Oxfam Emergencies Bulletin - Apr 1999: Asia
The Taliban and the Northern Alliance recently agreed to a power sharing agreement. Nevertheless, doubts remain over its eventual success, and fighting continues in places.
Oxfam, along with many other international aid agencies, remains expelled from Afghanistan. In March, however, the Taliban granted Oxfam permission to undertake a brief visit to Kabul, to discuss the possibilities for allowing an assessment of the humanitarian situation.
In Hazarajat region, concern grows over a food security crisis. Food shortages in the region are massive and stem from a combination of a poor harvest last year and disruption to the winter planting due to conflict. The forced return of Afghan refugees from Iran has exacerbated the situation. Oxfam has proposed a seed wheat distribution and a cash-for-work programme.
Oxfam continues to provide support in the form of food rations and housing rehabilitation to families affected by floods and ensuing river erosion. People in the most vulnerable coastal areas and low-lying lands are priority cases, having lost their sources of livelihood and employment opportunities. This year's harvest has been poor, which is compounding their suffering.
Oxfam is funding a project of house repair and reconstruction support to 55 families in the Sylhet area (low-laying area), and food distribution to 1,081 families in the Megna river basin (coastal area).
Following the political turmoil and fighting in July 1999 the Khmer Rouge has disintegrated and political stability has increased. Refugees are now leaving the camps on the Thai border to return home.
Through the Cambodian Red Cross, Oxfam is providing household kits and rice seed for refugees returning to the regions of Mundul Kiri, Ratanak Kiri, Stung Treng, and Kratie. Oxfam is also working in Siem Reap and Frah Vihear to prevent an outbreak of malaria and to educate rural poor people.
Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)
Oxfam continues to implement an emergency water and sanitation programme, in collaboration with the Government Flood Damage Response Committee, in central Pyongyang city and the three provinces of South Hwanghae, North Hwanghae and South Pyongyan. Oxfam's current programme aims to reduce the incidence of waterborne diseases, which are a cause of malnutrition, as a result of the loss of chlorine production capacity in the country. Oxfam recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the DPRK Government allowing continuation of Oxfam's water programme until May 1999. A further MOU is being negotiated to allow an extension of the programme until December 1999.
Earthquake tremors affected the state of Uttar Pradesh, in the North, between 29th March and 1st April. They caused serious damage to Tehri, Eudra Paryag and Chamoli districts. An Oxfam assessment has revealed that at least 110 people were killed, 500 people injured, and over 13,000 houses destroyed. Thousands of people are sleeping out in the open. Due to the high altitude of the area the temperatures can drop to around freezing at night. The Indian Government has responded by erecting shelters in the affected area and distributing some food. Oxfam's Lucknow office is considering a possible response, most likely in shelter provision.
Oxfam's flood response work in Assam, West Bengal and Bihar is due for completion mid-April.
Oxfam has proposed the first phase of a research project in the river basin programme area to assess baseline data and food security information available across the region, and to identify any gaps. A consultant has already submitted a draft desktop study following a review of available literature.
Indonesia has recently been moving through a phase of considerable economic, political and social instability, which has lead to unrest and sectarian violence. It is anticipated that this situation will worsen over the period leading up to and immediately following the planned national elections in June 1999. This will be the first election in 3 decades with more than the three state-sponsored parties contesting seats. The results of the elections may not diffuse tensions.
Communal violence along religious and ethnic divides has occurred in many parts of Indonesia. In Ambon, Maluku, the situation has calmed down since March with fewer reports of incidents or shootings. However, the violence has spread to Tual, in South Maluku. A natural product of this instability is displacement. Although many displaced people are now returning home, an estimated 90,000 people were displaced internally in three different areas: 20,000 in Maluku, 42,000 in Southeast Sulawesi, and 28,000 in West Kalimantan.
A local group must support any international organisation wishing to work in Ambon. Oxfam is working through its partner organisation, Baileo. Oxfam is funding operational costs and offering technical advice for work on shelters for displaced people. Oxfam has linked Baileo with other more operational organisations to facilitate response. CD Bethesda (another of Oxfam's partners) has a health emergency response capacity and has managed to get into Ambon to meet health needs at the mixed (Christian and Muslim) shelters supported by Baileo. CD Bethesda provided first aid and addressed diarrhoea and malaria, and reported no major outbreaks of disease.
