The land of the invisible: 51 million people fleeing conflict

Every 4 seconds a person in the world is forced to flee their home. People like Martha, who crossed the Nile carrying three children on her back with another three floating alongside, dodging bullets, with nothing to eat for more than five days. Conflict in her country of South Sudan has forced her and many others to leave everything they know behind.

There are now more than 51 million refugees and people displaced by conflict and violence across the world. This is a record-breaking figure, which surpasses even that of the Second World War.

Above: Okach Mabil (10) walks through mud carrying a sack of grain in the Malakal camp for displaced people in South Sudan. Fighting has forced over two million people from their homes. Simon Rawles/Oxfam

The main cause is the intensification of conflicts, particularly in Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, which alone have resulted in over 11 million displaced people and refugees in Syria, over 2 million in South Sudan and 860,000 more in the Central African Republic.

But beyond these raw statistics lies an individual human being – like me and you – who has had to flee, leaving behind belongings, a home, friends and often family. It is very difficult to put into words the bleakness and vulnerability they face.

We cannot allow ourselves to get used to these permanent crises which affects a group of people almost more than ten times the population of the island of Ireland.

They are in need of shelter; blankets and clothes; food and water; security and protection; a job and money to survive.

Above: Um Ali (right) and her husband Abu Ali sit on the floor with some of their children in their shelter in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. The Jabaa settlement where they live was set up on agricultural land that turns into sludge come the first rain. “In Syria, I had a washing machine. Now it’s all about hand washing, and with this mud, it’s difficult to keep anything clean,” explains Um. Her husband Abu says “In Syria, I had a car and some goats. I sold them all before I left the country and have since spent all the money in Lebanon. Without humanitarian aid, I don’t know how we can survive.” Joelle Bassoul/Oxfam

Through their taxes, European citizens make it possible for humanitarian aid to save lives. We are collaborating with the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) with the launch of an innovative communications project – EUsavelives, You Save Lives – in which we highlight the experiences of refugees.

The campaign will give a voice to those affected, showing the human side of these crises so that millions of people across Europe are made aware of the reality of everyday life in refugee camps and host communities.

Since 2008 the world has become a less peaceful place. The increase in terrorist activity and conflicts and the endless rise in the number of refugees and displaced people are the facts that demonstrate this. Unfortunately, this increase in violence will have dramatic consequences for millions of people. And it not only affects those people who are already finding it difficult to survive in this situation; many others will be forced to live in violent situations because it is impossible for them to escape from the instability. It is estimated that 500 million people are currently living in countries at risk of conflict.

Above: Yehia* (51) is a farmer from Idlib in Syria. He has been living in this tent in a coastal area of north Lebanon for the past three years. The strong winds blew away the plastic sheets that were the only means of protection against the rain for Yehia and his family. When their ceiling collapsed the family had to cut the tent’s sides with a knife to be able to get out.  Oriol Andrés Gallart/Oxfam

The question is, if you were in their place? A life erased, all to be built again. It is impossible to fully understand what this must be like. It is a duty to try to. So please help us raise awareness and make the invisible refugees visible by sharing, telling a friend or simply clicking here. You save lives. Together we save lives.

You Save Lives


Above: Irish Examiner journalist Noel Baker on his trip to Lebanon with Oxfam & ECHO. Originally broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1's World Report.


Eyewitness – Cyclone Pam

Photo: Isso Nihmei/350.org

We have launched an emergency appeal to help people in the island nation of Vanuatu where Cyclone Pam have wreaked devastation. This is likely to be one of the worst disasters ever seen in the Pacific. The scale of humanitarian need will be enormous and the people of Vanuatu are going to need a lot of help to rebuild their homes and their lives. 

Clean water, sanitation and hygiene supplies are a major issue for those left homeless and also those in evacuation centres, where there simply are not enough toilets or clean water for the amount of people in those facilities.


Here is a personal account of what it is like to experience the destructive forces of a Category 5 Cyclone from Colin Collett van Rooyen, Country Director, Oxfam in Vanuatu.

