Monthly Archives: September 2011

Scarlett Johansson helps fight famine in East Africa

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Oxfam Ambassador Scarlett Johansson talks to Paulina Natir, Turkana, Northern Kenya. Photo: Andy Hall/Oxfam

Right now, Oxfam is providing water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities to more than 45,000 people in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp—the largest in the world, and home to tens of thousands of Somali refugees fleeing famine in their home country. More people stream in to the camp each week, seeking refuge from other overcrowded camps and the unsafe areas on the camp’s outskirts.

“The scale of poverty in Dadaab is overwhelming,” said Oxfam Ambassador Scarlett Johansson, who visited the camp with Oxfam and is documenting her experiences for CNN and the Huffington Post. “I met countless women like Hawa, a local community leader, who lamented the seemingly endless struggle of the Somali people, as refugees of war and starvation and now left to suffer everyday life with the very barest of essentials.”

Johansson also visited the Turkana region of northern Kenya, where herding communities suffer from chronic droughts that have destroyed their lives and livelihoods. One herder, Sabina Loliyak, told an Oxfam staffer: “If there is no water, then there is no life.” A mother of young children, Loliyak lost half of her animals to the current drought and struggled to feed her kids. “We used to get nutritious food drinking milk and eating meat from [our] livestock, but right now there is nothing. Even the trees have dried up.” 

Sabina Loliyak, left, with her daughter. Photo: Caroline Gluck/Oxfam
Sabina Loliyak, left, with her daughter. Photo: Caroline Gluck/Oxfam

In Turkana, Oxfam is scaling up our cash and food-transfer programs to support more than 250,000 people. For Loliyak, participation in an emergency cash transfer program means she can purchase more nutritious food for her children, as well as possibly make the transition from herder to small business owner. “If we can start a business, then our life will change automatically,” she said. “Cash will help us to start a new life.”

Maybe it’s that kind of determination to create a better future—even in a time of crisis—that motivates Johansson, Halima Hussein, and countless others to do their part.

 Oxfam aims to reach more than 3 million people  throughout East Africa with a variety of support, including food aid, clean water, and veterinary care for animals. We are drilling and repairing wells and distributing fuel vouchers to ensure that pumps on the wells can keep operating—even if people have no money. We are also campaigning to change the root causes of this crisis. Find out how you can support our efforts.

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A nurse in Somalia: ‘Working for my community’

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Halima Hussein is a nurse in a therapeutic feeding center in Mogadishu. Photo by Caroline Gluck
Halima Hussein is a nurse in a therapeutic feeding center in Mogadishu. Photo by Caroline Gluck

Oxfam’s Caroline Gluck spoke recently with Halima Hussein, a 42-year-old nurse working for SAACID, one of Oxfam’s local partners in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. She’s based at the emergency therapeutic center in Badbaado, the city’s largest camp for people displaced by the conflict and drought ravaging the country. Here, in an interview recorded by Gluck, Hussein talks about the challenges of the job and what keeps her going.

“I work with mothers and with children. Every day we see on average 200 to 250 people.   They are in different situations. Some are severely malnourished, some are moderately malnourished; others have complications.

 “People come to us initially for an assessment, and if we can treat them we do this in the center. If there are complications, we might have to refer them to a hospital.

“I’m a mother myself. I have five children. The oldest is 21. The others are 18, 14, 5, and 4.  I think about my family a lot in terms of this work.  I always think if this is my child, if they are like this, what could I do for them?  Sometimes I cry when I see the mothers like me suffering and others less fortunate than me…

“We face many problems.  The biggest one I have is how to convince a mother that it’s best to refer her child to the hospital when the child is suffering so much.  They often tell us:  ‘I have four to five other children at home.  Who’ll take care of them?’  Instead of spending four to five days with one child, they think of the other children…

“Three or four children are dying every week in Badbaado. These are children that I see or know about but I think the actual cases are far higher.  Continue reading

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Part II: A visit to conflict-ridden Somalia

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Oxfam's partner, Hijra, has been providing  safe drinking water to more than 100,000 people in camps in Somalia.
Oxfam's partner, Hijra, has been providing safe drinking water to more than 100,000 people in camps in Somalia.

Oxfam’s Caroline Gluck was recently part of the organization’s first visit to Somalia by non-African staffers in several years. Here is the second part of her account of a trip shaped by strict security rules. 

My glimpses of Mogadishu, behind the tinted windows of our car speeding as fast as it could to avoid being a sitting target, were tantalisingly brief.   The legacy of war was obvious: there were many wrecked or bullet-marked buildings.

But the city also showed surprising signs of brisk daily life. There were colorful hand-painted shop signs advertising wares; traders sat on the dusty roadside touting their goods—often small collections of fruit and vegetables. Some sat behind sandbags, which might offer protection if fighting flared.   Though signs of commerce and of food availability were evident, for many who fled hunger and drought, the prices were way above what they could afford.

