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Disasters & conflicts

Photo: Jane Beesley / Oxfam

Oxfam works to ensure that women, men, and children affected by conflicts and disasters receive life-saving assistance and are empowered to protect themselves from future humanitarian emergencies.

Oxfam's mission to fight poverty and injustice compels us to work in disaster-stricken areas and conflict zones around the world. Although a tsunami, an earthquake, a flood, or a drought may strike anywhere, these disasters hit poor and most vulnerable communities the hardest. Oxfam America responds to humanitarian emergencies, in countries including Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Climate change and environmental mismanagement will make natural disasters more frequent, severe, and devastating for larger numbers of people. Unfortunately, the current humanitarian system being led by the United Nations and international community is unable to meet humanitarian needs today let alone tomorrow. A proven and cost-effective way to address this problem is to invest in disaster risk reduction. Despite this, investments by the international community in disaster risk reduction remain meager. Oxfam is striving to change the current system by working with local communities to increase their resilience and with local partners to strengthen their capacity to lead on preventing, preparing and responding to natural disasters. As first responders, local actors (communities, local organizations, civil society, and local government) need the international community's support to strengthen their capacity to lead during a humanitarian crisis. It is time to shift the center of gravity of humanitarian preparedness and response from one that depends on distant, centralized bureaucracies to one that works at the country level, with resilient communities at the core. Having a better local system in place means that fewer people will die, be forced to leave their homes or lose their livelihoods.

Armed conflicts around the world not only disrupt the lives of civilians but can generate a recurring cycle of poverty and violence. Men, women, and children living in conflict and disaster struggle to access food, clean water, shelter, and other basic needs. Women and children are often marginalized or excluded from the process of planning humanitarian responses and they face additional challenges to survive. During conflict and in the aftermath of disasters, Oxfam provides humanitarian assistance while working for a long-term peaceful solution through advocacy and campaigning.


Oxfam America campaigns and advocates with the US government and others to support local communities in preventing and responding to humanitarian crises. We host civil society leaders and arrange for them to meet with policy-makers. We conduct direct advocacy and organize grassroots and digital actions, and we partner with influential allies to strengthen our advocacy and campaigns. Through the media, community-based research, and advocacy meetings in the US, we raise awareness of humanitarian emergencies and bring attention to community voices.

Oxfam America conducts, commissions, and collaborates on research on humanitarian policy and programs. The main purpose of this research is to provide a foundation for OA's public policy advocacy. This research supports our advocacy on a number of issues including:

Oxfam staff have presented their research at academic conferences, including those sponsored by the International Studies Association, the World Conference on Humanitarian Studies, the Sudan Studies Association, at seminars sponsored by such think tanks as the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; and at workshops and meetings with senior government officials.

Goals & priorities

Oxfam America aims to shift in the way to the international community addresses humanitarian emergencies. We influence governments to strengthen local capacity to prevent, prepare, and respond to humanitarian emergencies. In the US, we urge the United States Government to provide more direct funding to local NGOs in both slow and sudden onset emergencies in order to strengthen local capacity to respond to emergencies. We also advocate with USAID to ensure that humanitarian funding for local NGOs does more to strengthen local capacity and local leadership. This is true whether USAID provides these funds directly or through international NGOs, Oxfam's position is that If national governments have the will and ability to play a leadership role in emergency preparedness and response efforts in their countries, and if they work in partnership with local actors (NGOs, local government and civil society), humanitarian assistance will be more prompt, efficient, and cost-effective. Giving local actors the resources and capacity to respond immediately will reduce mortality, morbidity, displacement, and the disruption of livelihoods.

Oxfam America's advocacy work related to conflict focuses on protection and assistance. We aim to shape US policy to protect civilians and pay special attention to women, peace, and security.


