Thursday, December 20, 2012

Typhoon hit families in the Philippines struggle to recover

More than a thousand people have been killed in the destruction left by Typhoon Bopha in Mindanao, the southern island of the Philippines. Thousands are still living in evacuation centres - their homes totally destroyed. They face an uncertain future since the typhoon wrecked huge plantations of crops and it could take farmers many years to completely recover. Aid agency, Oxfam, is providing clean water, shelter materials, and cash grants for families in some of the worst-affected areas. One area includes these families living in New Bataan, Compostela Valley.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Typhoon Bopha - death toll increases

Typhoon Bopha wreaked havoc in the Philippines, leaving tens of thousands of people without homes, fields and crops devastated, and 955 dead, with more than 800 still missing. Oxfam and other agencies are responding to people's emergency needs providing clean water for drinking washing and bathing, shelter materials, hygiene and water kits. We've also given cash grants to families still living in evacuation centres.. See some of our work here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Picture Story

Picture Story: Picture Story

It's #World Food Day: see how #Oxfam's #ECHO-funded projects in #Yemen are helping some of the poorest families to eat

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Yemen's Hunger Crisis - C4 news coverage

#Yemen's hunger crisis - desperate families, desperate measures Channel 4 News

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Yemen: coping with a hunger crisis.

≥ Yemen is in the midst of catastrophic hunger crisis with 10 million people -- almost half the population -- without enough food to eat and five million people needing urgent assistance. In the northern districts of Haradh and Abss in Hajjah governorate, one of the poorest areas of Yemen, families are fighting for survival and resorting to desperate measures to cope and feed their families.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Ramadan in Yemen - the hardest year ever

As Yemen is gripped by its worst-ever humanitarian crisis, with 10 million going hungry and more than five million in urgent need of assistance, this year's Ramadan is proving harder than ever. In better years, Yemenis would traditionally stock up with food as the Muslim fasting month Ramadan approached. Special purchases of sweet items like dates and juice would be among the items. Breaking the fast with iftar dinners at night with family and friends would be a celebratory event.
Copious amounts of food are still available in the markets: fresh fruit and vegetables, breads, all kinds of grains, sweets and dates. In small shops, the bright colours of boxes and tins red, gold and green are dazzling. The problem is that the cost of food items has rocketed and Yemen, which imports around 90% of its food needs, is particularly vulnerable to global food prices. "How can someone with a big family and no work afford to buy anything with these high prices?" complained one woman I met in the city market of Al Hodeidah. The high price of diesel -- which has doubled in Al Hodeidah in the past month -- has also had an impact. A date farmer in the wholesale market told me he spent three times as much money on fuel to operate pumps to irrigate his palm trees; but his crop size was about 20% less than normal. In the debilitating heat, which hits the high 40s centigrade, ice is in high demand. But according to one shopkeeper, the cost of powering generators to keep the ice cold in freezers has seen prices rise seven-fold. This year, many families are struggling to pay for the most basic of items. Large numbers skip meals and survive on little more than bread and tea. And that's why international aid agency Oxfam has provided a cash lifeline to more than 100,000 people in Al Hodeidah, giving them a cash lifeline so they can get through the next few months, and feed their families. Widower, Zuhra Wans, in her 50s, who lives in Bayt al-Faqih district, in Al Hodeidah, can only dream of better years. "Things were good three years ago," she recalled dreamily. "Then, during Ramadan, everything was available." She reels off a list of what she used to buy -- items that are now far beyond their reach. Today, family meals mostly consist of bread. In her small house, in Al Hawak village, Zuhra takes me into her kitchen. There's just one eight kilo sack of grain that the family will use to make bread. She tells me it used to cost 800 riyals (nearly $4 US dollars); today, its costs 1,400 riyals (about $6.5 US dollars). The sack will only last them for two weeks, and she's already worried by how much her next purchase will cost.
Zuhra shows me the only food they have in the kitchen At least one-third of all households in Yemen are surviving by buying food on credit. Shopkeepers, in turn, buy their stock on credit. The local markets mostly operate on this precarious system. So far, its worked. But shopkeepers like 25-year-old Ala'a Abdullah Farag Wans, who has a small store in Al Hawak, sleep poorly these days, worried that their customers won't be able to pay them back - and the defaults could prove devastating. "The majority of my customers buy on credit" he said. "On average, my customers owe me about 30,000 riyals ($139 US dollars) each month.
Ala'a worries he may be forced to go out of business because so many owe him money I worry one day I'll go out of business because my customers can't pay me back. Sometimes, I get calls from traders asking me when I'm going to pay them their money. Others stop by the store to ask me the same question. Another shopkeeper, 23-year-old Yunus Al-Hamadi, tells me a similar story. "We're owed about 4 million riyals in debts by our customers. We buy our food from wholesalers and owe them about nine million riyals." But Yunus is philosophical about the future. We don't worry, he says, because we can't change anything. We just live day to day. Follow Caroline Gluck on Twitter:

