I am incapable of providing 100 YR.

Saeed is an Oxfam Community Health Volunteer and lives in Ammar bin Yasser camp with his wife and children. Saeed received training from Oxfam and now helps to educate and raise awareness of good hygiene practices. Photo: VFX Aden / Oxfam

We came from rural areas and suffered to get to Aden. Before I fled Al Hudaydah I was working for a company, I was comfortable, and I had a house. When the war broke out, the area that I bought the house became a military outpost and the job that I had at a Yemani company, I lost it because factory that I was working in was bombed. Consequently, the company laid us off. I became unemployed, my sons have dropped out of school and I lost my house as the area became a military outpost.

Ammar bin Yasser IDP camp is home to 1785 people. Photo: VFX Aden / Oxfam

Oxfam's work in the camp involves latrine rehabilitation, water points construction and rehabilitation, handwashing facilities installation, distribution of cleaning tools and bins, and hygiene kit distribution. In addition, community health volunteers are recruited and trained in health promotion to educate and raise awareness of good hygiene practices within the community.

Isra Specialist Hospital

Six years of war have devastated Yemen’s health care system. And now, Covid-19 intensifies the situation. With a shortage of staff, supplies and electricity, those hospitals that remain open, or even standing, struggle to meet the needs of Yemen’s millions of sick and starving people.

Abdul-Wahab is a doctor at Isra Hospital. Photo: Ameen-ALGhabri / Oxfam

As a poor country, in addition to the war, the health situation is very poor due to the lack of resources and the immigration of doctors, on top of the fact that the citizens cannot pay the high costs of treatment, and all this has worsened after the war.

Khaled Nasr is the Director at Isra Hospital. Photo: Ameen-ALGhabri / Oxfam

Among the challenges that the hospital faces is the lack of fuel, because all our work relies heavily on electricity such as sterilisers, lighting, and devices that are used during operations and surgery.

The other challenge is the lack of medicines and materials needed to conduct operations, because we are under siege, and this siege causes some materials to be cut off.

Solar panels provide power to the hospital

According to the World Bank, Yemen has the lowest level of electricity connection in the Middle East, with only 40 percent of the population having access to electricity.

The current fuel shortage threatens to further exacerbate the humanitarian situation, also impacted by Covid-19. The shortages have led to an exorbitant rise in fuel prices on the black market across northern governorates and inflated the cost of water, transport, food and other goods.

With the support of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and its local partner, Oxfam has provided 27 healthcare facilities across Yemen with solar micro-grids and solar-power refrigerators, benefitting more than 208,000 people.

Oxfam’s water project in Al Dhale’e city

Water is life. Without safe, clean water, disease spreads, and people die. And the relentless war means water systems go unmaintained or destroyed. But in Al Dhale’e city, Oxfam is working to deliver water to everyone.

Al-Dhale was one of the worst affected governorates by the conflict when it first escalated in 2015. Fierce fighting resulted in the destruction of basic public infrastructures, including the public water supply network. Even before the conflict escalated, the water scheme that fed Al-Dhale city had started to collapse due to lack of money to maintain it. In the midst of conflict, the water facilities have been further exposed to robbery and looting. This comes on top of the physical damage the conflict has left on buildings and water tanks.

Oxfam coordinated with the Local Water and Sanitation Corporation in Al-Dhale for the rehabilitation of some components of the water scheme. Work involved rehabilitation of the three re-pumping stations in Hajar, Al-Soda and Sanah areas and the connection of two other wells with the re-pumping station in Al-Soda. Oxfam also rehabilitated a supply line measuring over 10km and replaced a supply pipeline that was over 1km long. Provision of fuel was also critical in ensuring smooth water supply to the elevated water tank of Al-Dhale city.

The most challenging part of rehabilitating the water supply scheme was bringing water through this network of pipes and re-pumping stations to the tank in Al-Dhale city. Funds from UNICEF, KFW and other Oxfam affiliates allowed for the success of the project, bringing water to the tank for the first time in nine years.

In all, 20,000 people are now able to access running water who couldn’t before. However, in Al-Dhale city, water still can’t yet reach residents because the city’s water distribution network has yet to be fixed and the local water corporation needs fuel to operate.

Haneen* with her step-children. VFX Aden / Oxfam

Before the implementation of the water project, our life was in a miserable condition. We were fetching water from the well and carrying it using animals. Sometimes we were carrying jerrycans on our head. The water from the well was polluted with waste but despite that, we were fetching the water for drinking. When the water project was implemented many things changed. We have saved the money that we were using to purchase water. Because we can access water now, we can provide a lot of things such as vegetables, food, medicines and other things.

