Column – Oxfam NZ
Oxfam NZ’s Barry Coates, is in the Horn of Africa. He writes: A couple of people asked me how Oxfam was able to get help through to people in war-torn Somalia, one of the most difficult areas of the world to work in. That’s a question I asked Oxfam …
Delivering Aid Doesn’t Get Much More Difficult Than This
Column – By Oxfam NZ’s Barry Coates, who is in the Horn of Africa. (Photo by Megan Anderson.)
When I told my Oxfam colleagues in Auckland that I was able to visit the Horn of Africa, I asked what questions they had about the Oxfam response. A couple of people asked me how Oxfam was able to get help through to people in war-torn Somalia, one of the most difficult areas of the world to work in. That’s a question I asked Oxfam Somalia staff and one of our partners who has been supported by donations from New Zealand, Guhad Muhammed Adan, program officer for the Social-Life and Agriculture Development Organisation – SADO.
As Oxfam, our approach is generally not to try to deliver aid ourselves, but in most cases, to support local grassroots organisations. SADO is one of those. It was formed in 1994 and primarily works in 100-kilometre area around the district of Bardera, part of the Gedo region of southeast Somalia. Their approach is to support committees of elders, women and local business leaders in villages and refugee camps that have sprung up all over the area.
Together with these committees, they identify the households that are most in need of help, using agreed criteria. The choice of these families and the amount of aid is posted on a notice board for all to see, ensuring transparency and to make sure the aid gets to the right families.
Perhaps most importantly, the relationships between Oxfam, SADO and the local communities makes the aid system possible. The local communities gain the permission of all the warring factions to allow humanitarian relief to get through without any payments or restrictions. SADO’s long standing relationships to support these committees is crucial.
The most direct and effective form of aid is cash. It would be impossible in those areas to transport food and other necessities. Food is available in the market towns, trucked in from the ports, so although the prices are higher than usual, people can buy it.
There is a robust system of ensuring that the cash is given to the right family, generally the woman as head of the household, with careful checks of identity by the committee and regular monitoring by SADO and Oxfam Somali staff. They even set up a fenced area to distribute cash where people come in through one door and leave through another so they can’t possibly come back around again.
SADO distributes other supplies to the target beneficiaries – hygiene kits, soap, water containers, tablets for purifying the water, mosquito nets and other essentials are also distributed, along with building latrines for the refugees, water supplies and hygiene education. Guhad reported that the latrines are particularly important for preventing the spread of disease that comes from open defecation, and particularly valued by women.
SADO is also supporting families to be able to restore their livelihoods. Most of the animals have died and the forthcoming harvest is likely to be way below their needs, even in the short term. But the rains are forecast to come in the next few weeks and seeds and tools, together with help for pastoralists to rebuild the herds of livestock, need to be geared up quickly. Most communities will struggle to survive on food aid, at least until the harvest in January to March period. Even if the rains do come soon, emergency aid will be needed at least until early next year.
The discussion was more involved than I am able to recount here. But the answer in Somalia about how to ensure that the aid gets through is not so different than our work in places like Papua New Guinea. It is about supporting local groups that have emerged from the community, building their capacity to be effective in supporting local leaders and setting up the checks and balances to ensure that the aid is transparent and accountable.
One of my questions to Guhad was about his relationship with Oxfam. He paused and said, “The only effective NGOs are the ones who do capacity building. Oxfam is the only one. I have learned about policies and emergency responses and longer term development with Oxfam.”
Maybe he was being nice because he knows I am from Oxfam but I don’t think so. Building for the future, including young leaders like Guhad, is crucial. We need to be working, not only on the crises today, but building the structures of society, in a country that has none, to make a better future.