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Oxfam providing clean water and hygiene kits to survivors of Sierra Leone mud slide

·         Oxfam spokespeople on the ground available for interview

Flooding and mudslides have killed more than 300 and left an estimated 3,000 people homeless on the outskirts of Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown.

Although affected residents are being relocated to accessible sites, it is thought that flooding in Freetown and elsewhere may make it difficult to reach others.

Oxfam is on the ground, providing clean water and hygiene kits to survivors. The aid agency initially plans to help almost 2,000 households amid concerns that continued heavy rains, overcrowding and inadequate water and sanitation systems will leave people extremely vulnerable to outbreaks of cholera and other diseases.  

Daniel Byrne, part of the Oxfam team that visited the worst affected areas, said: “We saw mass destruction – people were pulling bodies out with their bare hands. We didn’t see any survivors from the homes that had been submerged. Neighbours have been taking in people who have lost their homes. We spoke to one person who has taken 30 people into their home which has just three rooms.

“These are some of the poorest areas in Freetown. Water and sanitation in homes is at best very basic, but at worst non-existent. Overcrowding is a serious health risk and a potential breeding ground for the spread of disease.”

Oxfam’s Sierra Leone Country Director, Thynn Thynn Hlaing, said: “The disaster has left thousands of extremely poor people without a home. The city experiences floods every year but not on this scale. Oxfam is working with its partners in Freetown to help survivors and prevent any outbreaks of diseases."

ENDS

Oxfam spokespeople, including Oxfam’s Sierra Leone Country Director Thynn Thynn Hlaing and local staff member Daniel Byrne, are available for interview.

To arrange an interview or for more information, please contact:

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Alice Dawson on 00353 (0) 83 198 1869 / alice.dawson@oxfamireland.org

NORTHERN IRELAND: Phillip Graham on 0044 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org

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South Sudan's Independence Day should have been a celebration

Blog post by Christina Corbett, Oxfam Press Officer, South Sudan.

The 9th of July 2017 was Independence Day in South Sudan. A day that should have seen celebrations, festivities, smiles and laughter to mark six years of the world’s newest country. But not this year. Nor any year since the country’s conflict started in December 2013. It’s a time of sombre reflection.

South Sudan has spent the most recent half of its short life in conflict. The fighting has caused hunger so catastrophic that in February, the world’s first famine in six years – South Sudan’s lifespan - was declared.

I just got back from Padding, in northern Jonglei close to the Ethiopian border – a village in the ‘back of the back of beyond’, as one colleague told me. The village is so remote and inaccessible that food is dropped from planes and distributed by Oxfam staff on the ground to people in need. The last food drop was six months ago. This time the United Nations World Food Programme were delivering sorghum, beans, oil and fortified flour.

(L) Nyarek Kuajien spends her days in Pangob trying to cultivate a small patch of garden and collecting the leaves of trees and grass that grow during the rainy season. (R) Air food drop in northern Jonglei, South Sudan. Photo: Albert Gonzales/Oxfam

I met people who had come from Padding and around – people who had fled from fighting. I saw that people don’t care that the country is six years old – they only care whether their children will see six years of life, or if their struggle to feed their families will see them slide into starvation.

Padding routinely gets cut off from everywhere. It’s in the middle of a swamp that becomes wet and impassable during the rainy season. It takes a day to walk to Lankien, the nearest town and the nearest functioning market. But this market is under pressure. Sorghum – a staple, used to make “walwal”, a thick paste – has jumped in price from 700 South Sudanese Pounds (SSP) (€5/£4) in April 2017, to 13,000 SSP today. It is too much for people to afford even a handful.

Before March 2017 – when the brutal conflict between government and opposition forces hit this part of the country – 9,000 people were living in Padding village. Life was not bad. There were gardens that people cultivated, people had cattle. Now things are different.

Padding has nearly doubled in size with people who have fled from fighting. Nyarek Kuajien*, a mother who had fled with her nine children from Khorfulus, near Malakal, about 160km away, told me: “We saw the fighters coming and when they came we ran. We ran with nothing, absolutely nothing. We came to Pangob [a village near Padding] and told the village chief that we had run from fighting. He gave us some land to settle on.”

Now Nyarek spends her days trying to cultivate a small patch of garden and collecting the leaves of trees and grass that grow during the rainy season. She knows that some of the things she gathers make her children ill. “It can’t be good – but I just do whatever I can to keep life going. I get water from the swamp. When I was at home I had everything.”

Nyarek desperately wants water and food. She wants soap to clean clothes, even bed sheets to lie on – she wants the things that she had before the conflict started. Six years of independence means nothing to her. The last few years have taken more than they’ve given.

