Afghanistan + 7 more

OXFAM Emergencies Bulletin Dec 1999 Asia

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Afghanistan
Afghanistan has suffered appallingly through 19 years of civil war and subsequently has some of the worst indicators of human development in the world. The Taliban, an Islamic Fundamentalist party currently control 90% of the country, including the capital Kabul. Their government is not officially internationally recognised and President Rabbani, overthrown by the Taliban, still has a seat at the UN. In the north and the east of the country, warlords have joined together to form the Northern Alliance, fighting the Taliban before each rainy season.

The remote and mountainous region of Hazarajat in central Afghanistan is traditionally extremely food insecure due to a combination of natural and political forces. The Hazaras are of Mongolian descent and are subjected to abuse and repression from both sides of the civil conflict. They are subsistence farmers, but their livelihoods are vulnerable to the effects of war, and the wheat harvest often fails. Working with the UN Food Programme, Oxfam distributes food two or three times a year according to need, to the most vulnerable families in two districts of Hazarajhat. The programmes involve a cash for work element aimed at meeting the short term food needs of the most vulnerable, whilst at the same time contributing to long term food security in the area.

The World Food Programme has reported on the Taliban scorched earth policy during their summer offensive this year. This has resulted in 60,000 displaced to the north in the Panjshir Valley, where Oxfam is operating a relief and winterisation programme. The Anjooman Pass to the Panjshir Valley has now been made impassable by heavy snow, but the programme is being managed from Faizabad. 40 - 50,000 internally displaced people have also arrived in the capital, Kabul. Oxfam is trying to target food distributions to the most vulnerable of these displaced populations and is currently assessing ways to achieve this effectively. Oxfam still oversee the Afghanistan programme from Islamabad in Pakistan.

Pakistan

A devastating cyclone struck South Pakistan on 20 May 1999. Following local assessments the office requested support in conducting more extensive needs research and Oxfam provided water and sanitation equipment in response to life threatening need. Households are being helped to regain their previous standard of living through the provision of shelter, boats, livestock, water purification and health / hygiene education.

India

Oxfam is working on an India Disaster Report which will document and interpret disaster preparedness and response measures in relation to different forms of disasters in India. The publication will advocate and lobby for a rational Disaster Management Policy in India.

A year ago large areas of Assam, West Bengal and Bihar suffered immense devastation following successive waves of floods, causing vast displacement - 3 million in Assam, 400,000 in West Bengal, and 800,000 in Bihar. Damage to crops, stored food, seeds, housing, transport, communication infrastructure and cattle were enormous. Health, water, sanitation and shelter are on-going in Bihar, and health, water and sanitation in Assam.

This year, heavy rains in the Himalayan ranges and subsequent breaches in embankments have created severe flood & water-logging situations in Bihar, West Bengal & Assam. Oxfam is providing emergency relief such as plastic sheeting, food, clothes and medical assistance through partner NGOs to the worst affected populations. Recent flood relief in Northern Bengal and Bihar has specifically targeted landless poor and marginal farmers with food distribution, water and sanitation surveillance and hygiene promotion through local partners. There is a critical outbreak of malaria in twelve districts of Assam. Oxfam is providing curative and preventative measures such as medicines and mosquito nets for 100,000 people in 2 districts, Jorhat and Golaghat.

Oxfam is working through local partners to provide shelter materials and immediate relief to the victims of an earthquake in the Uttar Pradesh hills earlier this year.

Kashmir

In July 1999 conflict erupted between India and Pakistan across the line of control in Kashmir, displacing 26,000 people and ruining crops just prior to their harvest. A joint Oxfam assessment found that over 25,000 people had been displaced on the Indian side of the Line of Control in the Jammu and Kashmir areas. Winter in Kashmir is extremely harsh, and Oxfam is working in co-ordination with other organisations to distribute firewood and shelter materials for the displaced. Oxfam is also arranging an advocacy programme to raise awareness of the issues in this area.

Bangladesh

In July 1998, Bangladesh was hit by the worst floods this century, covering 70% of the country and affecting the livelihoods of 30 million people. Common and immediate problems included food shortages, huge price rises, loss of employment, disease, homelessness, loss of livestock, lack of clean water and sanitation, damaged infrastructure and destroyed schools. With winter imminent, Oxfam, working through local partners, made the reconstruction of over 10,000 homes their immediate priority. In a programme that lasted nine months, Oxfam distributed about 60,000 food parcels, provided over 20,000 families with seeds to grow new crops, and over 45,000 people with medical treatment. Development and disaster preparedness partners of Oxfam implemented the rehabilitation programme in the flood affected areas by focusing on agricultural rehabilitation, income & employment generation, rebuilding housing and sanitation, restoring tubewells and implementing flood preparedness measures through cash for work. This enabled people to recover their losses and re-start normal lives.

This year, flooding is also bad. At the beginning of May, following seven months of no rain, severe tornadoes and storms hit the northern parts of the country claiming lives and causing damage to properties and standing crops. The response programme provided emergency house reconstruction and clothes to the affected communities. Oxfam have sent an assessment team to identify needs and priorities, and funding has been obtained for potential hygiene promotion, water and sanitation provision, and for a one month food distribution to tide over flood hit populations until the next harvest in a months time.

Indonesia

Indonesia's 14,700 islands stretch 3,500 miles/5,600kms from east to west. In the 1980s Indonesia - the world's fourth most populous nation, became one of the "tiger economies". However, although poverty declined dramatically during the '80s, income inequalities increased. In the 1990s the situation in Indonesia began to decline beyond control. In 1997 El Niño struck bringing drought, wiping out harvests and damaging indigenous people's fragile livelihoods. Although the government's resources and relief systems were inadequate, they were unwilling to accept assistance from other countries. A plummeting rupiah, soaring inflation, massive capital flight, widespread corruption and nepotism continued to exacerbate Indonesia's economic and political turmoil. In a series of demonstrations led first by students, the Indonesian people called for President Soeharto's resignation. Widespread civil unrest, rioting and public pressure led Soeharto to resign in May 1998. Upon his resignation, Soeharto handed power to his handpicked Vice President, B.J. Habibie.

