Oxfam America

Forty percent of the people on our planet-more than 2.5 billion-now live in poverty, struggling to survive on less than $2 a day.Oxfam America is an international relief and development organization working to change that. Together with individuals and local groups in more than 90 countries, Oxfam saves lives, helps people overcome poverty, and fights for social justice. To join our efforts or learn more, go to www.oxfamamerica.org.
Nov 4, 2014

Fall 2014 Update: Syrian refugee crisis

Girls collect water in Zatari camp
Girls collect water in Zatari camp
Updated Sept. 2014

When the Arab Spring swept through the region in 2011, the government of President Bashar Al-Assad was targeted by citizens for reform. But when demonstrators were met with force, the movement quickly evolved into a full-scale uprising.

The country has since been ravaged by armed conflict between the Syrian army and pro-government paramilitary forces and an array of rebel groups. The UN estimates that more than 191,000 people have died. More than 3 million others, half of whom are children, have fled to neighboring countries. Inside Syria, the number of people in need is now estimated at 10.8 million—almost half of the country’s total population of 22 million.

Oxfam has helped nearly 1.5 million people. But as this crisis continues to intensify, aid agencies and regional governments are struggling to cope with the massive numbers of Syrians in need of vital humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is calling on parties to the conflict to ensure that people have access to that assistance. We are urging donors to fully fund the aid response and governments around the world to step up and provide increased resettlement options for refugees.

In Syria

In partnership with the Syrian Ministry of Water Resources, UNICEF, and other aid providers, Oxfam is now providing clean water to Syrians inside their country. We estimate that we are helping to reach about a million people.

We have been helping to repair water systems and in some cases providing new sources, such as wells. Despite numerous constraints, Oxfam has been able to transport essential equipment, such as generators, from Lebanon. Two of the generators have been sent to help power huge water treatment plants near Damascus. The government of Syria estimates that 35 percent of the country’s water treatment plants have been damaged and a lack of maintenance, electricity, and funds is leading to a rapid decrease in available water.

In Jordan and Lebanon

Since the start of 2014, Oxfam has reached nearly half a million refugees in Jordan and Lebanon with clean drinking water or cash and relief supplies, such as blankets and stoves in winter and vouchers for hygiene supplies in summer. We are also helping families get the information they need about their legal and human rights and connecting them to medical and legal services.

In both countries, we have built blocks of bathing stalls and toilets for families living in refugee camps or in informal settlements. We are also developing piped water networks for the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan and for host communities in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.


Aug 4, 2014

Update on Syria Refugee Crisis

Water tank in Zaatari Camp
Water tank in Zaatari Camp

How we're responding

Updated August 2014

When the Arab Spring swept through the region in 2011, the government of President Bashar Al-Assad was targeted by citizens for reform. But when demonstrators were met with force, the movement quickly evolved into a full-scale uprising.

The country has since been ravaged by armed conflict between the Syrian army and pro-government paramilitary forces and an array of rebel groups. While the UN , citing the difficulty of verification, has stopped counting the number of people killed, some news groups have estimated the death toll at higher than 160,000. More than 2.9 million people, half of whom are children, have fled to neighboring countries. Inside Syria, the number of people in need is now estimated at 10.8 million.

Oxfam has helped more than 1.3 million people. But as this crisis continues to intensify, aid agencies and regional governments are struggling to cope with the massive numbers of Syrians in need of vital humanitarian assistance.

In Syria

Oxfam is now delivering clean drinking water to nearly 600,000 people inside Syria, in partnership with the Syrian Ministry of Water Resources, UNICEF, and other aid providers. We have installed four truck-sized generators to power water-treatment plants that are serving the city and province of Damascus.

The generators—the first of 18 to be installed—are providing electricity to water-treatment plants connected to springs that have been supplying Syrians with water since ancient times. The new equipment prevents power outages from interrupting the flow of clean water.

Working for solutions

Oxfam is also campaigning for a political solution to the conflict, advocating for the inclusion of voices from civil society into the peace process and for a halt to the flow of arms and ammunition to all sides of the conflict.

In Jordan

In the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, we’re providing people with water and sanitation facilities that include toilets, shower stalls, and places to do laundry. The water and sanitation blocks include toilets designed for the elderly and people with disabilities; the blocks that lack electricity are lit with solar lamps. We’re also coordinating hygiene training to prevent the spread of life-threatening diseases.