Until the South Sudanese have peace there will be nothing to celebrate. The governments of neighbouring countries and the wider international community must increase political pressure to stop this violent conflict. Oxfam will continue to work in the most difficult places – places where they have never seen such dire need. But aid alone won’t solve the problem.

Nyarek told me about her village and about returning there.

“I am not willing to go back,” she said. “People are no longer there. I don’t want to be alone.” The people of South Sudan must not be left alone.

Nyarek and her countrymen and women need the same international solidarity shown when the country was ushered into being. And they need it now more than ever before.

Following the power crisis that erupted in Juba in 2013, South Sudan has spiralled into a national, political and ethnic conflict, quickly spreading across many parts of the country and leading to the death of thousands of women, children and men.

Since then, 3.8 million people have been forced to flee their homes due to the brutal war. 7.5 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance. Over 45 per cent of the population – more than 5.5 million people – are severely hungry. Oxfam is racing to get food, water and hygiene items to the most vulnerable people, including thousands who have fled to remote islands in the middle of huge swamps. In 2016 we reached over 600,000 with emergency and longer-term support. We are also responding to the refugee crisis regionally in Uganda, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Chad.

What you can do now

Millions of men, women and children are in need of urgent help in South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and Yemen. We urgently need your help to feed families and help save lives.
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This debit card provides families in Kenya with access to safe, clean drinking water

A simple innovation is changing the way we fight drought. 

It is not uncommon for new mothers to struggle to adjust to the challenges of motherhood. But Catherine Nabulon (34) from Abulon, Kenya, has the added complication of raising her new-born in the middle of a drought. After her husband left her, she became the sole earner in her household and now spends her days in search of odd jobs, which has gotten increasingly difficult as resources dried up.

Catherine Nabulon from Kenya is raising her new-born baby in the middle of a drought where clean, safe drinking water is scarce. Oxfam is there, providing people like Catherine with cash via an e-wallet card so they can buy water and take back control of their lives. Photo: Joy Obuya/Oxfam

Turkana County, where Catherine lives, has been ravaged by a devastating drought. It is one of 23 counties — half of Kenya — currently in dire need of water. With increased demand from people who desperately need to provide for their families and their livestock, water sources have been stretched.

Right now 2.6 million people in Kenya need life-saving aid, including clean, safe water. 

To cope with the effects of drought, Oxfam is providing cash via an e-wallet mechanism to enable people to regain some control over their lives.

Customers like Catherine present their card to an Equity Bank agent who debits the amount that they need to buy water for a particular day. The agent then issues a receipt for that amount of water. Each five-gallon jerry can costs 5 Kenyan Shillings, or about €0.04/£0.03.

Next the customer gives the receipt to a water kiosk vendor for redemption who draws a volume of water that is equivalent to the amount taken off the card.

With her allocation of 900 Kenyan shillings (approx. €7.50/£6.50) Catherine purchases clean water to care for her baby. This support gives her peace of mind and allows her to focus on her dream of starting a business.  

The system also allows for flexibility and better planning so Catherine and others in Turkana can address their most immediate needs and cope with the drought.

Oxfam is there

Since September 2016, Oxfam has been on the ground in Kenya, repairing and upgrading borehole wells so that people can access clean, safe drinking water as well as providing cash assistance to help people buy essentials like food. We also provide hygiene and sanitation support and training to help prevent the spread of deadly diseases.

Through financial support from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), we are reaching 1,000 households (or 6,000 people) with cash transfers, including cash that is disbursed through the e-wallet mechanism used specifically to buy clean, safe water. 

Please support people like Catherine

Despite Oxfam’s work, drought in Kenya continues to push people to extreme hunger. You can take action now to help people like Catherine by donating to our Hunger Crisis Appeal – 100% of your donation will go to our emergency response supporting people facing starvation in East Africa, Nigeria and Yemen.

Divya Amladi is Oxfam America’s Content Producer and Copywriter. 

As Syria conflict drags on, sustainable Oxfam project provides clean water in Salamiyah

One of every two Syrians has a story of displacement to tell. Half the population has been pushed by the relentless war out of their homes to safer, quieter locations. But for many of these people, safety doesn’t mean an end to their woes.

Before the war, Kousay*, 14, lived with his family in Rural Idlib. For the past three years, he has been staying with relatives in Salamiyah, in Rural Hama. “My father was a butcher. Now he is out of work. So I had to leave school and find a job,” said the young boy, who earns about $35 per month working in a car repair shop, and is the sole bread-winner of the family.

