Oxfam’s humanitarian year 2015

As we move into 2016 Tim Bierley, Oxfam Humanitarian Administrator, looks back at the highs and lows of Oxfam's work responding to emergencies around the world over the last year.

2015 saw vast new challenges arise and old ones persist. War and conflict continued to hit Yemen, Syria and South Sudan hard, and we saw further refugee crises in the wake of violence in Burundi. Meanwhile, the effects of a particularly strong El Niño took hold, bringing severe drought to parts of Africa, Latin America and the Pacific. A devastating earthquake hit Nepal, while floods caused destruction in Myanmar, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. This is how Oxfam responded:

January 2015

The year begins with snowstorms hitting parts of Lebanon and Jordan exacerbating the existing hardships bourn by Syrian refugees. Oxfam reinforces and waterproofs shelters, and provides water supplies to replace those that freeze over.

Challenging water supply engineering work in Melut, South Sudan, is completed, and later singled out for praise by the UN. Teams in Southern Africa begin supporting 32,000 people in Malawi after severe flooding. Oxfam GB's CEO Mark Goldring visits Liberia and Sierra Leone to highlight the need for massive recovery efforts as the Ebola crisis begins to wane.


Plans are underway to expand Oxfam's work in Syria beyond the water infrastructure support that has already helped millions, including 3 million people in Aleppo - to direct health promotion work in communities.  

In Jordan, ground-breaking designs are finalised for a camp-wide water network to link every household in Za'atari camp to its own water supply, replacing expensive water trucking.

New violence in Democratic Republic of Congo leads Oxfam to begin supporting 50,000 newly displaced people. And peace negotiations in Yemen fall into disarray, leading to serious concerns for the country, Oxfam's program and staff.


The UN asks Oxfam to design and build the water network for a new camp in Ethiopia which will house South Sudanese refugees. Meanwhile, the Oxfam report Ebola is Still Here vividly communicates the opinions of women and men affected by Ebola to politicians and the international aid world. In the Pacific, Cyclone Pam devastates Vanuatu and Oxfam responds immediately.

Oxfam's engineers launch a collaboration with the University of the West of England to trial 'urinetricity,' a process of using urine to create electricity which will provide low-cost lighting. This could make a particularly big difference in temporary camps, where lighting keeps people safe.

Oxfam supplied and installed a water tank in the Huth camp for internally displaced people. Photo: Hind Aleryani/Oxfam

Oxfam supplied and installed a water tank in the Huth camp for internally displaced people. Many families left Sa'dah and travelled to Huth due to the ongoing conflict in Yemen. Photo: Hind Aleryani/Oxfam


Oxfam evacuates international staff from Yemen as security deteriorates. Oxfam programs continue thanks to national staff managing to distribute urgent cash grants and water as prices rocket and fuel supplies dwindle.

We put several tons of water equipment on standby in our Oxfordshire, UK warehouse and begin to negotiate getting it to Yemen.

Nepal is hit by an earthquake which destroys whole villages and makes millions homeless. Local staff respond within hours of the disaster, and a whole team of technical experts are on the first planes into Kathmandu.


Within two weeks of the Nepal earthquake, we set up systems to deliver water to over 50,000 people, despite difficult terrain and damaged roads. By the end of May, we manage to reach 150,000 people.

After elections in Burundi, 40,000 people flee to neighboring countries in fear of violence. Staff help Burundians arriving in DRC, and assess needs of people who have fetched up on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania.

In Ethiopia, the spectre of another water shortage begins to loom in Somali region, and staff set up a water tanking operation to help 10,000 people.

Planned peace talks for Yemen are postponed, deepening the fears for lives, health and livelihoods. Oxfam staff continue to supply water in the governorates of Hodeidah and Amran.


The Tanzanian authorities allow Burundian refugees to settle at a pre-existing camp where Oxfam worked with Rwandan refugees 20 years ago - some of our old water networks are still working!

In Haiti, a rise in cholera cases means we extend our cholera prevention work across the North and Central zones.

Our team in Syria complete a reverse-osmosis plant to extract and treat groundwater contaminated with hydrogen sulphide for 35,000 people. Meanwhile, we send a team of international staff back into Yemen. And the world receives the first warnings of an impending El Niño effect - the climatic phenomenon that causes severe weather disruption across the world.