* Name changed to protect identity

Salim lives in Al Dhale’e district and currently has limited access to safe water. When he doesn’t have the money for water, the family are forced to drink unsafe water from wells which has led to his children becoming sick. Photo: VFX Aden / Oxfam

We are suffering from malnutrition and hardship in accessing water. Difficulty in accessing water and the lack of the water system. Despite the availability of storage water tanks in our area, there is hardship in affording the cost of buying water. If they wanted to buy water from the black market, they find it too expensive, which forces them to be indebted.

If we can access clean water and a water system that distributes to our homes, this would greatly help us. The money we are spending on purchasing water, it will help us in nutrition and education, in improving children’s education skills. This is what most of the people and residents are suffering from. Because now the cost of water has become more expensive than oil. When we purchase clean water, we find that its price is more expensive than petrol.

My dreams are every member’s dreams in this community. To live in safety and the availability of services. To have the ability to provide education to our children. To have hospitals in the area and most importantly, the accessibility of necessities, such as food and water and education.

Tawakkul is Public Health Engineer at Al Dhale’s water project. Al Dhale’e has not had access to clean water for nine years. Oxfam has managed to get the water flowing again to over 5,000 families, but there is still work to be done. Photo: VFX Aden/Oxfam

Yemen suffers from a lack of water. The unstable security situation, wars and revolutions that are occurring in Yemen, have led to many problems in rehabilitating the infrastructure and the water projects. Many projects have been suspended because of the war. Also, many people have fled because of the lack of water in their area.

The Al Dhale’e water project implementation started in 2006 but the project was suspended in 2011 due to the political situation. The project was suspended for nine years. For that reason most of the infrastructure such as water pumps, pipes and water storage tanks have collapsed and eroded because of the war of 2015.

Oxfam has rehabilitated the water main lines and stations to pump water to Al Dhale’e city which resulted in the rehabilitation of the infrastructure as the first stage of the project. But there are a lot of things remaining such as water and network distribution.

It’s a great feeling that we cannot describe. When we see the water flowing from the taps, or a household accessing water and the suffering is alleviated from the people. We used to see the women fetching water from the water well using jerrycans and animals or transporting it by water truck. But now we are striving to enable them to access it from their houses.

I have a strong motive to keep implementing this project until water access is available to all Al Dhale'e. Then we will say, 'Thankfully the water has reached Al Dhale’e and everyone will be happy.'

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European Peace Facility

BREAKING: EU leaders adopt 5 billion Euro fund to train and equip security forces and militaries worldwide that risk fuelling armed conflict

22 March 2021

Today, EU leaders adopted the European Peace Facility (EPF), a new fund that will allow the EU to train militaries around the world and equip them with lethal weapons. This is despite experts - including civil society - raising their concerns that the fund could worsen conflicts and contribute to human rights abuses in unstable regions.

This fund will replace several European foreign and defence policy funds such as the African Peace Facility which finances security assistance and other military operations in African countries including Somalia and the Sahel region. However, the EPF differs from its predecessors. Firstly, it is global in its mandate. Secondly – and crucially – it opens the door for the EU to fund ‘lethal equipment’ such as machine guns, pistols and ammunition. The EU is not allowed to spend its budget on weapons, so EU member states have circumvented the EU treaties prohibiting this by creating an off-budget fund. This marks a troubling change in EU foreign policy. 

The EPF will come into force in July of this year.

Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland said: “This fund allows European countries to sell weapons to conflict-torn countries without robust controls. This flies in the face of the EU’s aim to preserve peace. In many of these countries, the black market for weapons is thriving and this move by the EU could make it easier for local militia and armed groups to get their hands on weapons, causing only more instability and suffering. 

"Instead of fuelling conflict, the EU needs to listen to people on the ground. In the Sahel, our local partners demand good governance, policies that work for all communities and a strong civil society.”

Sorley McCaughey, Head of Policy and Advocacy with Chrisitan Aid said: "This agreement is deeply concerning, more likely to worsen situations of conflict than meaningfully contribute to peace. Despite assurances from Government, EU foreign policy continues to shift towards a militarised, security-first approach and away from traditional strengths of diplomacy, conflict prevention and long-term peacebuilding.

"The EPF has been agreed at Brussels level with little or no real Dáil debate or scrutiny on its implications for Ireland. The Government argues it has secured important opt outs, but with very little detail or certainty on how they will work in practice. Ireland's hard won reputation as a neutral, impartial state could easily be jeopardised by the actions of other members of the facility. At the very least, a detailed analysis of how the Facility will contribute to human rights and peace and how Ireland's neutrality will be protected under the EPF should be presented to the Dáil, which must play an active role in monitoring the facility and holding it to account."