Monday, July 23, 2012

Yemen's hunger crisis worsening

Tens of thousands of people will be left without aid in Yemen’s hunger crisis unless more money is urgently given to the aid effort, Oxfam and Islamic Relief have warned. Nearly a quarter of the population are in need of emergency aid to survive because they do not have enough food to eat. The aid agencies said they needed an additional $38 million to carry out their work and have been forced to delay aid programmes due to start this month because of lack of funding. Oxfam’s programme for Hajjah in northern Yemen, which was due to give 140,000 people cash to buy food, was put on hold two weeks ago. Another aid programme to help over 300,000 people this July in the badly hit rural area of Al Hodeidah on Yemen’s west coast has been scaled back to help just 100,000. Islamic Relief needs $2million to help an additional 180,000 people with nutrition and early recovery assistance – none of this money has been raised to date. Oxfam is aiming to help one million people, but only has funding to reach a quarter of that figure Colette Fearon, Oxfam’s Country Director in Yemen, said: “Yemen is dealing with a catastrophic food crisis and people really need our help. People are getting into worrying levels of debt just to get food for their families – and surviving on a meagre diet of tea and bread. One woman told Oxfam how she planned to sleep in the day to avoid the hunger pangs. We have the capacity to respond - plans have been prepared and staff are ready. But lack of funding is severely limiting what we can do. If we got the money we needed today, we would be able to scale up straight away and begin reaching the people who desperately need our help.” The warning came as the UN increased the amount of money being sought for its Yemen appeal in response to mounting needs. The appeal increased from $447 million to $591 million. It is just 42 percent funded. Some 10 million people – 44 percent of the population of Yemen – do not have enough food to eat. The UN estimates that 267,000 Yemeni children are facing life threatening levels of malnutrition. Yemen is now in the midst of its hunger season, before the next harvest in October. The start of Ramadan is also pushing up prices in markets. For example, sugar and wheat prices have increased by 21 percent and 42 percent in rural areas compared to prices last month. The aid agencies called on more donors to fund the aid response, warning that failing to help people quickly could cost lives now and have serious consequences for Yemen for decades to come. Hashem Awnallah, Islamic Relief’s Country Director in Yemen, said: “One in three children under five in Al Hodeidah is acutely malnourished – double the level that constitutes an emergency in UN terms. Children are being taken out of school to work, and an increase in early marriage has been reported. As well as being dangerous for children’s health, this crisis could rob children of a decent future and lead them to poverty, alienation and unrest.” The agencies said although $4bn was pledged at the Friends of Yemen meeting in May, where world leaders met to discuss the country’s future, it is unclear when this money will arrive in Yemen and how this money will be spent. The agencies said donors needed to respond to humanitarian needs immediately and stressed that they should look beyond food aid. There is food available in markets in Yemen, but people cannot afford to buy it. The agencies said that donors can help poor Yemeni families by ensuring that they have the cash they need to purchase food. Check out my photostory on BBC Online:-

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Behind prison walls in Congo (DRC)

