Oxfam – Humanitarian aid  and long-term development

Scarlett Johansson affectionately refers to wells, water pipes, latrines and septic tanks as “Oxfam’s magic.”

The Hollywood actress is an Oxfam ambassador who was struck by the “sense of community and humanity” amid the desperate poverty she witnessed during a visit to the world’s largest refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya in the fall.

“Oxfam being here on the ground providing clean water and sanitation is essential, it’s essential to the survival of these people,” Scarlett said in her video diary about Oxfam’s emergency relief and women who had walked for weeks carrying children to the camps.

Nearly a quarter of 445,000 refugees at Dadaab arrived in a surge last year, when the worst drought in decades made malnutrition rates soar and livestock perish in parts of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. Oxfam reached over three million people in the three countries with life-saving emergency aid and longer-term investments to help people become better prepared to cope with future crises.

Oxfam is among the world’s leading agencies working on long-term development to alleviate poverty, with a strong focus on women and girls. In humanitarian disasters like the drought in East Africa, the Haiti earthquake, floods in Pakistan and the food crisis now underway in the Sahel region of West and Central Africa, Oxfam specializes in delivering clean water, sanitation and hygiene education.

For several months now, Oxfam has pressed governments to act on the severe food crisis in the Sahel before it develops into a humanitarian emergency. “Acting earlier saves lives, prevents misery and costs far less in international aid,” says Robert Fox, executive director of Oxfam Canada. “That is the key lesson of last year’s East Africa drought.”

Poor harvests, rocketing food prices and a sudden influx of rural people to cities were among the early warning signs beginning in December. Oxfam emphasizes that millions of people will be left hungry in coming months unless more money is raised to assist people in seven West and Central African countries: Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, Senegal and The Gambia.

An iconic image: women hacking at ant hills in search of grain.
Oxfam works with local partners around the world to respond to urgent needs and at the same time address the underlying causes of hunger and vulnerability. Investing in small-scale agriculture is central to Oxfam’s work.

Scarlett testified to that. After Dadaab, she visited an Oxfam-supported farm project in Lodwar, Kenya. The farm is run by women who had lost their livestock in the drought. “There is a lot of hope here,” she said after touring lush vegetable fields. “These people are able to have sustainable lives.”

Last year Scarlett joined Oxfam’s GROW campaign, which seeks to ensure access to land for small-scale food producers, to prevent environmental degradation from climate change and to change unfair practices in the ways food is grown, priced, distributed and sold in many parts of the world.

“Sharing food is one of life’s pleasures,” Scarlett said. “On a global scale, we don’t share fairly. Close to a billion people go to bed hungry every night. The fact is the global food system is a broken one.”

An exciting part of Oxfam’s GROW campaign is the Female Food Heroes project, which recognizes and celebrates the important role women play in feeding the world.

The vast majority of the world’s hungry and undernourished people are women and children. Women often eat last and least. Women are key food producers as independent farmers, unpaid family labour and farm workers, but they often lack land, credit and other essentials to thrive.

From International Women’s Day on March 8 through to World Food Day on Oct. 16, 2012, Oxfam Canada is collecting and sharing stories from the public of Female Food Heroes in Canada and around the world.

The project connects women in far-flung countries with Canadian farmers, gardeners and advocates, women who are working for a better local and global food system. These heroes educate people on sustainable practices and defend the environment and improve the health of their communities.

Among the Female Food Heroes profiled on Oxfam.ca are fair trade coffees advocate Lisa Burnside of Toronto, urban harvest activist Katrina Siks of Ottawa and Maasai farmer Anna Oloshuro Kalaita. Anna is a winner in a female food champions contest in Tanzania in which 6,000 women applied for recognition as outstanding contributors to their communities and agriculture. Visit the oxfam.ca web site to share your stories and help raise awareness.

Oxfam Canada, whose banner says “ending poverty begins with women’s rights,” will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year. It is a member of Oxfam’s international family of 17 like-minded organizations working in over 90 countries.

“I basically try to get the word out there,” says Scarlett. “If people are looking to donate to a cause that has a low administrative cost and is doing work on the ground that is disaster relief and also long-term solutions, Oxfam is a responsible place to donate.”

Visit www.oxfam.ca