Oxfam says that war, rising food prices and plunging incomes in Yemen is increasingly resulting in people being forced into desperate measures to avoid starvation. The crisis in Yemen has put nearly ten million people on the brink of famine. Since the conflict began to escalate in 2015 food prices have skyrocketed whilst household incomes have plunged making basic food items too expensive for many people in the country. One family even resorted to marrying off their three-year-old daughter just to buy food.
Children’s lives are being devastated
Oxfam’s Country Director in Yemen Mushin Siddiquey says as the conflict has dragged on people have are becoming more desperate as hunger reaches desperate levels. He adds that people are being made to take steps that could devastate the lives of their children for decades to come. All of this is the direct consequence of a man-made humanitarian catastrophe caused by the war. Oxfam says the international community needs to step up and do everything possible to end the conflict and ensure people have access to food water and medicine.
Families unable to feed themselves properly
The conflict has forced many families to seek refuge in isolated areas where there is no basic infrastructure, water or health centres. Many set themselves up in small tents or mud houses which provide very little protection from the environment. They also have little or no income which means many families cannot afford to feed themselves properly and end up having to skip meals or subsist on bread and tea or begging.
Tentative steps towards peace
Families in Yemen can be as large as 15 people and tend to include the aged who require special care and medication which makes already unbearably high living expenses even more costly. Recently the internationally recognised government of Yemen and the Houthi rebels reached an agreement for an initial phase of withdrawal from the critical port city of Hudaydah after peace talks were held in Sweden. The agreement took time to reach and so far, it is not obvious what, if any, impact it will have.
The conflict needs to end
Mr Siddiquey says international donors need to ensure that there is enough money to deliver vital food, water and medicine so that the basic needs of people are met. However, the only thing that can stop the descent down the spiral which is forcing families to take desperate measures is an end to the conflict. Everyone involved in the conflict including those that are backing the participants financially need to make a commitment to a nationwide ceasefire and take the necessary steps towards forging a lasting peace.
Three leading NGO’s have declared that the most important priorities for the almost 1 million Rohingya refugees still holed up at the largest refugee camp in the world for almost a year-and-a-half needs to be education and income generating opportunities. Oxfam, Save the Children and World Vision joined forces to urge donors to focus on these efforts as the United Nations announced a new funding plan to deal with the crisis.
International community needs to be generous
In their statement the NGO’s urged the international community to be generous in financing the 2019 Joint Response Plan (JRP) for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis. The three agencies were united in their support for the almost $1 billion the UN is trying to raise for almost 1.25 million people affected by the crisis including refugees and host community members. The NGO’s want both donors and the Bangladeshi government to ensure that aid is focused on helping host communities and refugees to live more safely whilst delivering food, clean water and shelter.
Education is a human right
What this means in practice is investments must be made in educating children and young people so they learn the skills necessary to build a prosperous future in Myanmar when they are able to safely return. A World Vision spokesperson says education should not be considered a luxury but should be seen as a human right. She adds that refugee parents and their children say their top priority is education but unfortunately there is a massive gap for children and adolescents.
Children should not be denied their right to an education
The camps serve as home to an estimated 700,000 young people aged between 3 to 24 with almost a quarter million from the host community that lack access to education. Refugee children are the worst affected with only 4 per cent having access to any sort of education of vocational training. Aid workers say that Rohingya refugee children have already had their rights abused after being forced to flee Myanmar for Bangladesh under horrific conditions. These children should not also be denied their right to receive an education and the least the rest of the world can do is make sure they do not face further disadvantages.
Creating opportunities to learn and earn
Not having access to education or the ability to earn an income makes Rohingya refugees entirely dependent on aid which means they are extremely vulnerable to being exploited with children being the worst affected. An Oxfam’s Bangladesh Country Director Dipankar Datta says female refugee children as they hit puberty face immense problems getting an education. Rohingya women are also unable to find employment making it difficult for single mothers to support their children. Mr Datta adds that donors and the Bangladeshi government must focus on creating opportunities for women and girls to learn and earn as well as protect them from abuse and exploitation so that they have a better future.