I’ve often had to document Oxfam’s hygiene promotion activities in communities, schools, markets and other public places. But never a prison. Until now. In Bunia town, Ituri district, in Congo’s Orientale Province, Oxfam’s health and emergency response teams have been tackling a serious cholera outbreak. We’ve been working with a local water provider, Ngongo, to try improve water supply to sections of the town. In Bunia, however, only half of all neighbourhoods receive any treated water and the amount per person is only about a quarter of what humanitarian agencies normally say are acceptable levels. According to a UN report last year, an estimated 51 million people, or three quarters of the population in Congo, have no access to safe drinking water. During the current cholera outbreak in Ituri district, more than 2,000 cases have been reported and 56 cholera deaths have been confirmed. Oxfam has set up two large water treatment units; treating water from the city’s Ngezi river with aluminium sulphate and then chlorinating it so that it’s safe to use. The water treatment means we can provide an extra 180 cubic metres of water a day, helping more than 40,000 people receive clean water. Recently, reports surfaced of a possible cholera outbreak in Bunia’s Central Prison prompting Oxfam to begin work there too. We began providing water and installing hand washing facilities at the request of the ICRC (the International Committee of the Red Cross) which had been working in the prison, while other arrangements were made for the water to be trucked twice a day from our water treatment centre. Oxfam staff are also carrying out hygiene promotion activities at the prison.
It was an eye-opening visit. The prison is severely over-crowded. Built for 200 inmates, it currently houses over a thousand; mostly men, although there are also separate compounds for minors and women. Before our intervention, the prison received just 1,000 litres of piped water a day, barely a litre per person for drinking, cooking and washing. There are no beds and only a few dark, unlit and unfurnished bare-floor rooms that are crammed with people. Most inmates normally have to sleep outside in the prison courtyard because of lack of space. But heavy rain the night before my visit forced prisoners to get shelter where they could – some even slept in the toilets to stay dry. It’s easy to see how disease could spread like wildfire here. People tightly packed together with poor sanitation facilities, including maggots in the toilets, while the number of toilets is woefully insufficient for the large number of people, and there was not enough water for drinking, washing or cooking. The scarcity of water meant most prisoners were only able to wash once a week.
I watched as public health promotion team leader, Emilie Bhania, spoke to a large group of male prisoners who’d gathered for our visit. She spoke about good hygiene and the importance of hand washing. The prisoners listened attentively and asked questions. Many raised problems that they were still facing due to overcrowding and sanitation Later, several told me disease was rampant. There had been cases of typhoid; and many inmates had serious respiratory illnesses and skin diseases. I was told matter-of-factly that several prisoners had died and that cholera was not the cause. Inmates said they were very happy that Oxfam was now helping and that it had made their difficult conditions a bit better.
Cholera has become endemic in eastern Congo. Last year, an estimated 22,000 cases and 600 deaths were reported. Oxfam’s work in areas like Bunia has made a difference. But its clear that huge problems remain. People might understand and know what they need to do to prevent cholera, but unless they have access to the basics, things like clean water and soap, its still going to be very difficult to keep cholera at bay in the future.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Trying to build security where fear prevails - in eastern Congo

Eastern Congo is supposed to be at peace. But life for civilians in Mweso health zone, Masisi territory, North Kivu, is anything but peaceful.

Although a peace agreement was signed three years ago, ongoing instability, violence, a worsening humanitarian situation and festering ethnic tensions continue to make life precarious for civilians.

The lush, green fertile valleys, punctuated by farmed land that resembles neat patchwork quilts, are stunningly beautiful. But life here, where Oxfam operates public health and protection programmes, funded by Irish Aid and a multi-donor UN fund, is no rural idyll.

In Mweso, where Oxfam has a field base, local staff briefed me on the complexities of the area. Political rivalries, geo-politics and migrants from neighbouring Rwanda, many of whom have long-established family links in Congo, military abuses, a proliferation of militia groups, land grabbing, informal "taxes" demanded by militia on the roads and pervasive violence added up to a lethal cocktail and meant that daily life for people here was a constant struggle.

Another three-hour journey, through yet more breathtakingly beautiful scenery along roads edged with young children waving and shouting out as our cars pass, takes us to Mpati, where Oxfam is carrying out training workshops.

The tension in the air is palpable. I’m warned to be extremely careful before taking any photographs or video. Mpati, a camp housing thousands of displaced people, as well as returnees and a settled community, is one of the most sensitive locations in which we work. Soldiers, nursing their AK47s, keep a watchful eye over everything.

Not so far from here, in hills across the valley, is a frontline, where military clashes continue.

Oxfam staff are holding training sessions with local community volunteers and women's groups. They include members of local volunteer protection committees, set up with the help of Oxfam. Their role is to try to help spread awareness in the community about people’s basic rights; support victims of violence to get access to services and lobby the local authorities for action to respond to abuses. No easy task in a place where people live in fear.

The sessions I attend address issues of sexual and gender based violence, HIV and aids, which are almost-daily challenges facing communities here. There’s also discussion about land conflict and unofficial checkpoints, where many are forced to pay a “fee”, forced labour and arbitrary arrest. Participants think about what they might be able to do about these issues - but when they look at the risks, only the smallest and safest actions are possible.

One morning I visit a site where Oxfam has installed a safe water source point, making it easier for people to collect clean drinking water. All water points have been carefully planned, with the input of local protection committees, I learnt, so that there were multiple exit points for people, mostly women, collecting water if they came under attack.

In town, I met Kanyere- not her real name - a member of the local protection committee. The fresh-faced teenager said she had joined because she’d wanted to help make life safer for her family and her community.

She told me that, since Oxfam began working in the camp, there had been positive changes. Since awareness training had been carried out in the community, she said, people’s behaviour had begun to slowly change.

But such is the atmosphere of control and repression here that I later learnt Kanyere had been questioned by officials about her conversation with a foreigner.