It was a dark and stormy night…no, seriously, it really was! Okay, so it never had a chance of being the perfect night in Vanuatu did it? We knew that Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam (we just call her Pam for short) was on her way. We knew (almost) exactly where she was and what her most likely next move would be and we knew that she would only reveal to us her secrets as she arrived over us.

Radios on, candles at the ready, water set out, lock down level red announced and cyclone tracking maps and pens on the table. Nothing unusual for cyclone season in Vanuatu really. This is a country so prone to cyclones that we have tracking maps in the early pages of the telephone directories. What was unusual was not knowing how strong Pam was going to be; how dark and stormy it would all get given that she was a category five cyclone. A rare beast.

Regular radio announcements in calm tones; traditional Vanuatu string band music in-between statements of how harsh things may be when she gets to us. All a bit surreal really. The cyclone shutters boarding up our windows and doors start to shudder, at first gently and irregularly and then faster and constant. Pam is now moving in, getting closer to us at a rate of 10, 15, 20 kilometers per hour. Her eye moves at an astounding speed, creating wind forces of unimaginable speeds.

Can you imagine ‘over 200km an hour’? I couldn’t at the time. But I could hear it. I now know the sound of 200km per hour or more, and I don’t think I would willingly subject myself to it again. Pam arrived announced by the drum roll of our shutters. Then she roared, she squealed, she hissed. She spat and cursed in deep bass tones, and at the same time she whistled and screeched in ways that messed with our senses. What was that we just heard?

Someone outside screaming? The high-pitched string band notes we had heard earlier on the radio? No, the radio was off and people had taken shelter. It was Pam in her many voices. She spoke a language of essential fear at its most primitive and we understood it instantly.

I could also ‘see’ what more than 200km per hour looked like. It was dark, the lights went out, it had that wobbly candle lit orange to it (not the romantic one you may be used to). It had pictures in my head of houses falling apart, metal sheets ripping of roofs, yachts in the bay turned upside down, trees tearing themselves into shreds, people cowering in dark corners and animals confused and wild. I could see 200km per hour in our eyes where we reflected the fear we were feeling so transparently despite our attempts to do the “I’m cool, you cool” act.

And of course we could feel it too. Pam’s special brand of 200km per hour or more shook us to the core. Our sturdy home rattled a bit at first and then at Pam’s most powerful moments she shook it. Just to remind us that she was in charge. Just to add to that already sharp edge that had moved us to huddle on the floor closest to the strongest walls and as far as possible from windows and doors that felt like they may not hold.

We could feel it too in another way. In wondering about family far away, in thinking about friends close by and those less fortunate to have a sturdy home, and in trying to reconcile this ugly yet astounding moment with the beautiful and gentle Vanuatu we love so much. And then after dragging us around with such aggression she decided to move on, to try her power games on anther small island of Vanuatu, and then another and another.

And at the end of this ‘dark and stormy night’ we were left wide awake, unable to sleep a wink in case she came back, wondering if what we saw in our mind’s eye, what we felt and heard, would be real when we eventually cracked open the doors after the all clear in the morning.

And it was.

Colin Collett van Rooyen, Country Director, Oxfam in Vanuatu. Follow Colin on Twitter here.

You can help support Oxfam’s Cyclone Pam response by donating here.


Cyclone Pam leaves ‘unprecedented disaster' in Vanuatu


Stories of devastation emerge from Oxfam staffers.

Cyclone Pam, possibly one of the worst ever seen in the Pacific region, has now passed over the island nation of Vanuatu, and reports are emerging of the devastation left in its wake as Oxfam prepares to launch an emergency response.

Packing winds of up to 160 miles per hour, the storm slammed directly into Port Vila, Vanuatu’s capital on the island of Efate, where about 65,000 people live. Oxfam staffers there are reporting the complete destruction of homes: Winds have uprooted trees three stories tall, and in some of the smaller communities, barely any houses are left standing.
Power and water have been knocked out and people are still not able to move around freely.
“The scale of this disaster is unprecedented in this country and the proud people of Vanuatu are going to need a lot of help to rebuild their homes and their lives,” said Colin Collett van Rooyen, Oxfam’s Vanuatu country director. He said residents have told him that they have never seen a cyclone of this intensity and were scared about the devastation that will likely unfold as emergency teams make their way into hard-to-reach areas.