The world’s wealth is growing increasingly concentrated according to the latest Oxfam report which shows that world’s 26 wealthiest individuals control the same assets as 3.8 billion people who form the poorest half of the Earth’s population. Oxfam releases its annual wealth check every year to coincide with the Davos and according to the charity last year was yet another one where the rich grew richer whilst the poor became poorer.
Problems in the fight against poverty
The NGO says growing inequality is posing problems in the fight against poverty. Oxfam claims that a 1 per cent wealth tax levied on the super-rich would raise £325 billion every year. To put that into context, that is enough money to provide education for every child currently not in school and deliver healthcare that would prevent as many as 3 million deaths. The report claims that the wealth of the world’s 2,2200 billionaires grew by a combined $900 billion last year or by $2.5 billion per day.
The rich getting richer whilst the poor get poorer
Oxfam reckons that whilst the poorest half of the world saw their wealth fall by 11 per cent last year, the richest saw their wealth increase by 12 per cent. In 2017 43 billionaires had the same wealth as the world’s poorest half, and that number fell to 26 last year. In the 10 years since the global financial crisis, the number of billionaires has doubled and a new billionaire emerged once every two days between 2017 and 2018. 1 per cent of Jeff Bezos $112 billion fortune is equal to the entire Ethiopian health budget, a country with a population of 105 million. After accounting for VAT the poorest 10 per cent of Britons have a higher effective tax rate compared to the richest (49 per cent compared with 34%).
Everyone should get a fair shot
Matthew Spencer a spokesperson for Oxfam says whilst the greatest achievement of the last few decades has been the dramatic fall in the number of people living in extreme poverty, growing inequality jeopardises any future progress. Wealth is increasingly becoming concentrated amongst an elite whilst millions are struggling to get by. Mr Spencer says it does not have to be this way because there is more than enough wealth to give every one a fair shot at life.
Fairer tax policy and better public services
Oxfam thinks that Governments need to raise taxes from wealthy individuals and companies and make sure that the money is spent on providing high quality public services that have the effect of transforming and saving people’s lives. According to the report by failing to invest enough in public services, governments were in effect making inequality worse. The NGO says that governments need to provide universal public services and fund it by dealing with tax avoidance and making sure tax policy is fair.
Oxfam GB will be certainly be hopeful that a difficult 2018 is firmly behind it with the appointment of Danny Sriskandarajah as its next chief executive. A few months ago, Oxfam GB announced that it would be appointing as CEO Mr Sriskandarajah who previously served as Secretary General and Chief Executive of Civicus which is a South African based global alliance of civil society organisations. Mr Sriskandarajah will be succeeding Mark Goldring who last year announced he would be stepping down from his role at the charity.
Strong non-profit background
Mr Sriskandarajah who is based in London has a strong background in the non-profit sector having worked at Civicus since 2013 and previously having served as Director General of the Royal Commonwealth Society. Prior to that Mr Sriskandarajah was a director of the Commonwealth Foundation and also worked at the Institute for Public Policy Research. Mr Sriskandarajah is originally from Sri Lanka, but was raised in Australia and PNG before moving to the United Kingdom in 1998.
Oxfam chairperson Caroline Thomson says Mr Sriskandarajah is the correct person to lead Oxfam as it seeks to change and renew itself because he both a brilliant strategic thinker and has a track record of delivery. Ms Thomson adds that Mr Sriskandarajah has a solid understanding of the challenges faced by the entire sector including gender justice. Ms Thomson describes Mr Sriskandarajah as one of the next generation of leaders who has both a global reputation of original thought and the ability to inspire the people who work with him.
Will deliver solutions
Most importantly Ms Thomson says that it is believed that Mr Sriskandarajah is willing to ask all the hard questions necessary and has the ability to work well with colleagues across the entire federation of Oxfam to deliver solutions. A spokesperson for Oxfam did not say how much the organisation would pay Mr Sriskandarajah but did say it would be less than what was paid to Mr Goldring. Last year the charity earned £472.2 million during the financial year of 2017-2018 and employs 5,000 full time staff members as well as tens of thousands of volunteers.
