Widespread hunger in a world of plenty

The number of people in need of food aid around the world rose to 70 million – and the world faced the prospect of four unprecedented famines. Unremitting conflict and seriously low rainfall forced huge waves of people – many of them women and children - to abandon their land and homes. If lives were to be saved, Oxfam and other humanitarian agencies needed a large injection of funds to rapidly scale-up their provision of emergency aid and livelihood assistance, and to initiate measures to ensure that people were protected and safe.

In early 2016 there was a risk of famine in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. Oxfam issued a stark warning that Ethiopia was on the brink of famine after the worst drought in 50 years - 8.5 million were at risk. Water and food shortages led to an increased displacement of drought-affected people in the country, particularly in the Southern Somali region where 700,000 people were on the verge of starvation. We targeted the hardest hit areas in Southern Somali region, reaching 653,000 people in areas least covered by other humanitarian agencies with clean water and cash assistance, latrines, toilets, and new boreholes to provide water in strategic locations.

While there was less of famine in Kenya, thousands of people were affected by drought and faced dangerous levels of hunger. We worked alongside local partners - the Diocese of Lodwar in Turkana, and the Arid Lands Development Focus (ALDEF) and WASDA (For the People of the Horn of Africa) in Wajir  - with humanitarian interventions reaching 329,862 people. This included the rehabilitation of water points in schools, improving access to water through e-water (cash for water activities), hygiene promotion and sanitation, and providing cash to people through a partnership with the Hunger Safety Net Programme and Equity bank. 

In Somalia, 620,000 people were on the move with their livestock in search of elusive seasonal rains, triggering a warning sign of impending food crisis. “We have moved four times in the last four months. We were trying to follow the rain—moving according to where the rains were supposed to come. But they haven’t. If the rains don’t come, none of us will survive,” said Farhia, a 25 year-old pastoralist from Somaliland.

Pastoralist communities were already living on the edge because of a failure of successive rains and ongoing violence and intimidation by a variety of non-state groups, including al-Shabaab. Less resilient and with livestock dying, they were in urgent need of humanitarian intervention. Sabaad Mohamud Mussa and her husband once raised 30 camels and 800 goats, which they traded for food and money. Now they have just three camels and 15 goats left. “When we needed money, we used to sell one camel and buy the things we needed,” she says. “Now we have almost no camels and therefore, no savings, no income, and nothing to eat.”

After her husband left to find fresh water and grass to keep their remaining animals alive, Mussa’s situation grew more precarious so she took her children to another district in search of food and water. She settled in Garadag where there is a school and clinic for women and children. Oxfam partners Candlelight (For Environment, Education & Health) and the Horn of Africa Voluntary Youth Committee (Havoyoco) are providing people with clean water, sanitation, and cash transfers for food and medicine. The district, which had a population of 12,200 in 2014, has seen an influx of 1,000 families since the drought began.

From early 2017, Oxfam became increasingly concerned that food scarcity would turn to famine in West Africa, Yemen and South Sudan – with 30 million people suffering extreme hunger. At the same time as implementing large-scale humanitarian responses in these countries, we challenged governments around the world to meet their humanitarian obligations with the funds and political will to end these crises. Famine does not arrive suddenly or unexpectedly. It comes after months of procrastination and ignored warnings,” said Nigel Timmins, Oxfam International Humanitarian Director. “It is a slow, agonizing process, driven by callous national politics and international indifference.”

Eight years of conflict and insecurity in West Africa has displaced millions of people from their homes in Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria into the Lake Chad Basin. As the UN General Assembly met in New York in September, 15 humanitarian organizations joined together to call for urgent action to help people in need, as well as guarantee their safety, uphold their rights and allow immediate humanitarian access to areas receiving little to no assistance. Oxfam’s report: Lake Chad's unseen crisis drew on the experiences of refugees and displaced people and was issued for impact just before the New York meeting.

Civilians have paid a high price for policies of cutting off Boko Haram’s food and supplies. People should be able to fish, farm and sell their goods at markets. We have seen hugely generous communities welcome people who have fled their homes – but now they have nothing to give. They too are hungry and need access to aid,” said Lisa Bay, Oxfam’s Operational Lead. Oxfam worked in all three countries to provide emergency food support, clean water, sanitation, cooking equipment, seeds and tools reaching 245,000 people in Nigeria, 55,000 people in Niger, and 50,000 in Chad. We also set up community protection groups for women.