Clearly, there's a long way to go before people feel that security is more than just a word here. Our protection work is helping, but it’s not a quick or easy fix.

Yet, as Fred Delva, Oxfam’s protection manager in Mweso told me, through training different groups in the community, providing spaces where people can exchange views, we were hoping to plant a seed that, hopefully, will continue to grow and bear fruit to nourish the community.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Haiti - two years on

Also see another version of my slideshow in The Guardian:

I wasn’t looking forward to returning to Haiti. Two years ago, I was one of the first of Oxfam’s emergency team to fly to the island, arriving three days after it was hit by a devastating earthquake, which killed more than 220,000 people and left over a million homeless.

It was one of the toughest emergencies I’d ever had to cover. It was really only after I’d left Haiti, almost three weeks later, that I’d realised the powerful emotional impact it had left on me. Even today, with time and distance, I can barely read a story about Haiti in the news without becoming teary-eyed.

So it was with some apprehension that I found myself on a plane headed for Port au Prince, the traumatised capital of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. I’d been hearing about the recent cholera outbreaks; the slowness of the recovery effort; and the fact that more half a million people were still living in the camps, many still in tents and under tarpaulin. I was scared that what I’d see now would be little better than the Haiti I’d left behind two years earlier.

First impressions weren’t good. Rubble still lay in the streets – though much of it was carefully piled up, many collapsed buildings still remained balancing precariously and fighting for survival in between other spaces where rebuilding had taken place.

And then there were the tented camps. Not the flimsy shelters made out of clothing scraps and plastic sheets I’d become so familiar with on my first visit. These camps appeared depressingly permanent. It seemed people were settling down for good; that what had been a temporary option was now the only long-term solution available.

The National Palace still lies in ruins

Sadly, for many tens of thousands of families that is not the case. They’re camped on private land, not public spaces, and now face the threat of forced evictions, often through the use of violence, from the owners who haven’t received any rent for the past two years.

I spent the first few days retracing my steps. The old Oxfam office – part of which had been seriously damaged in the quake – had been remodelled and repainted and was now the office of a private company; the damaged annexe had been fenced off and the collapsed top two stories had been removed.

The enormous camp for displaced families occupying what had been a golf course in the leafy and well-to=do suburb of Petionville was still bursting at the seams. Although the number of residents had decreased, people were still living check-by-jowl. The daily struggles for the basics: clean water, some privacy, and work, were still as pressing as ever.

I returned to the neighbourhood of Baillergeau, in Carrefour Feuilles. It had been one of the worst-hit areas I’d visited two years ago with around 90% of houses flattened, debris piling and obscuring the road and thousands camped out on what had been a football field. The campsite was no longer there. Most people had moved into transitional shelters, rather than proper homes and a lot of the rubble had been cleared.

There was a lot of rebuilding going on; noisy trucks tore up and down the narrow, dusty and windy roads with various building materials. There were many people along the roadside selling food and other basic necessities from small kiosks. Some had received small grants from Oxfam to restart their businesses.

It was in Baillergeau that I found Marguerite Ulysse. She’d given birth to a baby girl two days after the quake. Now, two years on, she was pregnant again. Her baby, Neika, was a healthy, gregarious and mischievous toddler.

We hugged in greeting and then sat down to talk. While daily life had been a struggle, Marguerite was neither pessimistic nor bitter, but grateful for the help that she and others had received from Oxfam and other aid agencies.

Marguerite Ulysse and her daughters

True, she admitted, she had been hoping that change would happen more quickly. But these were the realities. She was happy for the small things: that her husband, who’d been trained as a policeman, would have work; that her children were healthy; that her oldest daughter was still in school.

Her main concern was shelter; she wanted to move away from the rubble and the dirt and into a permanent home they could call their own.

“’The most important thing for me is the future for my children. When I die, I want to know I can leave my daughters a place where they can grow up”, she told me.

I visited more sites over the next few weeks where Oxfam and its partners have been working: installing water and toilet facilities in communities and schools, carrying out health promotion activities to try to control the spread of disease like cholera; supporting people to start up in business again with grants and skills training, including literacy classes which have given people a new-found sense of pride and purpose.

I want to say Haiti has changed a lot over the past two years. But I can’t. The emergency aid effort and the donations that flooded into Haiti after the quake undeniably helped save lives and provided basic and essential services, including food and water, to millions. But rapid progress in Haiti’s reconstruction and rebuilding has been quite another issue.

Yet the thing that struck me when I first visited and continues to strike me today is the energy, creativity and the intelligent spirit of its people – despite the daily difficulties and the challenges. Haitians are survivors; realistic, but not defeatist. They still hope for change and believe that some day, change will come.