Shahia, chair of an Oxfam –supported disaster preparedness group in Bangladesh.
Behind the headlines of floods and droughts lie the stories of people being forced into poverty

Right to Survive case studies

Shahia, chair of an Oxfam –supported disaster preparedness group in Bangladesh, 2007 (picture above)

"When we hear the weather forecast and news we can warn the community to prepare." Shahia, chair of an Oxfam –supported disaster preparedness group in Bangladesh, 2007 listens out for flood alters on the radio .

The women’s group was formed as part of the River Basin Program (RBP). Radios are an important part of the disaster preparedness program. Remote villages can be kept informed about the flood and weather situation. Updates give vital warnings - people have time to pack up, move livestock to higher safer places and go to flood shelters.

When the floods of 2007 struck, villages with emergency committees were better prepared to deal with the disaster. Many belongings and livestock were saved and nobody died.

Joshua, IDP camp in Lodwar - displaced by election violence, Kenya, April 2008

"Even if we went back the people there wouldn’t accept us. When the trouble started we lost everything we had. This was the place where we had our livelihoods, where we had our jobs, our homes, where we brought up our families.

We lived with people – our neighbors – for years, people we thought were our friends. Now they’d kill us. We cannot return."

The disputed elections in Kenya exposed underlying political tensions and led to an outpouring of violence. More than 1,000 people died, and at least 500,000 people were displaced. Tens of thousands sought asylum in neighbouring countries. Such upheavals have a huge impact on the lives of those affected, long after the original crisis has slipped from the headlines. For Joshua, displaced with his family from Kenya’s Nandi Hills region, it was clear he would not go home in the near future. 

Balkru Behera, Orissa, India, 2007

"Suddenly we heard a noise…the embankment was breached and the water flooded towards our houses. We just managed to save our lives, but not the household contents or our domestic animals…the water washed them all away. For two days we lived in complete fear…all the time the break in the embankment was slowly increasing as the river took it away. Some of us still had some polythene sheets from the [1999] super cyclone; around four families sat under one sheet, just holding on to it with our hands whilst it was raining. There was no food for days. After four days a local institution came with the local minister and gave out food relief."

The severe rains that devastated much of Orissa and West Bengal in June 2007 became a threat to Balkru’s life and home because his community was particularly vulnerable to flooding. Poverty makes millions like Balkru more vulnerable to being killed or made destitute by disasters. Poor people are more likely to live in densely populated areas, in poorly constructed and poorly sited housing; more likely too to suffer the effects of falling land productivity, lack of savings, insecure land tenure, and lack of access to health care. Poor people are also more likely to live in parts of the world affected by conflict.

Sri Haryani, cash recipient, Indonesia, 2007

In the aftermath of floods in Indonesia in 2007, Oxfam implemented a cash-for-work program. It was a time of high political tension in the run-up to an election, so it was particularly important that cash was clearly distributed impartially and accountably. 

Sri Haryani, a local resident and cash recipient, explained: "We’ve all read the notice [a signed agreement between the partner and Oxfam]; it’s pinned up where we can all read it…It was in the open in front of everyone."

Receiving aid on the basis of need – and in a way that is not dictated by political, military, or any other interests – is vital for two main reasons. First, and most obviously, it allows aid to be channelled to those who need it most. Second, it reduces the likelihood of aid creating resentment and accusations of bias, and from that the potential for threats both to the humanitarian operation itself, and sometimes to the lives of those involved.

Hawa (80) Refugee from Darfur, 2004

Hawa (80) a refugee from fighting in Darfur, arrived in Chad on a donkey after travelling for 8 nights. Unwilling to talk about the journey, she said, "Things are better now. We have water and …the Oxfam latrine has made our lives easier. Before we [women] had to walk very far to hide from the men…thank you for the water. Thank you for the latrines. We thank you for everything you have given us. We thank you for anything you can help us with." Identifying and responding to specific needs of vulnerabilities and needs such as gender and age are fundamental responsibilities for humanitarian agencies. 

For some groups – elderly people, women and girls, chronically ill people – their identity may mean that they are even more vulnerable to the effects of disaster, because their ability to cope may be limited by discrimination, their traditional roles, or their physical health.

Read more

How people are coping with the effects of climate change (photo gallery)

The Right to Survive: The humanitarian challenge in the twenty-first century (Oxfam International report)