Two and a half years of bitter conflict between a Saudi-led coalition of Gulf countries and the Government of Yemen against the Ansar-Allah movement (also known as the Houthis) has devastated civilian life. Over 57,000 people have been killed and injured, and almost three million people forced from their homes because of the fighting. By 2017, nearly 70 percent of the population – 18.8 million people – needed humanitarian and protection assistance, the greatest number in any country in the world.

The people of Yemen were on the brink of famine and cholera had started to break out in nearly every corner of the war-ravaged country. Oxfam responded with essential aid in the hard-to-reach north and south of the country, reaching more than 1.2 million people. We supplied water by truck, repaired water systems and latrines, and supported families with cash payments to buy food in the local market or livestock. In response to the cholera outbreak, we directly supported more than 430,000 people from four governorates, working in coordination with other agencies to deliver clean water, filters, jerry cans, building latrines and organizing hygiene awareness programs.

Yemen remains on the brink of catastrophe and if a famine of huge proportions is to be averted, a massive humanitarian response is needed. This will require an international commitment by donor governments and those responsible for fueling this crisis through the supply of arms - to ensure the flow of food and supplies into Yemen’s ports. The extremely challenging and dangerous environment that aid agencies must work in is compounded by the violence that continues to drive the crisis, and every government with any influence must dramatically step up diplomatic pressure on the warring parties in and outside of the country.

In February 2017, famine was declared in South Sudan’s Unity State, directly affecting 100,000 people in Leer and Mayendit counties, with a further 1 million more on the brink. Thanks to the generosity of the public and governments, Oxfam and other humanitarian agencies helped to avert a full-scale famine but over the next few months, as the conflict intensified in other parts of the country, the likelihood of the balance tipping from food insecurity to high risk of starvation became very real for 5 million people.

This appalling situation is the outcome of an escalating and on-going brutal civil war in which untold thousands have been killed, villages burned to ashes, hospitals and churches attacked, bodies dumped in rivers, women and children raped, and men forcibly recruited to fight. Repeated forced displacement is leading to suffering and hunger, even in places where food had been plentiful. The number of food-insecure people is on a scale that has not been witnessed before in South Sudan, and acute malnutrition remains a major public health emergency. Oxfam has established seven humanitarian bases in Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Western Bahr el Ghazal, Unity, Upper Nile, Jonglei, and Central Equatoria from which to provide food and water, build sanitary latrines in camps and settlements, dig boreholes and wells, and train people to look after and maintain their own water supply.

More than 1 million people also fled to Uganda, thanks to a generous refugee policy by the country’s government. Bidibidi in Northern Uganda grew into the largest refugee settlement in the world - home to over 270,000 South Sudanese refugees. Our teams worked with a local partner, Community Empowerment for Rural Development (CEFORD), to provide clean drinking water to around 200,000 people and establish water systems that will last for 20 years - because we think people will remain here for decades. As more funding came through, Oxfam was able to also establish a gender and protection program for vulnerable groups, as well as recreational activities for children and young people.

Isaac was a few months shy of his 17th birthday when the fighting started close to his home. He was going to see friends when he saw people running and he had no choice but to go in the same direction. “We were stopped by a gunmen asking where we were from and going. A woman gave me a [food] container and whispered that I should say I was from the Uganda side and had come to deliver lunch for my parents [in South Sudan],” he said. “Then they told me to go. I am not sure what happened to the other people fleeing. I am now alone; I tried looking for that woman but in vain. I am just thinking of how to survive”. 

Oxfam’s emergency resources were stretched to the limit in 2016-17 and, as this year closed and we looked ahead to 2017-18, it was clear that our large-scale humanitarian responses in each of these countries would need to continue – 30 million people in four countries remained at risk of starvation. More so now than ever before, we must use our best fundraising, campaigning and advocacy talent to raise the income that we need to respond and hold the world’s governments to account for their responsibility and moral obligation for immediate humanitarian assistance and political action to solve these crises.