That’s why the centers that offered some basic help were packed.   At one community-based therapeutic care center I visited run by SAACID, staffers were working flat-out as mothers and their children continued to stream in. Continue reading

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Part I: A visit to conflict-ridden Somalia

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Oxfam's partner, Hijra, is helping to supply clean water to displaced people in Somalia.
Oxfam's partner, Hijra, is helping to supply clean water to displaced people in Somalia.
 

 Oxfam’s Caroline Gluck writes about a recent field visit to Somalia where Oxfam and its local partners are providing life-saving assistance to families struggling in the face of famine and conflict.

It’s hard to blend in during a community visit when you’re wearing a heavy flak jacket. But here I was in Mogadishu, the conflict-ravaged capital of Somalia, dressed not in the hijab I’d just bought in Kenya, thinking it was culturally appropriate, but strapped into a bullet proof protective vest, weighing about 22 pounds, slowing down my movements as I ran about trying to film the work Oxfam is supporting and marking me out clearly as a foreigner.

I was part of Oxfam’s first visit to Somalia by non-African staffers in years.   The country has been mired in civil conflict for the past 20 years, and now severe drought has pushed millions into desperation.  The UN has declared six areas of the country famine-affected; more than a quarter of the population has been displaced by the crisis and conflict, with several hundred thousand fleeing into neighboring countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia.  And inside the country, many more are displaced.  Hundreds of thousands have taken shelter in makeshift settlements and camps around the capital, Mogadishu.  

I visited some of those camps with two Oxfam partners, Hijra, which specializes in providing water, sanitation and hygiene, and SAACID (a Somali word meaning “to help”), whose therapeutic care centers for malnourished children and mothers are supported by Oxfam. But we were under strict security rules and told not to linger in one place for too long: Somalia is not like most other countries.  While the security situation has improved in central Mogadishu, no one takes things for granted. People still worry about getting shot or abducted, cars being targeted, and explosive devices going off.

Gunshots often ring out – sometimes fired into the air by government forces or peacekeepers simply to clear traffic jams because there are no working traffic lights in the city. Continue reading

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Land grabs – a growing scandal

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Ian Sullivan is an online campaigner for Oxfam.

Imagine waking up one day to be told you’re about to be evicted from your home. Being told that you no longer have the right to remain on land that you’ve lived on for years. And then, if you refuse to leave, being forcibly removed by hired thugs.

Thankfully, this scary situation is one that most of us will never have to face. However, for many communities in developing countries, it’s a scandal that’s on the increase. It’s what’s known as a land grab – a land deal behind closed doors that often results in farmers being forced from their homes and families left hungry. Continue reading

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Photos: Bringing water to Somalia’s refugees

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The UN announced on Labor Day that famine conditions have now spread to six areas of Somalia, affecting 750,000 people—more than double the number in July when famine was first declared. Several hundred Somali refugees cross the border into Ethiopia every day; many of  them have walked for three to four weeks across the desert with very little food and water. They seek shelter in places like Dollo Ado, in Ethiopia’s southern Somali region, where Oxfam has been providing water and sanitation facilities for an estimated 11,000 people in Hilaweyn refugee camp.

11,000 people–that’s a lot of water. And a lot of lives depending on it. So what exactly does the relief effort look like? Check out Jane Beesley’s photos, below:

A worker loads Oxfam equipment onto a truck for transport to Hilaweyn camp. Photo: Jane Beesley/Oxfam
Shortly before Hilaweyn camp opened, Oxfam workers assembled a water tank called the “T70,” which holds 70,000 liters of clean water. Photo: Jane Beesley/Oxfam
Shortly before Hilaweyn camp opened, Oxfam workers assembled a water tank called the “T70,” which holds 70,000 liters of clean water. Photo: Jane Beesley/Oxfam
Oxfam staffer Enthemanche Chane hands out clean water to people as they arrive at the camp after a long bus journey. Photo: Jane Beesley/Oxfam
Oxfam staffer Enthemanche Chane hands out clean water to people as they arrive at the camp after a long bus journey. Photo: Jane Beesley/Oxfam

Oxfam aims to reach more than 3 million people  throughout East Africa with a variety of support, including food aid, clean water, and veterinary care for animals. We are drilling and repairing wells and distributing fuel vouchers to ensure that pumps on the wells can keep operating—even if people have no money. We are also campaigning to change the root causes of this crisis. Find out how you can support our efforts.

Getting help into Somalia: An aid worker reports

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Yesterday the UN announced that famine conditions have spread to six regions of Somalia and are affecting 750,000 people, many of them children. One of Oxfam’s local partners, Wajir South Development Association (WASDA), works with drought-hit communities in Wajir in northeastern Kenya, as well as in Lower and Middle Juba in Somalia itself. WASDA program manager Bashir Mohamed, who regularly travels into Somalia, spoke to Oxfam’s Caroline Gluck about conditions on the ground right now and the process of getting aid to those who need it most.