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Contact
Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org | 087 912 3165


Notes to the Editor

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10 years on, Syrian women are still focused on simply surviving

“I’m afraid I would wake up one day to find nothing to fill the stomachs of my little children” ~ Nesreen

Ten years since the beginning of the conflict, Syrian women are still focused on simply surviving. People are stuck, or falling deeper into poverty.

Nesreen, a mother of four from rural Damascus, continues to live with the effects of the ten-year conflict, with no end in sight. Every day is a struggle to survive, and like so many other Syrian women Oxfam works with, whether she can put enough food on the table to feed her family is a daily concern.

Since war broke out in the country, everything has changed for Nesreen and her family of six.

Nesreen, 39, lives with her family of six in Rural Damascus. Here she tends to her backyard garden to try support her family’s diet. Photo Credit: Dania Kareh

I remember one dark afternoon, five years ago, when the sounds of explosions started rising all around us. Moving to the nearest basement in the neighborhood to hide with my little children was as risky as staying in our house. I thought, if we’re going to die today, then let it be right here, in our home. Nothing will ever erase those memories from my heart and mind.

Two years ago, life gradually returned to normal in Nesreen’s town.  For the first time in almost seven years her husband found work, the family started to fix the damage to their house and the children returned to school. However, their hopes that the conflict and its impacts were coming to an end were dashed.

Nesreen works on her sewing machine to earn money and support her household. Photo Credit: Dania Kareh

The massive repercussions of the pandemic coupled with the collapse of the Syrian pound and the spillover from the financial crisis in Lebanon has pushed more and more Syrians to the brink.

Skyrocketing prices of food and people’s inability to afford the most essential food items has meant women are reverting to extreme strategies to cope, such as reducing the number of meals each day, or being forced to buy cheaper, less nutritious food. 

This is the current reality for Nesreen and her family.

We have had to cut down on the types of food we buy as well as so many other needs like clothing. It might be safer now, but the economic situation is unbearable. I’m dying inside when my youngest daughter needs her medication and I can’t afford them.

Lubana, 65, from rural Damascus is a returnee. She lost her everything during war and now relies on aid to survive. Photo Credit: Oxfam

Lubana

Our life revolves around farming. Before the war, we made a good income from our land. And we could afford a modest but comfortable life. When war broke out we had to flee our hometown and stayed away for almost five years. When we finally got the chance to return home, we found everything had gone. The past year has been extremely tough. We had to cut down on our expenses and reduce the size of our food portions. In these rough times, we can’t help but feel broken. Today, after ten years of war, I still can’t see an ending to all our suffering. I hope one day my children will have a better life than the one I’m having.

Tahani, 42, from rural Aleppo, works on a farm to support her six children. Photo credit: Islam Mardini

Tahani

When war broke out in Syria, I lost contact with my ex-husband. To this day, no one knows whether he’s still alive or dead. I was supporting our six little children by myself. As the war dragged on, we lost almost everything; our house, our crops, the modest life we once had. Staying in our town became too dangerous. We had to go and leave everything behind, moving from one town to another for five years.  

Three years ago, we returned home and all I could think of was how to start over. I thought I had survived the worst. I survived the conflict, I was forced to leave my home, and I lived through a bad divorce, but nothing is compared to how I’m living now with my children. This war turned our lives upside down and today, even after ten years of war, I still cannot imagine leading a normal life again. I'm afraid one day soon we'll have nothing else to eat but herbs and leaves.

For thousands of families like Nesreen’s, Lubana's and Tahani's the situation is getting worse. The WFP recently found 12.4 million Syrians are going to sleep hungry, an increase of over three million people from 2020. Between 2019 and 2020, food insecurity increased a massive 42 percent. In the same year, 80 percent of Syrians were living below the poverty line.

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World Water Day 2021: Keep the water flowing

Bladder and water pump built by Oxfam on the Cesacoba site, near Bangassou, in the Central African Republic. Photo: Adrienne Surprenant/ Oxfam

On 3 January 2021, Bangassou – a small town in the south east of the Central African Republic – was attacked by a coalition of armed groups, forcing 14,000 people in the town and its surrounding areas to flee their homes to seek safety. More than two months later, 4,800 people are still living in a makeshift camp in the woods of Cesacoba, 5km from Bangassou, waiting for security to be restored so they can return home.

When they arrived, the only source of water was located deep in the forest and it wasn’t clean enough to drink. Yet they had no other choice than to make the dangerous journey into the woods each day to collect water. When Oxfam arrived in the camp, parents told us that their children had fallen ill with severe diarrhea from drinking the water.

Their living conditions completely changed when, on 10 January, Oxfam built a water-point on-site, providing the camp and its residents with 30,000 liters of chlorinated water each day , along with 50 toilets and 40 showers.