Slightly smaller than Northern Ireland, Vanuatu is a Y-shaped chain of four main islands and 80 smaller ones made up mostly of mountains with narrow coastal plains. Though many of the islands are uninhabited, the total population of the country is estimated to be close to 267,000 - that's around twice the population of Cork city.

Port Vila, the capital, has been named in the Natural Hazards Risk Atlas as the city most exposed to natural disasters in the world because of the risks it faces from earthquakes, tsunamis, flooding, and cyclones like Pam.


Wake-up call for disaster risk reduction

For the president of Vanuatu, the terrible reality of those risks reportedly brought him close to tears as he delivered his opening statement Saturday at the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan. The event is aimed at tackling the devastating impacts of disasters.
“I speak to you today with a heart that is so heavy,” said the president, Baldwin Lonsdale. “I stand to ask you to give a lending hand to responding to this calamity that has struck us.”
Ben Murphy, the humanitarian advocacy lead for Oxfam Australia who is attending the conference, said Lonsdale’s words are a wake-up call for the international community which is not doing enough to help reduce the risk of disasters like this and the impact they have on the world’s most vulnerable people.
“With Cyclone Pam and Typhoon Haiyan scale events likely to increase in severity, including due to the effects of climate change, current disaster risk reduction, preparedness, and response capacities from the local to the national and international levels will increasingly be pushed to the breaking point in the future,” said Murphy. “That’s why delegations meeting in Sendai need to have President Lonsdale’s words ringing in their ears as they negotiate new international framework on disaster risk reduction.”

Oxfam in Vanuatu

Oxfam has been working on disaster preparedness at both the local and national level in Vanuatu for the past four years. We have been funding communities to build cyclone-proof classrooms and coordinating the Vanuatu humanitarian team while working closely with governments and donor agencies to strengthen disaster preparedness across the country.
Following disasters like Cyclone Pam, Oxfam’s first step is to assess where the greatest needs are and then make determinations about shelter, clean water, sanitation, and food supplies.
The Vanuatu Humanitarian Team, coordinated by Oxfam, is now in action. As we learn more, we will continue to provide updates on the situation.



Celebrating female climate change fighters

This International Women’s Day, we want to celebrate Female Climate Change Fighters. In places like Bolivia, the Philippines and Zimbabwe, small-scale female farmers show resilience and strength as they battle the effects of climate change and make their livelihoods happen despite unpredictable weather, dry spells and extreme flooding.

These women are fierce in their efforts to support their families and communities, producing crops that often fail or are destroyed because of the impact of climate change on their environments.

Rosario lives in Guayaramerin in Bolivia and is part of The Santa Rosa Community, made up of around 30 families living in the extreme north-east of the country. In recent years, the climate has changed bringing extreme and uncontrolled floods with devastating results.

Rosario says: “We talk a lot about the climate and how it is affecting us. We, as people who live in the forest, see [that] the main issue is deforestation – that is affecting us all and is impacting on the climate. Because we are all so concerned, we have implemented agro-forestry systems, which are our way of trying to preserve the forest, and ensure we are not contributing to climate change.

“In the past it was cooler during the day but now more and more there is extreme heat and the sun is burning more and more strongly. For me, it is really hard. For everyone it is a challenge to find the right way of cropping because the weather has changed so much.

“Everybody should be getting involved in this issue – especially Governments. But at the moment we don’t see enough results. This is what is worrying.”

In the Philippines, 20 year old Langging has lived in the farming community of Bagumbayan in the south island of Mindanao in the Philippines her whole life. She loved attending school, until unexpected extremes in weather meant her family’s harvest failed and her parents didn’t have enough money for her to continue her studies. Her plan was to train as a vet so she could support her community in caring for their livestock.