“… Some areas of Somalia, like Mogadishu and Gedo, have been getting more aid.  Apart from the border town of Dobley [which lies en route to Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya], nothing much has reached people in Lower and Middle Juba. Access is a big problem; it’s taken a long time to get agreement from authorities for programs to start and we’ve had many delays.

Bashir Mohamed. Photo: Oxfam
Bashir Mohamed. Photo: Oxfam

“But now I hope we will be moving fast in our work. We’ve now got agreement for our cash distribution program to start. We will be targeting 14,600 households in middle Juba and lower Juba and hope we might be able to start this week. 

“We have been trucking in water into Lower Juba since July.  But the numbers of people [who need] water are increasing as the situation is getting worse. And we’ve been providing fuel subsidies to some communities so that boreholes can run 24 hours a day, as well as rehabilitating shallow wells.

“We’re planning to drill four new boreholes in the next few weeks in Lower Juba (in Hagar; Nasiriya, Wel Marow, and Bibi). And the drilling could take several weeks. The sites have all [been] chosen for their strategic locations. These are pastoral areas, but very far from rivers, towns, or other water points … so when they’re finished, it will be a great help to many people.

“Conditions are very severe; there are no health facilities and people face restrictions on their movements. People are just praying for the coming rains. But even if the rains come and we manage to reach everyone targeted in our interventions, this emergency will continue will into January and February at the earliest.

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Fleeing famine and drought in Somalia

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Photo: Jane Beesley / Oxfam America
"We left our village because of the drought," said Fatima Mohammed, a mother of four from Somalia whose family sought shelter in Ethiopia. Photo: Jane Beesley / Oxfam America

Somalia remains the epicenter of the drought and food crisis in East Africa, with 3.7 million men, women, and children affected. Famine has been declared in some parts of the country, and the UN estimates about a quarter of Somalia’s population—1.8 million people—has been displaced. 

Since early August, Oxfam has provided clean water and sanitation for an estimated 11,000 Somali refugees in Hilaweyn camp, in Dollo Ado, Ethiopia. Oxfam’s Jane Beesley visited Dollo Ado last month and spoke with recently arrived refugees, whose stories are excerpted below.

Photo: Jane Beesley/Oxfam
Hussain Aden said his family walked for 30 days to reach a refugee camp in Ethiopia. Photo: Jane Beesley/Oxfam

Hussain Aden, left, and his family walked for 30 days to reach Dollo Ado from their village, Juwari. “We have a household of 20 people, including children and grandchildren,” he said. “We left due to hunger and drought. We used to have livestock. They all died: 35 cattle and 15 sheep. When the last one died that is when we decided to leave. We left our houses and came here. Before there were droughts but not like this. I don’t know when the drought will end.

“On the way we were very dusty and hungry. We had a little maize that we prepared on the way. We walked with our children on our backs … the children are small and couldn’t walk by themselves.”

Aden said one of the challenges the family faces now is the lack of opportunities to earn a decent income. “All the men want to work, but there is nothing for us. The women are collecting firewood, which they sell … [but] we are idle when we want to work.”

Photo: Jane Beesley/Oxfam
Hawa Aden said she collects and sells firewood to buy food for her family. Photo: Jane Beesley/Oxfam

 “I went out and collected firewood early this morning,” said his wife, Hawa Aden. “Normally we go at 7am and come back at 1pm. I go with a lot of other women. It takes three hours to get to the place where we collect wood.

“If I sell wood in the camp I get 5 Birr (about 29 cents), but if I go into town I can get 10 Birr (58 cents). It takes me one hour to walk into town and another hour to walk back. I use the money to buy tea, salt … food for the family. I get water in the camp, one jerry can a day. I use the water for bathing the children, preparing tea, and drinking. … I have two children, both boys; they are 7 and 4.”

Fatima Mohammed, pictured above, arrived in Dollo Ado with her four children. Her family was waiting in a transitional camp before moving to long-term shelter.  “We left our village because of the drought,” she said. “We’ve been experiencing drought now for three years. All the people from my village have come here. We’d heard people were coming to Dollo Ado. On the way we asked people for directions.

“I think life here compared to there will be different for us,” said Mohammed. “When I arrived I felt satisfied, because I thought now I’ll get everything I need—enough food, enough water, and my children will get good medicine.”

Oxfam aims to reach more than 3 million people throughout East Africa with a variety of support, including food aid, clean water, and veterinary care for animals. We are drilling and repairing wells and distributing fuel vouchers to ensure that pumps on the wells can keep operating—even if people have no money. We are also campaigning to change the root causes of this crisis. Find out how you can support our efforts.

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