Outside Zaatari, we are providing support to refugees living in informal settlements and communities. Some live in tents, others in crowded apartments. We are distributing hygiene products and water filters to ensure people have safe water to drink and we are supporting families with money to help them pay their rent and purchase essentials. Oxfam is also working with a local partner to provide support sessions and legal advice for refugees as well as the communities hosting them.

In Lebanon

Oxfam is providing vulnerable families with cash assistance and vouchers to help them afford safe housing, food, and basic goods and services. We are improving water, sanitation, and hygiene conditions in households, as well as in collective centers, to ensure people—many of whom are living in temporary settlements—have access to safe water and sanitation facilities.

Child washing hands in Zaatari refugee camp
Child washing hands in Zaatari refugee camp


May 7, 2014

Syria Crisis Emergency Update

Credit -Sam Tarling/ Oxfam
Credit -Sam Tarling/ Oxfam

Since our response began we estimate that we’ve reached close to a million people on the ground – 600,000 people in Syria and 330,000 refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. And at the same time we are continuing to campaign for a permanent ceasefire and an end to the bloodshed.


The effort of the Jordanian government and public in welcoming refugees has been considerable. Currently Jordan is hosting over half a million refugees. The majority are not living in refugee camps, but are dispersed across the country in rented accommodation or tented settlements. So far during the current response, we have helped over 125,000 people as part of our integrated programmes, designed to provide people with the support they actually need. This can include: providing water, sanitation and hygiene kits to prevent the spread of disease; distributing cash or vouchers to buy food or pay rent; or working to ensure a safe environment – especially for women and girls, who face increased dangers having been displaced from their homes.

As the crisis continues, demands will rise for services like health and education, and put increased pressure on water supplies and housing. And much of the impact will fall on local Jordanians. This is why our programmes have been designed to reach both refugees and host communities. Our work currently covers the refugee camp at Za’atari, as well as tented settlements and host communities in Jawa, the Jordan Valley, Balqa and Zarqa districts.

Za’atari refugee camp

At the end of 2013, Za’atari camp had become the fourth biggest population centre in Jordan. It now houses around 107,000 Syrian refugees over three times more than the camp was originally designed for. Oxfam is helping to provide safe water and sanitation. A camp this large is divided into 12 districts, and we are currently working in three of them. We supervise water and sanitation, and oversee rubbish management and the cleaning and maintenance of wash blocks (which have toilet, washing and laundry facilities). We also co-ordinate the distribution of hygiene kits, and activities that promote good hygiene practices such as public events, educational materials, and child-to-child schemes. Working closely with community leaders, we can identify vulnerable households and refer families requiring support, such as health and legal advice, to agencies that can help. Refugee leaders also tell us about problems they are facing, and we work together to find solutions. This includes encouraging refugees to work for Oxfam promoting good hygiene practices.

Projections estimate that many refugees will be in the camps for years to come. Therefore, we are looking at more permanenti nfrastructure and services that need to be put in place, including a water system, rubbish collection and maintenance committees.


At the moment water is supplied by trucks, which is expensive. Oxfam has completed a plan for a water system to supply the entire Za’atari camp, pumping water to feed the wash blocks and tap stands. Installation should begin in summer 2014. A further hygiene kit distribution for 20-30,000 people is planned, accompanied by hygiene promotion activities. We are also looking to introduce rubbish management and recycling activities in all three Oxfam districts, along with forming and training 41 water and sanitation committees to maintain and clean 100 wash blocks.

We are supporting and advising the body with the responsibility for overseeing operations, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), on implementing the new Za’atari camp governance system that will determine how facilities and resources are managed, and how decisions are made in the camp. Oxfam is consulting with refugees to ensure the voices of women and vulnerable groups are represented in the design and implementation of this system.


Although Za’atari camp is very large, 80% of Syrian refugees in Jordan – more than 350,000 people – are living outside the camp in host communities around the country. This could mean renting rooms, garages or unoccupied buildings, or living in unofficial settlements in tents or constructing their own shelters out of wood, cardboard and plastic sheeting. Providing assistance to people so widely spread and living in such diverse circumstances is difficult and costly. Oxfam teams have overcome the logistical challenges to deliver:

  • access to safe drinking water for 3,685 families by providing water filters and hygiene items. These distributions are also accompanied by sessions on water conservation and hygiene promotion.
  • cash transfers to more than 1,500 vulnerable families – mainly those who are not receiving financial support from UNHCR – who are struggling to afford safe housing or meet basic needs. Cash is versatile and enables people to pay for whatever they need – food, soap, clothes, rent or medical bills. Oxfam deposits cash into an account and issues people with ATM cards that they can use to access cash at a time and place convenient for them.