President Habibie quickly distanced himself from his predecessor's authoritarian "New Order" regime. He assembled a cabinet with a strong economic team; released a number of prominent political dissidents; initiated an investigation into those responsible for the rioting and looting; and lifted controls on the press, political parties, and labour unions. Habibie pledged to rewrite the political laws and hold elections.

Parliamentary elections took place in mid-1999 and were followed by Parliament's selection of President in October.

Oxfam has provided assessment and initial operational response in two locations for 60,000 Indonesian Internally Displaced People currently sheltering in abandoned buildings and tents. Emergency work will support the provision of potable water, sanitation, health and hygiene and shelter to populations displaced or affected by conflict.

In anticipation of the worsening security conditions leading up to and following the East Timor referendum, the Volunteer Team for Humanity, in co-operation with local organisations established an emergency mission for Internally Displaced People in East and West Timor. Oxfam helped to fund the establishment of two "lumbung" storage houses to secure the supply of basic needs during this critical period when delivery of aid would be difficult.

Since the settling of the conflict in East Timor, military personnel and equipment pulled out of the country have relocated to the island of Flores, creating a tense and volatile situation here.

Oxfam is working through Sikep, an NGO with a focus on empowerment of farmers through organic farming. Sikep responds to floods in Central Java, aiming to strengthen the capacity of the affected communities to cope with the floods, treat and prevent the spread of disease and organise the community to plan flood mitigation and preparedness.

Timor

On 4 September 1999 78.5% of the 870,000 population of East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia in a UN-brokered election. Pro-independence militia backed by the Indonesian army commenced a violent, one-sided campaign to end any possibility of independence for the East Timorese, causing the mass displacement of over 250,000 people with many more unaccounted for. The majority of the displaced crossed the mountainous border to West Timor with many settling in the militia controlled camps just over the border.

NGOs and other agencies were unable to respond to the crisis until UN peace-keeping troops had secured parts of the country. Indonesian troops left East Timor between 29 - 31 October, and refugees began to return. 105,000 have so far crossed the border from West to East Timor, but the whereabouts of the population that remained in East Timor is still not totally known. The border area between East and West Timor remains largely under the control of anti-independence militias.

Oxfam have been working with the displaced in East Timor since February and were making contingency plans for further work. Since the start of the current crisis Oxfam have been operating as part of an Oxfam International programme led by Community Aid Abroad, Oxfam in Australia. We have taken the lead in water and sanitation, providing emergency water supplies, remedial work on urban water systems and broader community based public health programmes. As potentially large numbers of refugees return home, 13 sites have been identified to set up way-station support, including water and sanitation facilities.

In West Timor Oxfam GB has implemented a small-scale response through local partners focusing on shelter/non-food items, whilst Oxfam International is preparing a programme to assist the IDP's.

Vietnam

Vietnam has been struck by heavy rains this autumn, causing burst river banks and severe flooding along the countries central provinces. Many lives have been lost, and crops and homes destroyed. Oxfam are currently supporting the Vietnamese Red Cross in their response to the floods.

Cambodia

Years of fighting during the 1970s and 80s devastated Cambodia's infrastructure, and caused extreme social economic and political dislocation, and psychological and physical trauma for the population. Cambodia remains one of the world's poorest countries.

Oxfam have been working since 1994 with HU, a British NGO, on implementing a Community Health Project focusing on emergency assistance and providing appropriate health services to respond to cholera epidemic outbreaks in the villages of Ratanakiri province. Medicines, medical supplies and water and sanitation equipment have been provided and local staff have been trained as health workers.

Oxfam is supporting the Cambodian Red Cross to assist refugees returning from Thailand to the four northeast provinces by providing 1,000 household kits and rice seed for their resettlement. Malaria has reached epidemic proportions in the remote rural areas of Siem Reap and Prah Vihear provinces, and Oxfam is supporting the CRC response programme among the internally displaced and poor populations of the area by providing impregnated mosquito nets.

China

In 1998 China witnessed the worst flooding this century, affecting an estimated 240 million people in central, south east and northern China. In response to the floods, Oxfam Hong Kong, part funded by Oxfam GB assessed flood response activities and implemented a house rebuilding programme in Jiangxi province.

Philippines

Spread over 1,600 km from north to south and 1,200 km from west to east, roughly 7,100 islands make up the Philippines archipelago. The two largest are the islands of Luzon in the north, where Manila, the capital, is situated, and Mindanao in the south. Being part of the Pacific 'Ring of Fire', the islands contain many active volcanoes and the country is also vulnerable to typhoons, earthquakes and tidal waves.

Industrial environmental destruction is taking place at a rapid rate in the Philippines, disrupting the lives of millions of urban and rural populations, including many indigenous communities, and communities of small farmers and landless farm workers, and traditional fisher-folk.

Early this year, Oxfam supported TRIPOD, a regional disaster agency based in Cotabato City to implement a disaster preparedness programme in high risk areas. The project delivered seven kilos of rice each to 2,604 displaced families in Talayan, Maguindanao.

Following heavy rains in the North East of the region in late January and continued civil conflict in the central area, Oxfam initiated a water and sanitation programme to address the problem of contaminated water sources. Oxfam is working with partners on an emergency response project for 4,000 families affected by lingering floods in Luzon,Mindanao. These families have not received sufficient relief assistance from government agencies and the project aims to help sustain them in the recovery period as they re-establish their livelihoods.