This World Water Day, when around the world people are celebrating the importance of water for us all, we share here the stories of three women – Marcelline, Yvonne and Leonie – who are fighting to survive, struggling to live in better conditions, and hoping for a better future for their children. We also spoke with Serge, a water and sanitation technician who builds forages for the community and for whom water really is life.

Marcelline Ngoumbeti poses for a portrait in the Cesacoba site, Bangassou, on March 3rd 2021. Photo: Adrienne Surprenant/ Oxfam

Marcelline

“I didn’t understand the gunshots, I did not know where they were coming from. I was scared, I could hear so many gunshots,” says the 36-year-old mother of four, as she recalls the attack on Bangassou on 3 January. In her panic and confusion, she ran in a different direction than her husband and children. Once she had arrived safely at the site, she cried, desolate and fraught with worry for her family. Several hours later Marcelline,  crying with relief, finally found them.

That evening, they slept on the cement floor of the church of Cesacoba. Hundreds of other displaced people shared the same dire conditions for almost a month. Some fell sick with diarrhea, malaria or influenza.

Like all the other women staying in Cesacoba, Marcelline had to walk two kilometers to access a small water source, surrounded by trees and “full of bacteria”, before Oxfam took care of the water supply on the site by building a bladder and water pump system.

“These days we have toilets, showers, and water we can drink. It’s made our lives much easier. And now we have all that, I’ve joined the hygiene committee. Because it is our responsibility – those of us who are staying in the site – to clean the latrines. And it does us good [to take on this responsibility].”

Marcelline’s work in the site hygiene committee involves participating in cleaning the facilities, as well as doing door-to-door promotion sessions about cleanliness on the site. According to Marcelline, “these are good ideas that tomorrow we can continue using at home, to educate our children for the future."

Yvonne Dangbonga holds a bucket of drinkable water on her head, in the Cesacoba site near Bangassou on the 3rd March 2021. Photo: Adrienne Surprenant/ Oxfam

Yvonne

“On 3 January I was five months pregnant, and I was terrified of the sound of firearms. I had problems with my heart, my whole body was aching. I didn’t lose consciousness but I was scared,” says Yvonne, 40-years-old and pregnant with her fourth child. “Bullets were flying over our heads.”

With her family, Yvonne left her village and walked until she found refuge in Cesacoba. However, once on the site, a new set of problems presented themselves: she could not earn money anymore, and had to walk long distances to collect water at a small source shared by dozens of other families. She missed being able to go alone to a nearby river to wash her clothes.

When Oxfam built a bladder and pump to provide drinkable water, she felt “like a weight was lifted”, saying it helped her and her family a lot. “Now, I do not need to waste my energy walking too much, and our health is better.” 

Léonie Lazo, 52 years old, poses for a portrait in the Cesacoba site near Bangassou in the Central African Republic. Photo: Adrienne Surprenant/ Oxfam

Léonie

“During the events of 2017, lots of people died. The recent attack brought back those memories and so we ran,” says Leonie, a mother of ten. She was still sleeping when gunshots woke her up and led her family to take refuge at Cesacoba.

“Once I arrived, I was in such a state… I fell badly and had to be brought to the hospital,” she recalls. And she has struggled to adapt to the difficult living conditions in the site. At home, Leonie told us that she had a proper well nearby, and a field she farmed to pay for her children’s school fees.

“But here there is nothing to do but sit and wait. At first, I was terrified for my children as they were falling ill from the water. Even the smallest one fell sick. But now that we have clean water it’s easier. When the water arrived, I was overjoyed. Now my kids can be happy, play ball and dance.”

Serge

Serge used to build houses, however since building his first well in 2019 he has assisted in the construction of more than ten wells around Bangassou. He told us that he is proud of working with NGOs, as it not only means that he is helping the people in his community but also allows him to earn enough to support his five children.

However, he told us that his work is nowhere near finished. “There still aren’t enough water pumps in Bangassou. In some neighbourhoods, people struggle to find water,” Serge told us.

“Here, people in the community come to tell us what an essential job we’re doing. It is important, because water is life."

Oxfam has been working in the Central African Republic since 2014. We respond to the humanitarian crisis by providing water, sanitation and hygiene services, food security and livelihoods, and by working with community-based protection networks. We also develop programs to strengthen civil society.

In Bangassou, our programs started in January 2020. We rapidly mobilized to respond to the ongoing crisis, when thousands of people fled from their homes on 3 January 2021. In the Cesacoba site, thanks to support from ECHO, GFFO and USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, we were able to provide 4 800 people with Aquatabs, drinkable water, showers and toilets only nine days after the settlement of IDPs, on 11 January. Since then, we have seen a dramatic reduction in serious diseases amongst children.

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