Lebanon is about the size of Conneticut. However, its existing population of just over four million has grown by nearly 25% over recent years due to the influx of Syrian refugees. At the end of 2013, there were over 898,000 registered Syrian refugees, according to UNHCR, with an additional 46,000 awaiting registration, and claims by the Lebanese government put actual refugee numbers even higher. For a country that is suffering from acute socio-economic problems and political instability, and that has not yet fully repaired its own services and infrastructure after a succession of wars, the impact of the Syria crisis has been enormous.

In January 2013, we began scaling up humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and by March this year we had reached more than 205,000 vulnerable people. However, people are notliving in clearly identifiable camps. They are living in rented rooms, garages and outbuildings, or in unofficial tented settlements, often in remote areas. Our initial response was focused on helping people, many of whom had fled with nothing, to cope with the cold weather, by distributing stoves, fuel and vouchers for non-food items. Working with local partners, as the year progressed our programme has expanded to cover cash and voucher distribution, and water, sanitation and hygiene promotion.

We are providing vulnerable households with cash (for rent) and vouchers (for food, hygiene items and kitchen utensils). This has provided a lifeline for families whose savings are running out and who are struggling to meet their basic needs. Cash gives families dignity and choice, and over 8,000 households have been helped by the scheme to date. During 2013, we helped to provide 5,659 families in tented settlements, collective shelters, rented accommodation and host communities in Tripoli and Bekaa with access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene facilities. This included water trucking, providing water tanks, constructing and repairing latrines and bathing facilities. We continue to work alongside community health volunteers who are responsible for co-ordinating the maintenance of such shared facilities, as well as monitoring and reporting on disease and public health outbreaks such as scabies, lice or diarrhoea. Currently, there are more than 180 community health volunteers working with us.


The government of Syria estimates that 35% of water treatment plants have been damaged during the conflict and there are concerns over the quality of drinking water and pollution or contamination of water sources. Since mid-July 2013, Oxfam has had an office inside Syria, working alongside ICRC, UNICEF, Syrian Arab Red Crescent and other agencies, responding to the urgent need for water. We are working in co-ordination with the Syrian Ministry of Water Resources, which controls the country’s centralised water systems. Syria’s water installations are regionally located with piped networks distributing water across large areas. Despite the conflict, local water boards continue to function in some areas regardless of who is in control, government or opposition.

We judge that working from inside Damascus is currently a key way we can reach as many people in need as possible, and we are closely monitoring the impartiality of our work.

 Since 27 November 2013, Oxfam, together with the ministry and the local water boards, has been delivering safe, clean water to over an estimated 500,000 people. This is thanks to the installation of multiple truck-sized generators that power two water treatment plants in Damascus city and the surrounding province (Rif Damascus). These generators are the first of 18 to be installed, and are powering plants connected to two springs that have been supplying Syrians with water since ancient times. The new generators enable the huge water processing plants to treat and pump more than 700,000 additional litres of water per hour, uninterrupted by power outages. Our engineers are working closely with Syrian counterparts to design technical solutions to improve water supplies in areas that are in particular need such as Hama, Idlib and Damascus. This will increase the water available to those affected by the conflict or who have been displaced without adequate water supplies.

Working inside Syria is challenging due to insecurity and bureaucracy, with staff deployment, travel and logistics all requiring many levels of clearance. These challenges will continue, however we do still manage to work within the constraints. For example:

  • we filmed and translated into Arabic the training we provide on water tank installations to make sure local engineers in inaccessible areas can still use them.
  • despite the conflict, we have been able to clear essential equipment through the border with Lebanon, including the generators, and other essential water equipment.


There are ways of working that define all our activities across the region.

Protection - keeping people safe

Oxfam aims to ensure all its humanitarian programmes are ‘safe programmes’ that avoid causing inadvertent harm and are conflict sensitive. Whatever we do and wherever we work, our staff apply this approach, and it has significantly contributed to the quality of our programmes. We are also pro-active in conducting assessments of local problems and raising awareness of organisations that can provide support in areas such as gender-based violence, paying school fees, rent or eviction problems, and medical services. In Jordan, we work with a local partner, ARDD-Legal Aid, to offer support sessions and legal entitlement advice for refugees and host community members. In Lebanon, we organise sessions that bring together refugees and host communities to discuss and resolve issues, reduce tensions and promote integration. We have also set up a referral mechanism by which refugees can be connected to specialist medical, legal and child support services.