Despite this setback, she is using her energy to support her community in the fight against climate change. She is a Youth Leader for her local area and brings together groups of young people to talk about their experiences of the effects of climate change, bringing their concerns to the local government, and other people who have the power to make change happen.

“Climate change is a big concern for young people like me. If it’s hard to plant and grow crops now, what about the next few decades? What about when we’re trying to grow enough food to survive the longer dry spells in the future?

“As a youth leader, I’m inspired to call for other young people to act on climate change. It is important for us to dialogue with the people in power – the government officials – so they will know what the issues are.”

In Zimbabwe, rainfall is becoming increasingly erratic and it's hard for farmers like Ipaishe to predict when to plant.

Passionate and energetic, Ipaishe along with other women in her community is part of an irrigation project, trying to adapt and continue to grow crops despite the decreasing rainfall. They use their experience to campaign for climate change adaptation techniques to ensure farmers in Zimbabwe can grow enough food to feed themselves - whatever the weather.

“The way we survive here is by farming - it’s the only livelihood we have. The food we produce makes us healthy and strong, and the surplus food we grow, we can sell and get money for school fees and hospital fees.

“Over the last 10 years the climate has changed. We have had times where there was a lot of rain and all of our crops were destroyed and so we couldn’t harvest any food. Another time the rains came as normal but went very early, and the crops wilted and died due to the heat.

We must unite with others and all learn about climate change.”

Female Climate Change Fighters

Watch our new film made using stunning drone footage and powerful interviews with women climate fighters across four continents. You might want to watch this one in full-screen!

To celebrate International Women’s Day and the inspirational women in our lives, we’ve launched a special campaign on Facebook to help support women like Rosario, Langging and Ipaishe through Oxfam’s work worldwide.


Celebrating the Female Food Heroes of Nigeria

Breakfast in Lagos, the same as the day before, two large slices of boiled yam (a root vegetable) with spicy egg sauce. Surprisingly it actually works as a breakfast and my stomach has been fine. The strong spices make the bland yam edible and I find myself enjoying the combination. Lunch and dinner will be more spicy soups and sauces along with fish or other meat and eaten with various porridges made from cassava and other crops. Nigeria, like the rest of West Africa, has a strong culinary history with a wide variety of dishes prepared from indigenous crops. Nigeria also has the hottest, spiciest food of any country in the world. If you have never tried it and especially if you have blocked sinuses, you need to try proper Nigerian hot pepper soup.

I was in Lagos for the 2014 Female Food Hero awards, a competition that began in Tanzania. These 12 great rural women came from all over Nigeria and were selected from more than 1,200 nominations. They, along with millions of other women, grow the crops, care for the livestock and in the end produce the food that makes up the exciting Nigerian cuisine I was enjoying. These 12 women spent a week together in Lagos in the build-up to the final award ceremony and announcement of the overall winners. In the past two years the awards were held only in certain states among women farmers that Oxfam and partners worked with, but this year for the first time it has become a national competition open to all women involved with primary food production.

During the week, the women joined together in morning exercises with Tony the trainer, who also works as a model and actor. They had training sessions with different people on a range of topics relevant for women and for farmers. They held discussions and went on field trips. To the end, even in celebrating the eventual winners, they demonstrated a unity that this large and complex country sometimes lacks. 

Clockwise from top-left: Catfish at urban fish farm in Lagos – this visit showed how nutritious food can be produced and made into a good business, even with limited space. An exhibition of farmer produce set up during the award ceremony. The 12 finalists of 2014 competition join winners from previous years and a representative of the farmers organisation on a field trip. From left to right: second runner-up Chinasa Asonye; first runner-up Monica Maigari; and Female Food Hero 2014 Marian Buhari. From left to right: Oxfam’s Acting Nigeria Country Director Evelyne Mere; first runner-up Monica Maigari; overall winner Marian Buhari; second runner-up Chinasa Asonye; Oxfam Food and Land Rights Advisor Marc Wegerif. The finalists visit the Tropical Naturals Ltd factory which turns agricultural products like shea butter and honey and turn them into creams and products for export.