Oxfam has similarly brokered contact between Médecins Sans Frontières - Belgium (MSF-B) and Baileo for work on water and sanitation support at these shelters. Through Baileo, MSF-B has formed a group of mixed Christian and Muslim water agents, who will access all 23 shelters for displaced people across the communities and will provide a complete assessment of needs for further work.
As security in Ambon is improving the options for more operational work by international agencies will increase. Oxfam, with Baileo, is about to conduct an assessment for such circumstances, and is looking to revise the proposal for intervention. The proposal is envisaged to incorporate a six-week health component for shelters outside the town where Government health services are not provided and hygiene promotion, which CD Bethesda will carry out.
Both short-term and longer-term measures are needed to respond to a potentially worsening economic and social situation. Oxfam is planning to develop emergency response capacity to assist populations affected by conflict or natural disaster in Indonesia. Planning is underway for a rapid emergency response mechanism, which will build on the current programme philosophy of working with partners and local capacity building.
In response to natural disaster, Oxfam is already responding in terms of small-scale emergency food aid programmes, with either the sale of rice at subsidised prices or providing cash amounts, in Yogyakarta and Jakarta and in programme areas in Maluku and West Timor.
Oxfam is working with three partner organisations on a flood rehabilitation project. Koshi Sarokar Samuha (KSS) is surveying and designing the proposed sites for a river embankment near the Launia village in Saptari District. It has incorporated development of a drainage system into this project since, in the rainy season, people leave their houses and stay on the dam sides for up to four months. With the installation of a drainage outlet people will be able to remain in their own homes.
KSS is also discussing housing support with people in Launia village and aims to construct fifteen houses. Women Acting Together for Change (WATCH) is endeavouring to secure land for 30 landless households of Kerbani village. KSS and the Nepal Environment Welfare Society (NEWS) are focusing on the promotion of alternative farming. NEWS has prepared a detailed plan of implementation for three seasons.
Prospects for peace in Mindanao have improved following the government's announcement that it has suspended military action against the New People's Army, and the start of talks between the leaders of the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) and the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Forces).
Many people displaced by the conflict in central Mindanao have returned to their homes. However, there is an uneasy peace in the area and further displacement is felt likely. Oxfam is looking into upgrading water and sanitation facilities in 50 schools, which are used as evacuation centres during conflict, and organising alternative provisions to allow educational activities to continue during displacement.
Extensive flooding as a result of heavy rain causing flash floods has affected the northeast of the country and Lanao del Norte. Flood damage is substantial. Drinking sources are contaminated and require cleaning. Oxfam is looking at rehabilitation and water projects, and an emergency response mechanism for the whole island. Further to assessments of the floods, Oxfam is providing water via tube wells to 500 families. No epidemic diseases are reported and the Ministry of Health has stated that the health situation is under control.
Fighting in the Wanni region between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elan (LTTE) has intensified. The fighting is moving towards the towns of Mallavi and Palimpidi and is triggering displacement. Current estimations are of 3,500 people displaced in Mallavi, and 1,000 in Mannar. Existing relief stocks in the area are inadequate for the present amount of displaced people. For this reason, Oxfam is refraining from moving offices from Mallavi until absolutely necessary. Government stores and offices of various non-governmental organisations, including Oxfam, have already moved from Palimpidi to Illupai Kadavai on the coast.
Considerable rains during 1998 have meant an end to the critical water shortages experienced in the Wanni region, although water supply needs will continue in isolated areas and be created by further displacement. Oxfam is looking at new water sources, water surveillance (levels of underground water, salinity and contamination), and at rehabilitation of wells in emergency. Water salinity could become a major concern as the conflict continues to displace people to the west coast, where salinity is at its highest. Oxfam is also co-ordinating with other agencies to form a consensus on minimum standards for work in the area.
© Oxfam GB 1999