Oxfam reckons that the four biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world are dodging an estimated £3 billion pounds in taxes. The aid agency says that such behaviour deprives governments in both the developed and the developing world of an important source of revenue that could be used for poverty reduction programmes and the provision of public healthcare. The poorest countries suffer the most from tax avoidance because they tend to rely more on corporate tax to finance government spending than they do on income tax.
An Oxfam spokesperson said it was not acceptable for big pharma to deprive governments of billions in tax revenue that could be used to alleviate poverty and provide healthcare. The irony is that these companies develop life-saving treatments for profit whilst depriving governments of revenue that could be used to save people’s lives. Given the amount of money that governments pay big pharma companies for their medicines, the least that can be expected is that these companies pay their fair share in tax.
Companies should pay their fair share
The analysis by Oxfam suggests that the four biggest pharmaceutical companies who manufacture vaccines and household brands are moving their profits from countries where they operate and transferring them to tax havens. The report also highlights how the industry in general lobbies governments, shaping policy that sets the price of medicines extremely high. Prices are so high that more often than not products are simply not affordable for public providers of healthcare or for patients.
R&D model needs to be overhauled
Oxfam says there is a necessity for the research and development model for new medicines to be completely overhauled so that drug discovery is determined by the needs of the public instead of profits. This is not the first time the pharmaceutical industry has been criticised. Recently the Health Secretary accused the manufacturer of a drug used to treat cystic fibrosis of ripping off tax payers and profiting off the back of the NHS. Whilst these companies do make medicines that can transform lives their behaviour may well end up preventing people from receiving the treatment they desperately need.
Tax avoidance is one reason for growing inequality
Tax avoidance is not limited to the pharmaceutical industry. It is taking place all over the world and is one of the driving factors behind growing income inequality. The United Kingdom has shown much needed leadership in tackling the problem of global tax avoidance and has passed legislation that forces global corporations operating in the country to publish details of all their activities in every country they operate in. The policy has yet to be implemented and Oxfam is urging the government to do so sooner rather than later.
Oxfam has hired and trained 119 staff members who will investigate incidents related to the agencies safeguarding efforts around the world as it steps up efforts to improve. Oxfam unveiled a ten-point action plan towards the early part of the year and has increased funding for safeguarding by more than threefold to close to £2 million. Oxfam has also set up a new Independent Commission which is tasked with reviewing the agencies culture and practices.
Response to scandal
Oxfam has launched the new measures in response to the scandal some of its former employees were involved in Haiti whilst working for the aid agency. Those employees have since been fired and starting from October the agency will report data twice a year on all safeguarding cases that have been completed in the previous half year for all organisations that are part of the Oxfam confederation.
Background checks and training
In the United Kingdom all shop managers as well as supervisors paid or unpaid will have to undergo background checks. Some members of the HR teams in the trading unit have also received training which will give them the skills to investigate allegations of safeguarding in Oxfam shops. By the end of the financial year it is anticipated that more than 960 shop staff will have undergone online safeguarding training. The Independent Commission’s first report will be published by May next year and will list a number of recommendations to improve Oxfam’s approach to safeguarding.
The aid agency is also providing training to more than 10,000 employees globally and has introduced more stringent background checks before hiring new staff. There is also a whistle blowing hotline that is managed independently and will be available in five languages that all employees have been encouraged to make use of in complete confidence.
Learning from mistakes
Mark Goldring Oxfam’s UK chief says he is determined that the organisation learns from its mistakes and does everything it can to ensure staff and people are protected. He adds that the measures taken will improve Oxfam’s ability to prevent and investigate any unacceptable behaviour no matter where it takes place. Oxfam is acutely aware there is more to do, including making sure that everyone who is employed or volunteers feels empowered to challenge behaviour they believe is not acceptable.
A new report which examines the global supply chains of multinational supermarkets authored by Oxfam has found that millions of people who produce food for the retailers are trapped in a cycle of poverty, with many starving and having to face brutal working conditions. The report claims that all the major high street supermarket chains are increasingly squeezing their suppliers on prices which ultimately feeds through to small scale farmers who actually produce the food. These farmers have very little influence on the price they get paid for their produce and this means that they along with workers are being economically exploited.