These women also underwent health checks and received healthy living advice. Stress management was one of the favourite topics. There are so many stresses that rural women face that they are normally expected to simply cope with themselves. They learnt they have a right to care for themselves and be cared for. There were also meetings with celebrities, actors, singers and women leaders. There were dramas that the women themselves prepared and as well as the hard work, lighter moments and lots of singing. The whole process was filmed and is being produced into a series of TV programmes. 

The field trips included a visit to the inspiring factory of Tropical Naturals Ltd. They take agricultural products like shea butter and honey and turn them into creams and products like the famous Dudu-Oson black soap that is sold in Nigeria and exported. The dynamic Chief Executive Officer, Abiola Ogunrinde, stressed to the women the importance of adding value to all their agricultural products in order to get a greater return as farmers and for the nation.

An urban fish farm showed how nutritious food could be produced and made into a good business, even with limited space in a densely populated urban area. Some of the finalists are already involved with fish farming, others were inspired to start.

Nigeria is now the largest economy in Africa with 180 million people and famous for its oil industry, but agriculture remains a vital part of the economy. Agriculture makes up more than 30% of the economic activity and importantly 70% of all employment. Women provide most of the labour in the sector, but get little recognition and little support, something that these awards are working to change.

By highlighting the importance of women’s contribution to food production and the economy, the Female Food Hero awards help increase public support for women involved with food production. The awards also show the challenges women face, through the stories of the female food heroes themselves, told by themselves. We are asking for the creation of a more supportive environment for women food producers. Look what they have done despite all the challenges they face and imagine what they could do with a more enabling environment. The responses have been good and other women food producers have also been inspired.

On Friday 20th November the hall at the hotel was crowded and sometimes chaotic during an exciting celebration of the Ogbonge (strong, heroic, magnificent) Nigerian Women Food Heroes of 2014. As many speakers stressed, all the finalists are good representatives of the millions of hard-working women who produce most of the food in Nigeria. But everyone also wanted to know who would be the winner and walk away with the largest prizes.

Above, left-right: Some of the produce made by first runner-up Monica Maigari. Previous Female Food Hero award winner Gloria works out in the gym. Tony puts the women farmers through their paces in the gym. 

Guests included government officials, NGOs, farmer organisation representatives and private sector representatives. Jennifer Abuah of OLAM Nigeria Ltd noted that of 10,000 cocoa farmers they work with on sustainable cocoa production, only 500 are women. “We know they are there, but they are not visible”, she said. “Women don’t own their land, they are farming the land that belongs to the men in their families and women are doing so many other things besides farming.”

Karima Babangida, the Head of Gender and Youth in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, announced the winners for 2014, but not before she praised the “12 very beautiful hard-working women” who made it to the finals. She also committed the Ministry to providing start-up kits with fish for all the finalists to start or expand fish farming. 

The second runner-up was Chinasa Asonye from Lagos state. A young married woman with three children, she has gone from only cultivating ofada rice to now processing and packaging the rice, for which she gets a much better return. Chinasa leased land from Lagos state government under the Rice for Jobs Initiative and has also branched into fish farming. Last year, she harvested 31 sacks of rice and 5.2 tons of catfish.

The first runner-up was Monica Maigari from Kaduna state. She is a mother of four and farms soybeans, maize, guinea corn, rice, poultry and goats. In 2013, she produced and sold 34 sacks of grains, 130 birds, 360 crates of layers and eight goats.

It was hard to get any picture of the winner, Marian Buhari, when she was announced as people crowded around with cameras to capture the moment. Marian is from Kwara state. She is married with five children and farms cucumbers, maize, cassava, melons, tomatoes, cabbage and fish. She was assisted by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to get started in fish farming with catfish fingerlings (young fish) and two bags of fish feed. Now in 2014, she harvested over 150 tons of produce. Like Chinasa, she had also relied on renting other people’s land for her production.

The best speakers of the day were the women farmers themselves. The past winners shared how much the awards had meant to them, including their activities as ambassadors for women farmers that had taken them to national events and international events in the United States and African Union meetings in Ethiopia. This year’s finalists called for women to get better access to inputs, machinery, finance and land with secure rights. 

