What Oxfam is doing
Oxfam supplies emergency aid to communities when needed, but we also work to help people improve their means of making a living, thereby fostering their self-sufficiency.
Despite its vast surface and ground water resources, Ethiopia has one of the lowest rates for using those resources in the world. Most of the population relies on rain alone for household consumption and farming. Frequent dry spells and the uneven distribution and availability of rain water exacerbate the decline in human health and the incidence of crop failure and livestock deaths.
To help improve the lives and livelihoods of poor and marginalized rural communities, Oxfam funds local partners working on water resource development programs that are innovative, replicable, and sensitive to conflict and gender issues. Oxfam also supports building the capacity of partners and the communities they work with to claim their rights to access and manage their water resources.
The humanitarian program in Ethiopia and Sudan provides emergency assistance and rehabilitation support to people affected by various types of disasters. In Ethiopia, Oxfam America is working with more than 15 local non-governmental organizations on humanitarian initiatives. Working with eight local partners, the Sudan country program is currently focusing on providing support to people affected by the conflict in Darfur.
The peace-building and conflict-transformation interventions that we have implemented in pastoral areas of Ethiopia and North Darfur promote and revitalize traditional conflict resolution practices. We are carrying this out by helping community-based organizations grow and expand their reach. In all of our interventions, we use advocacy and media communications to ensure an effective response and to influence national and international actors.
Starting in March 2007, Oxfam began piloting a drought early warning surveillance system, or DEWS, in Borena pastoral communities in southern Ethiopia. The idea is to be able to take timely action and enhance community level preparedness by closely monitoring changes in the health and circumstances of families and their communities. We are now expanding the system to cover larger pastoral areas at risk of recurrent drought.
As we continue to respond to emergencies, we are also employing strategies designed to help vulnerable communities reduce their risk of future disasters. For example, providing livestock with basic veterinary care will help those animals become stronger and better able to withstand periodic drought. And by helping communities establish cereal banks, they can act as a buffer against hunger during those same droughts when harvests are poor.
Climate change adaptation is one of the new initiatives the Horn of Africa office is now carrying out. Unless effective and efficient adaptation strategies are designed and implemented, the effects of climate change will significantly increase the number of people needing humanitarian assistance. We are now working to incorporate concerns about climate change across our programs. We have facilitated the formation of the National Climate Change Forum (NCCF) in Ethiopia, and serve as a secretariat for the forum. Oxfam also commissioned a climate change research in 2008 and planned to host the first National Climate Change Conference in January, 2009.
About 15 million Ethiopians work in their country's coffee industry. In 2002, to address the challenge of a global coffee crisis and the unfair trade practices, Oxfam launched a campaign called "What's That In Your Coffee?" The aim was to help farmers get a better price for their coffee and support them in marketing efforts. In recent years, Oxfam increased its efforts to help farmers improve the quality of their coffee, with particular focus on supporting cooperatives to generate additional premiums through eco-friendly coffee processing.
Building peace in Ethiopia
In addition to providing basic emergency assistance in areas affected by armed violence, Oxfam America also focuses on helping communities forge lasting solutions to conflict. Our partners use innovative conflict-resolution projects that bring adversaries together, as well as more traditional conflict-resolution practices when they are more suitable or culturally appropriate. Human rights training sessions and peace committees also help build confidence between adversaries and resolve disputes.
In December 2003, the Ommingah neighborhood in the Gambella region was nearly reduced to rubble in a vicious attack. Even as the conflict raged, Oxfam was on the scene providing emergency assistance. To reduce the risk of future violence in the region, Oxfam partnered with the Gambella Peace and Development Council (GPDC) to build peace between the various ethnic groups involved in the conflict. GPDC organized community workshops to strengthen lines of communication among all the ethnic groups living in Gambella.
Saving lives in Ethiopia
Most Ethiopians depend on agriculture to make a living. Unfortunately, only ten percent of the land is suitable for farming and only five percent can be easily irrigated. Many rural areas suffer from deforestation, overgrazing, soil erosion, desertification, and water shortages. Wars and communal violence also affect food production. The result: chronic food shortage and periodic famine.
Oxfam America funds local organizations that help communities anticipate these problems, reduce their vulnerability to drought and conflict, and distribute food in emergencies. For example, the Rift Valley Children and Women Association (RCWDA), an Oxfam partner, has conducted a food-for-work program to help rural families endure the food crisis in Ethiopia.
Food-for-work programs build on local village and community structures, encouraging people to decide what projects to undertake, to determine eligibility requirements, and to see that food is distributed fairly. RCWDA also distributes grain produced in Ethiopia, thereby supporting domestic grain producers and pumping funds into the local economy. By maintaining the farmers' livelihoods, food-for-work programs also protect the environment: farmers are no longer forced to chop down trees to make charcoal, a practice that has contributed to deforestation.