Monitoring and evaluation – ensuring our programmes are effective

We put in place measures to ensure our programmes are effective and are meeting people’s needs. We have feedback mechanisms such as a free telephone feedback hotline in Jordan, which are widely communicated. When we carry out a distribution of hygiene kits or cash and vouchers, we have a staffed desk where participants can comment on the process and items received, and we interview every tenth person on the way out. We also arrange home visits to speak with a sample of the participants to check how well the assistance given met their needs. We always ensure that our teams hear the feedback, and adjust their plans accordingly. For example, in Jordan the feedback hotline receives up to 450 calls a week. We doubled the number of sanitary towels in the hygiene kits after a number of women reported that they didn’t have enough for all the women and girls in their family.

Gender – putting women’s rights at the heart of our work

Oxfam is committed to promoting gender equality in all our programmes. We know that emergencies affect men and women differently due to gender roles and responsibilities, which, in turn, create different expectations. Also cultural norms and practices may prevent women’s free movement and their ability to take advantage of available services or resources.

In Lebanon, Oxfam works with a local organisation called Najdeh to provide support to refugee women living in Palestinian camps (this includes many Palestinians who were refugees in Syria who have had to move on again). We aim to empower women by combating gender stereotyping in the Palestinian and Lebanese communities, which involves challenging conservative communities’ culture and traditions. Najdeh runs workshops to raise awareness of gender-based violence and women’s rights; helps women who have suffered domestic violence to get support such as legal advice and counselling; provides safe space for women to talk and share experiences; and holds workshops on child protection (educational, social and health issues) for both mothers and fathers.

In Jordan, a survey we carried out in Za’atari camp revealed that people are highly dependent on aid. But women, who usually have to care for the family, are rarely heard when they raise concerns about how aid is organised, planned and delivered. They also said they had time and energy to invest in making things better. As a result, we are empowering women to take on leading roles, and ensuring that their views are included in the design of the UNHCR’s future governance plan for the camp.


“For many refugees, hope of returning to Syria sometime soon is dwindling. They are living in limbo, battling each day to survive, with little idea of what the future holds. That must change. Syrians deserve better than this.” -Andy Baker, Syria Crisis Response lead for Oxfam.

As the conflict has escalated in Syria, we have not only increased our humanitarian work across the region, we have also vigorously campaigned for the rights of all people affected by the crisis: to ensure that their voices are heard; for the delivery of a strong humanitarian response in Syria and the wider region; and for governments around the world to use their influence to find a political solution to the crisis. We work with partners and with those people affected to lobby governments, and to raise the profile of the crisis in the media and other avenues.

What we’ve done

  • In 2013, Oxfam and partners mobilised over 100,000 people to call for urgent progress on inclusive peace talks to find a political, non-military solution to the conflict. We generated high-profile media coverage around the G8 summit and UN General Assembly to focus on the hopes of ordinary Syrians and demand talks.


  • We encouraged international donors to increase desperately needed funding for the response including through our analysis of each country’s ‘fair share’. It was recorded that our reports had helped governments make the argument in favour of spending on Syria despite challenging domestic economic conditions.


  • We successfully influenced national debates – including in parliaments – on arms transfers into Syria that would further fuel the conflict.


  • Although the second round of the Geneva peace talks failed to reach a conclusion in February, we have continued to work with international and national partners to lobby states and the UN to invest in a formal mechanism for wider civil engagement – especially by women – in the process. We are planning a trip with women’s leaders in March to lobby the UN in New York.


  • Working closely with UN and other operational partners, we helped to strengthen the quality of the response in Syria’s neighbouring countries. This included pushing for better programme coordination and increased responsiveness to refugees’ needs by highlighting the plight of refugees through research.

Priorities for 2014

  • Standing alongsided a wide range of other humanitarian and human rights agencies as part of the #WithSyria campaign, we will ensure that the crisis is not forgotten by the public or national governments. It will push leaders to do everything they can to influence all parties involved in the conflict to end the bloodshed and urgently improve humanitarian access for the many millions of people desperately in need of aid inside Syria.


  • We will continue to work closely with governments and other organisations in Syria and the wider region delivering the humanitarian response to ensure that long-term approaches are developed. Even if the conflict were to end tomorrow, people who have been so devastatingly affected by the crisis would still need assistance for years to come.


  • We will push for an inclusive political process and work to support Syrian civil organisations, including women’s groups, to engage in and influence negotiations.

Get the latest on Oxfam’s response at www.oxfam.org/syria

Credit - Lucy Brinicombe/Oxfam
Credit - Lucy Brinicombe/Oxfam