As the finalists often chanted:

Ogbonge Women, Our Future! Ogbonge Women, Our Farmers! Ogbonge Women, Our Nigeria!

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. 


By 2016 the top 1% will be richer than the rest of the world combined

High up in the Alps, world leaders will later this week make their annual pilgrimage to the Swiss resort of Davos for the World Economic Forum annual meeting.
The threat posed by growing inequality – one acknowledged by a diversity of attendees – will again be one of the main talking points at the invite-only event where politicians rub shoulders with business leaders, social entrepreneurs, technology innovator, philanthropists, media and NGOs. 
The summit last year identified economic inequality as a major risk to human progress, while Oxfam reported that just 85 people owned as much wealth as the poorest 50 per cent – or 3.5 billion people. 
Our new research paper published today shows that shows inequality is getting even worse – the exclusive club has now shrunk to just 80 people, a dramatic fall from 388 people in 2010.
Other key findings from the report – entitled Wealth: Having it all and wanting more – include: 
  • The richest 1 per cent have seen their share of global wealth increase from 44 per cent in 2009 to 48 per cent in 2014 
  • At this rate the richest 1% will own more than 50 per cent of global wealth in 2016. 
  • Almost all of the remaining 52% of global wealth is owned by the richest 20%. 
  • This leaves just 5.5%  of the global wealth for the remaining 80% of people in the world
  • The wealth of the richest 80 people doubled in cash terms between 2009-14.
  • More than a third of the 1,645 billionaires listed by Forbes inherited some or all of their riches.
This explosion in inequality is holding back the fight against global poverty at a time when 1 in 9 people do not have enough to eat and more than a billion people still live on less than $1.25 (€1.07/82p)-a-day. 
Inequality is not inevitable – it is the result of policy choices. There are solutions, ones we will be highlighting at the Davos meeting, which Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima will co-chair.
Above: A twice-weekly vegetable market in the town of Bara Gaon, India. Inequality is rising at a time when 1 in 9 people do not have enough to eat and more than a billion people still live on less than $1.25 (€1.07/82p)-a-day. Photo: Tom Pietrasik / Oxfam
We propose a seven-point plan to tackle inequality:
  • Clamp down on tax dodging by corporations and rich individuals 
  • Invest in universal, free public services such as health and education
  • Share the tax burden fairly, shifting taxation from labour and consumption towards capital and wealth
  • Introduce minimum wages and move towards a living wage for all workers
  • Introduce equal pay legislation and promote economic policies to give women a fair deal
  • Ensure adequate safety-nets for the poorest, including a minimum income guarantee
  • Agree a global goal to tackle inequality.
Above: Zambia is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies yet Barbara Chinyeu is living in poverty, like three-quarters of the population. While Barbara struggles to grow vegetables to support her family and walks four hours every day just to collect water, multinational mining companies make huge amounts of money in her country. These giant corporations use international tax rules to avoid paying their fair share, meaning that families like Barbara’s lose out. "We are better off if we are all at the same level... If we were all equal, we could all have control of our own affairs." Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith / Oxfam
Imagine the impact this could have. Cleaning up the toxic global tax system, to take one example, would give governments all over the world the vital revenues they have been deprived to invest in public services like health and education that can both help to fight poverty and reduce inequality. 
For example, the EU could receive an annual boost of €120/£100 billion in public money if Europe clamped down on tax dodging. €120/£100 billion is almost twice the annual global aid budget and this much cash could save the lives of 350,000 children under the age of five every year.
2015 presents a historic opportunity for world leaders to set a roadmap to eradicate extreme poverty and improve prospects for all citizens with the clock ticking for major decisions on the new UN development goals later this year. 
If we get it right, this generation can solve one of the major global challenges of our time and help people escape the stranglehold which keeps them in poverty.

Cyclone Pam Emergency Appeal

The Oxfam team is there, more staff are arriving and the response is beginning. Please help now.


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


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