Oxfam has developed positions on gender issues in conflict and humanitarian action as well as how to prevent violence against women and girls in emergencies. This is important because gender roles mean that disasters and crises impact women, men, girls and boys differently. Disaster mortality rates are higher for women than for men and women are more vulnerable to disasters due to widespread disadvantages such as limited access to education, forced marriage, lack of livelihood opportunities, and caring responsibilities fall predominantly on their shoulders.

Protecting civilians

Oxfam America prioritizes the protection of civilians in Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, through security sector reform that better protects civilians and increased support to local peace-building efforts. For example, since 2006 the United States has been assisting in transforming the Democratic Republic of Congo's security sector into a set of professional and accountable institutions that protect civilians rather than abuse them. In Oxfam's report, No will, No way, Oxfam argues that true reform includes training of all security forces in civilian protection and human rights principles. We believe that this training must be implemented in field operations, effective application of military justice and in measures to remove known human rights abusers from the army. Oxfam has also talked to communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo about their protection needs as outlined in our most recent report, In the Balance: Searching for protection in eastern DRC.

Arms proliferation

The uncontrolled proliferation and misuse of arms has exacerbated conflict and human suffering as well as diverting billions of dollars in scarce resources that could be used to alleviate poverty around the world. Oxfam successfully advocated passage of the international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). This agreement requires arms-exporting countries to not transfer arms when there is an "overriding risk" that the weapons will support crimes against humanity, war crimes, or genocide.


Our efforts on Syria are focused on achieving a political solution to the conflict. To that end, we support comprehensive peace talks with a meaningful role for women and civil society organizations as well as an end to arms transfers to all parties to the conflict. We also advocate for the US government to give its fair share of aid to Syria and other countries facing humanitarian emergencies. Aid should be based on need and should conflict-sensitive—reflecting the context, circumstances on the ground, and its potential impact on the conflict.


Our Afghanistan policy work concentrates on pressing the Afghan Government and the international community to safeguard the rights Afghan women has gained over the last 10 years. These include increased access to education and better healthcare and the right to work outside the home as police officers, parliamentarians, judges, small business owners and members of the Afghan National Security Forces.

Achievements so far

Arms Trade Treaty

In 2003 when Oxfam, along with Amnesty International and the International Action Network on Small Arms, co-founded a global campaign for an international arms trade treaty only three states—Costa Rica, Cambodia, and Mali—supported the idea. Today, the US and more than a hundred other states have signed a global Arms Trade Treaty.

On September 25, 2013, US Secretary of State John Kerry signed the international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). This is the first-ever multilateral treaty on the global trade in conventional arms. It is a common-sense agreement that establishes standards for the $40 billion legal international weapons trade and seeks to reduce the illicit arms trade. The Treaty offers great benefits to the safety of civilians globally and to US security. It sets clear rules that stigmatize irresponsible arms transfers and will help make it more difficult and expensive for rogue arms dealers to supply weapons to war criminals, human rights abusers, criminals, and potential terrorists.

The Treaty...

  • Bans absolutely the transfer of arms when the exporter knows the weapons will be used for genocide and other atrocity crimes.
  • Gives governments a set of steps they must all take prior to transferring arms to assess the risk of an arms transfer fueling violations of international human rights or international humanitarian law, international organized crime, terrorism, and gender-based violence.
  • Requires all countries to develop national export and import control systems. While many countries have strong control systems in place, the US Department of State estimates that around 100 countries have either grossly inadequate or non-existent systems.
  • Requires governments to be transparent in their arms trade decisions.

Somalia remittances

Oxfam is the only US-based NGO working on ensuring that members of the Somali diaspora can send money freely and securely to their relatives and friends in Somalia. Read more about this program

Raising community voices

In Haiti we hosted a Haiti diaspora meeting in Washington, DC, bringing diaspora leaders from all over the United States to meet with Members of Congress and Haitian Embassy officials on the effectiveness of aid and developing a reconstruction roadmap for Haitian communities, following the devastating 2010 earthquake.

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