Not enough to eat
Oxfam along with a number of other partner agencies polled hundreds of small-scale farmers and workers that participate in the supply chains of UK supermarkets across five different countries. The results show that many of them struggled to feed their families. 9 out of 10 grape workers in South Africa and seafood processors in Thailand, the majority of whom were women, responded by saying they hadn’t had enough to eat in the month prior to the one they were polled in.
The results are shocking
Oxfam GB spokesman Matthew Spenser says it is shocking that so many farmers and workers involved in food production for supermarkets end up going hungry. The largest supermarkets in the UK have put pressure on their suppliers to lower costs and this means there is a massive amount of hidden suffering particularly amongst the people who supply food leaving them trapped in a cycle of poverty. According to the study British supermarket chains receive ten times more of the checkout price of common items than the small-scale farmers and workers who produced the goods. These suppliers receive just 5.7 per cent of the checkout price in comparison to 53 per cent received by the supermarkets.
Supermarkets need to enshrine better practices
The authors of the report analysed the policies and practices of the six biggest supermarket chains in the UK and found a striking gap between those policies and what must be in place in order to ensure that human and labour rights are protected in their supply chains. Oxfam together with the Sustainable Seafood Alliance Indonesia looked at the industry in Indonesia and Thailand, which supplies seafood to some of the world’s largest supermarket chains including those in the UK. Workers said they were forced to submit to pregnancy tests, had to endure unsafe working conditions, lived in poverty and endured verbal abuse. Clearly this is not acceptable and supermarket chains operating in the UK must ensure the workers involved in their supply chains are treated humanely and equitably.
The report by Oxfam signals the launch of Behind Barcodes which is a global campaign designed to put pressure on supermarket chains and governments to crack down on inhumane working conditions. The campaign seeks to increase transparency so that shoppers know where their food comes from as well as fight for women’s rights in the industry and ensure that a larger share of the sales generated by food reaches the people who actually produce it.
Oxfam has embarked on its emergency response to the Ebola outbreak in the Equateur province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The aid agency has begun to distribute desperately needed food to the thousands of individuals in the middle of the crisis. Oxfam is making food items available to roughly 4,500 people. The aid agency began its operation in Mbandaka which is the provincial capital of Equateur and intends to widen the relief effort to rural communities as well.
Stopping the virus from spreading
Oxfam is also working hard to ensure that communities have access to clean water and that they are aware of how to protect themselves from the Ebola virus and stop it spreading. The outbreak of the disease has meant that trade between rural areas has been disrupted. Mbandaka in particular has been hit badly because many people depend on this trade route for their food and other essentials.
Delivering assistance to people who need it
Households that find they have been in contact with someone who has contracted Ebola are forced to rely on assistance because they have been asked to remain indoors for three weeks making it impossible for them to obtain food. Oxfam’s DRC Country Director Jose Barahona says it is critical that these people receive the food they need because it ensures other people remain protected. Without assistance these people will have to go to market and could potentially infect others.
Learning from previous outbreaks
Mr Barahona adds that the response is making use of everything that was learned during the West African Ebola outbreak. As a result, Oxfam is working with communities, trying to understand their fears and superstitions and working to overcome them. In West Africa the impact of the Ebola epidemic on the economy and people’s ability to earn a living was significant. People were not allowed to move freely which meant they were unable to cultivate their fields and as a result food price inflation was drastic.
Post outbreak plan needed
Mr Barahona says that there needs to be a plan in place for what happens after the outbreak subsides and this includes making sure people are able to earn a living and have access to clean water and sanitation. Ebola is not the only crisis affecting millions of people living in the DRC. Fortunately, donors have opened their wallets and should make good on their pledges. There are a few million people in the DRC who are affected by a variety of humanitarian crises and have not received any aid whatsoever.
A recent study conducted by Oxfam suggests that many donors have exaggerated the value of climate finance they have provided to the poorest countries in the world by a large margin. The aid agency reckons that that the amount of public funding for climate finance in 2015 and 2016 is approximately $16 billion to $21 billion per year. That is far lower that what donors say they are spending which is $48 billion per year. The deadline to tackle climate change is just two years away (2020) and developed countries have committed to deliver $100 billion in assistance.
