A week in the life of a humanitarian agency (it really is all kicking off everywhere)

August 1, 2014

     By Duncan Green     

To give people a better feel for our humanitarian work in Gaza, Syria and elsewhere, I thought I’d share the contents (unedited, but with a few explanatory links added + pics) of the weekly internal email that drops into Oxfam staff’s inboxes. It summarizes in pithy form what our humanitarian colleagues are up to – I think it captures the unique blend of technical jargon, an obsession with numbers and profound human need that characterizes their (amazing) work:

“EMERGENCIES HEADLINES from around the world, 30th July 2014


South Sudan

Oxfam continue to prepare for the possibility of a famine being declared in the coming year in South Sudan but it is still not known when specifically the Integrated Food

Access to water in South Sudan

Access to water in South Sudan

Security Phase Classification which determines if there is famine will make a declaration on this. The situation however whether there is a famine in South Sudan declared or not, a significant food crisis in South Sudan continues. There will be a small harvest in December in South Sudan that could improve the food security situation but it’s expected that things will sadly worsen in 2015 in terms of food insecurity in the country.


There are now 175,000 South Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia. In the Tierkidi Camp (previously known as Kule 2) where Oxfam are working there is now 50,000 refugees. Oxfam has so far delivered water to 100,000 people in Kule 1, the Tierkidi camps and Pagak reception centre. Oxfam are also building latrines, doing public health promotion and solid waste management.


Nothing new to report this week


Ebola virus outbreak

The Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa has now killed 673 people with just over 1,200 cases, making this the worst Ebola outbreak in history. So far it has spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone with it breaking out firstly in Guinea. A Liberian man travelled to Nigeria recently with Ebola, and there is a risk the virus could spread further.

In Sierra Leone Oxfam are distributing leaflets and posters so that people understand how best to avoid Ebola and what they should do if they contract the virus. Oxfam staff are constantly speaking to other agencies to see what we can do to assist in Liberia.

Girl collecting her schoolbooks from Gaza's rubble

Girl collecting her schoolbooks from Gaza’s rubble



Monday evening saw one of the heaviest bombardments on Gaza. So far since the conflict began, 1,118 Gazans have been killed and 240,000 people have been internally displaced. This is a massive number considering the size of the Gaza strip and its population. Israel recently ordered all Gazans to leave a 3km buffer zone along the Israeli border. This amounts to 40% of the size of Gaza and will mean more people will be displaced, and now in an even smaller area. Gaza’s only power plant was recently destroyed. This will impact on electricity significantly and therefore Gaza’s water supply and sewage treatment facilities.

Oxfam’s response has so far reached 80,588 beneficiaries. 58,000 of these people have been reached with safe and clean water, and another 15,981 have received food vouchers. The continuous fighting has made working in Gaza extremely difficult but it is hoped if a ceasefire is agreed and holds for a reasonable amount of time Oxfam can scale up its response in Gaza.



In Pakistan, there are still 995,000 people internally displaced in North Waziristan with 74% of those displaced are women and children. Oxfam are currently water tankering on a daily basis and so far 195,000 litrs of chlorinated drinking water has been supplied to 9,545 beneficiaries who are residing in schools and the community. The team in Pakistan have also distributed 1,232 hygiene kits to families benefitting 16,016 individuals. Our overall beneficiary number now stands at 28,588.



Oxfam in Colombia is about to respond to a drought crisis that is currently hitting the country. It is estimated that 350,000 families are being affected from three regions: the Caribbean, Andina and the Pacific North (the North West of the country). The phenomenon of El Niño, which is not officially declared, is severely hitting this area and Central American countries like Honduras and Guatemala. Oxfam, together with FAO and UNGRD, will start mapping the livelihood situation in the driest areas in order to start a response to protect livelihoods of the most vulnerable people and to start mitigation actions to alleviate the drought consequences.


Digital technology in humanitarian responses

Oxfam are increasingly using digital technology such as mobile phones in our humanitarian responses. The use of digital technology to register beneficiaries will improve accountability, improve databases of beneficiaries and make it easier to analyse the data. Oxfam have recently been piloting Last Mile Mobile Solutions (LMMS) technology in the Philippines as part of our response to Typhoon Haiyan. LMMS uses a handheld device to register beneficiaries information, and ultimately produce a bar-coded photo card. When swiped, the card produces the information needed to determine and distribute food and non food items. So far it has been used by 12 agencies in 23 different countries, and it is anticipated that this type of technology will become the standard for beneficiary information.”

August 1, 2014
Duncan Green