Salamiyah, located 33 kilometres south-east of the city of Hama, had a population of 150,000 before the conflict. With Syrians displaced from Homs, Rural Hama and other areas, the city now hosts three times that many people. East Salamiyah city gets its water from the Al-Qantara pumping station, which is situated in the west of the city, and is under control of armed groups.

Top-Left: Kousay*, 14, is one of the 35,000 residents in Salamiyah who have benefited from an Oxfam water treatment unit which was originally installed in June 2015.  Top-Right: After being displaced to Salamiyah with his family from Al-Hassakah in 2015, 12-year-old Marwanalso* benefited from the Oxfam water treatment unit. Bottom: In June 2015, Oxfam installed a water treatment unit to provide clean drinking water to an estimated 35,000 residents in Salamiyah - Rural Hama. In June 2017, Oxfam provided the local water establishment with equipment to maintain the unit. Photos: Dania Karah/Oxfam

This pumping station has been in a conflict area since 2013, and the water has been cut off frequently by parties controlling the area. According to the Salamiyah municipality, the water was deliberately cut off from the main source 24 times during the last eight months, forcing people to rely on water trucked to the area, as the only other source was a few boreholes containing unusable sulphurous water.

To alleviate water shortages, in June 2015 Oxfam installed a water treatment unit on one of the boreholes using a Reverse Osmosis system to provide safe drinking water for an estimated 35,000 residents in East Salamiyah, including almost a third who had been internally displaced. The Reverse Osmosis system removes the hydrogen sulphide gas, the bad smell and the solids from the water to produce clean drinking water to be pumped to the city's main water reservoir.

While the conflict raged on, it was important for this project to be sustainable, in order to guarantee the water flow. In June 2017 Oxfam provided the local water establishment with equipment such as spare parts, and pipes, to be able to maintain the unit. The main aim was to improve people’s access to safe and adequate drinking water. The system can operate up to 20 hours per day, providing 50,000 litres of water per hour depending on the available electricity and fuel.

With their limited income, Kousay’s family of five used to buy water from private water tanking at €3/£2 per 1M3 = 1,000 L once per week to avoid the undrinkable sulphurous water provided by local boreholes. Almost one-third of their monthly income went into this expense. ‘’When we came first to As-Salamiah, we only had hot water which has a distinct rotten egg smell, but since this unit start to operate the situation became better. [Now] drinking water reaches our house once a week,’’ said Kousay.

Marwan*,12, was displaced from Al-Hassakah when the Syrian government lost control of large areas of the city to ISIS in 2015 and now lives with his father, mother and four brothers and sisters in Rural Salamiyah. Their family is relatively lucky, as the father is still around and can support them. “We found a small house with no furniture in Salamiyah, and my father works in a nearby factory,” said Marwan.

At first, Marwan*’s family had to rely on trucked drinking water, which they needed to buy twice a week. Now, they can rely on the clean water provided by the Oxfam system.

*Names changed to protect identities

Statement by Oxfam Ireland and GOAL following conclusion of merger talks

Tuesday July 18th, 2017

GOAL and Oxfam Ireland have concluded joint talks to explore a possible merger and have decided not to proceed at this time.

They have instead agreed to begin to work more closely together on programmes and projects where they found significant areas of commonality.

The organisations’ Boards believe that the two organisations will continue to make a strong impact as independent entities in their work serving the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. A joint GOAL-Oxfam team spent five months exploring the possibility of bringing both organisations together, however due to the complexities of a full merger it was not possible to bring discussions to a successful conclusion at this time.

It was decided that the scale and diversity of both organisations’ work will be best served by operating as two distinct entities for now. 

GOAL General Manager Celine Fitzgerald said: “GOAL has, over the last five months, been hugely impressed by the shared commitment of Oxfam to supporting the world’s most vulnerable populations and our admiration and respect for the organisation has grown immeasurably. While we have not been able to conclude a merger agreement at this time, we plan to work together and continue a dialogue, sharing knowledge and resources to better serve the beneficiaries of both organisations.”

Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive Jim Clarken said: “We have immense admiration for the work undertaken by GOAL, the people behind it and its robust governance systems. While both our organisations will remain separate, the goodwill and understanding we have developed will ensure a mutually supportive relationship and we look forward to working closely together in the future.”

ENDS

Contact:

Sorcha Nic Mhathúna, Oxfam Ireland, +353 83 1975 107, sorcha.nicmhathuna@oxfamireland.org 

David Williams, GOAL, +353 87 419 7140, dwilliams@goal.ie 

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