Tracy Carty a senior policy advisor on climate change to Oxfam says that despite the fact that people on the African continent are suffering from brutal droughts and people who live in the Caribbean are suffering from turbo-charged cyclones, the money that the world’s poorest and most vulnerable to climate change countries is woefully inadequate. One major problem the report highlights is that so many donors exaggerate the climate change value of a development project, where climate change may simply be just one aspect of a much wider program.
Loans being counted as grants
Another issue is the often donors counts loans and other types of non-grant financing at full face value which means the real amount of money developing countries are receiving as assistance is being obscured by a huge margin. In order to tackle these issues Oxfam wants governments to stop these practices and have donors only tally the “grant equivalent” of the loans they make for climate finance. That means only the net transfer of money to a developing country is counted after repayments, interest is accounted for.
Accounting standards must be improved
Ms Carty adds there is no reason why the accounting rules for calculating aid delivered to tackle climate change should be less stringent than it is for other types of aid. Governments must agree to the new rules for climate finance as par of the Paris Agreement and at this year’s COP climate conference. That event presents an opportunity for governments to meet and agree much fairer and more robust accounting standards. The report from Oxfam also highlighted how much money different governments have delivered as grants with the UK and Sweden providing more than 90 per cent of their commitments in 2015 and 2016 whilst other countries such as France have fallen well behind.
A coalition of aid agencies including Oxfam UK is warning that millions of people in the Democratic Republic of Congo are at risk of rising levels of hunger, death and disease because funding has not been made available. The aid agencies are seeking US$1.7 billion to provide assistance to more than 10 million people who desperately need help throughout the country. So far, of the amount that has been sought, only 12 per cent has been funded.
Forcing aid to be scaled back or cut
Last year humanitarian organisations appealed for a smaller amount and that was also not funded adequately. That forced most agencies to either scale back their efforts delivering food and clean water to people who had fled their homes as a result of conflict or discontinue their efforts entirely. Jose Barahona who runs Oxfam’s operations in the DRC says the lack of funding forces aid agencies to make choices they shouldn’t have to make.
Aid agencies forced to make bad choices
Mr Barahona says Oxfam has been forced to restrict its work to specific areas and is only able to provide assistance to a fraction of the people who desperately need it. In November last year Oxfam was working in the conflict-ridden Kasai provinces and was only able to provide half food rations to 90,000 people. He adds that last month the situation was even worse and the aid agency was forced to restrict rations even further with more than 25 per cent of the population receiving no food whatsoever.
Donors need to learn from the past
Understandably Mr Barahona expressed his frustration and says that governments and international donors must learn from the past and unless they provide sufficient aid many people in the DRC will simply die. 13 million people in the country are estimated to be in urgent need of humanitarian assistance representing an increase of 5.6 million people over the previous year. Last year only 1.7 million people out of the 4.6 million people who needed access to clean water and sanitation received assistance. That left people with filthy drinking water and forced them to defecate in the open.
Disease and violence
Such a situation will inevitably result in the outbreak of waterborne disease. 4.1 million people in the country suffer from acute malnourishment with only 516,000 people receiving treatment. Today the figure is now 7.7 million people facing the prospect of starvation. In the Kasai provinces Oxfam estimates that just 39 per cent of people in need of assistance received aid between October last year and the end of January this year. In the provinces bordering Uganda thousands of people are fleeing their homes in response to violence.
Lack of funds means aid will not be delivered
The DRC is huge. It is as large as Western Europe and the conditions of the roads in the country are extremely poor which means there is a massive delay and huge costs to reach areas that require assistance. The lack of funding means there is no money to pay for either logistics or security and that constrains aid agencies ability to deploy quickly. The situation is likely to get worse as the UN cuts funding which means its fleet of helicopters which are the only means of transportation of aid will be curtailed. The short version of the story is the world needs to wake up to the crisis in the DRC and provide it with the funding that is necessary.