Jerry cans waiting to be filled with clean water at a newly installed water point, Juba, South Sudan. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

Jerry cans waiting to be filled with clean water at a newly installed water point, Juba, South Sudan. An outbreak of cholera in this area highlighted the importance of clean water for the camps residents. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam


South Sudan marks its fourth birthday, with two-thirds of its population lacking the food they need to stay healthy.

The monsoons arrive in Nepal, and bring further misery to homeless people, causing severe landslides. Local staff, undeterred by sheeting rain, walk miles through hills to isolated villages to fix water supplies, and improve sanitation.

Work begins in Ethiopia to build the water network in Jewi camp to provide for 50,000 people. The revamped teams in Yemen quickly get to work and plan to target 300,000 people over the following six weeks.


In Pakistan Oxfam begins working with a local partner and the authorities to distribute basic essentials and help evacuate people and cattle after monsoons and deadly flooding.

Severe rains also hit Myanmar making hundreds of thousands of people homeless, and we give immediate support to communities in the areas we work in. The predicted El Niño effect starts to show signs in weather patterns across the world. Food crises loom in Ethiopia, Malawi and Zimbabwe.

In Yemen the situation becomes even worse with airstrikes and the closure of ports; nevertheless, Oxfam has reached 300,000 so far this financial year, largely with safe drinking water.


The effects of El Niño grow starker, with 11 countries across Central and Latin America facing severe and worsening droughts. Oxfam begins its response by giving out emergency cash grants to 20,000 people in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Colombia, while ramping up water trucking, provision of animal feed and support for animal vaccinations in drought affected-areas of Ethiopia. Basic goods are also provided to communities devastated by heavy rainfall around the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh.


The rainy season is set to hit Tanzania so Oxfam prepares to move some refugees out of one particularly flood-prone camp. In refugee camps in Italy Oxfam starts distributing blankets, as well as other practical goods that can be worn or carried.

There is bleak news in South Sudan with 80% more people in need of food than last year. Some light shines through though, including the story of Elena, who we find out is still running a restaurant set up with Oxfam's help several years ago. In Ethiopia, the government declares that 8.2m people will be in need of food by December.

Hassan Hussein, a refugee from Syria, pleads with police to allow his family into a registration center for migrants and refugees in Preševo, southern Serbia, on October 5, 2015. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

Hassan Hussein, a refugee from Syria, pleads with police to allow his family into a registration center for migrants and refugees in Preševo, southern Serbia, on October 5, 2015. After registering, the refugees here are given a 72-hour permit to travel onwards through Serbia to Croatia. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam


There is a spike in the number of refugees arriving in Europe. Oxfam continues to provide information points to help refugees navigate both tough journeys and legal minefields. Oxfam provides food as well as water and sanitation facilities on the Greek island of Lesbos, while handing out winter clothing in Serbia.

The rains come in Tanzania, badly affecting refugee camps: latrines are washed away, while water trucks struggle to make it through swampy tracks.

Six months pass since the Nepal earthquake, and Oxfam has now reached nearly 450,000 people. In Ethiopia, Oxfam prepares to scale up provision of water and sanitation facilities in the worst hit areas.


Oxfam joins the clean-up operation after heavy flooding in southern India, distributing hygiene kits and dry food rations, aiming to reach 48,000 people.

The current and projected impact of the El Niño drought in Ethiopia leads the Ethiopian government to stop food exports to South Sudan. Oxfam attempts to mitigate the impact of this by distributing food vouchers, which support local markets as well as keeping people fed.

Papua New Guinea is also affected by drought, Oxfam continues public health promotion and aims to reach 114,000 people with water supplies and livelihood support.

As we enter 2016 Oxfam staff and partners remain hard at work responding to ongoing conflicts and disasters around the world, and they won't stop doing all they can to help people in crisis situations.

This entry originally posted by Tim Bierley, Oxfam Humanitarian Administrator, on 31 December 2015, on Oxfam GB.

Top photo: Oxfam distributes hygiene kits in Sankhu. The kits contain a bucket for clean water, a bar of soap, oral rehydration salts, and towels, helping people to meet their basic sanitation needs. Oxfam has also provided the community with emergency latrines to help prevent the outbreak of infectious diseases. Credit: Aubrey Wade/Oxfam

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