Oxfam: Race against time in Horn of Africa

Monday 11 July 2011, 9:29AM
By Oxfam New Zealand

The drought in the Horn of Africa, which has pushed over 12 million people into a fight for survival, is a preventable disaster and solutions are possible – but large numbers of lives could soon be lost if nothing is done. It is currently the worst food crisis on the planet.

Barry Coates, Oxfam New Zealand’s Executive Director said: “It is crucial that we act now to scale up the measures that can limit the extent of this disaster. It is not too late to prevent millions of people slipping into starvation and disease.”

Oxfam has decades of experience in the region. Oxfam’s development programmes already reach one million people in the worst affected areas with life-saving water, basic sanitation, food and cash. We are scaling up our response and are calling for donations - in our largest ever appeal for Africa - to help us reach three million people with life-saving aid.

The aid community has made major strides over the last 30 years to develop sophisticated early warning systems for drought but that means nothing unless there is early action to prevent a large disaster. Oxfam and others have been scaling up since the beginning of the year but now it is crunch time. The crisis is only going to get worse over the coming months. We need funds so we can get food and water to people in July, August and September until the next rains come.

Barry Coates pointed out that Oxfam approaches this emergency with a long term perspective, as well as the urgency of immediate relief. “We are in this for the long-haul. Oxfam has the infrastructure and local knowledge to save lives and prepare vulnerable communities so that they can survive future crises.”

Our programmes in the region:

Oxfam constructs and repairs water tanks that can store any precious rainwater that does fall, as well as boreholes and traditional wells along the main livestock and market routes. Most people in these areas depend on their livestock, and Oxfam is ensuring that 500,000 goats or cows have access to water, pasture, vaccinations and medical treatment.

We are also helping people prepare for the worsening drought – providing mobile phones to animal health workers for example has helped them quickly spread important information such as health conditions and market prices.

In Kenya, Oxfam’s ‘de-stocking’ programme buys up some of the weakest goats and sheep – ensuring that their owners get an income and some vital cash before their assets die – and we then slaughter the animals to provide meat to the community.
About 900,000 vulnerable animals – belonging to 18,000 families – are also benefiting from Oxfam’s veterinarian and de-worming programmes.

Oxfam has partnered with a national Kenyan bank to transfer cash to some of the poorest families and women. The individuals get a smart card, which they can take to an authorised shop and exchange it for cash delivered safely and securely by the bank.

In Somaliland, our health workers are training community members to monitor the safety and quality of the water in each house. Ceramic water filters and soap have been distributed, and new latrines built to help prevent diseases. With an ever present threat of fatal diseases spreading if the water gets contaminated, Oxfam partners have developed innovative ways to spread health education – including a circus that performs across Somaliland and teaches children.

In parts of south central Somalia and the Lower Juba region – where the drought is at its worst and the conflict makes access for international agencies extremely dangerous – local Oxfam partners are trucking in water and working to keep animals healthy. In Mogadishu, the capital, we support feeding centres for thousands of malnourished children, and provide life-saving equipment such as water, beds and X-ray machines to Somalia’s only functioning children’s hospital.

In addition to work on the ground, Oxfam has launched a major international campaign to fight hunger. The GROW campaign highlights the importance of tackling the underlying causes of poverty and hunger, including more support and extension services for small farmer; a massive scale-up of funds to help farmers deal with the impacts of climate change; and mechanisms to build community resilience to periods of drought.

To donate to Oxfam’s Horn of Africa response visit or call 0800 400 666.