COVID-19 forces major charity group to stop operation in 18 countries


Oxfam International has announced it will close operations in 18 countries after it emerged that the global aid organisation had been bleeding cash during the coronavirus crisis.

The announcement that it will close operations in countries, including Afghanistan and Haiti, has prompted fears that regions are being abandoned just as the coronavirus pandemic makes them more vulnerable.

Already trying to deal with a drop in public donations after the Haiti sex abuse scandal in 2018, Oxfam’s finances have been further hit by having to close its shops as a result of coronavirus restrictions, losing £5m every month.

Civil society groups and social workers are concerned the dramatic changes might signal a scaling-back of the role NGOs play in providing vital services.

Social worker Modaser Islami said the closure of Oxfam’s Afghanistan office, which opened in 1961, will leave big gaps in aid provision, especially in rural areas.

“The issue right now is not about improving our situation, it’s about surviving. There are more and more people coming on to the streets asking for help and without it, they say they wouldn’t be able to eat,” said Islami.

He fears the Afghan government is not in a strong enough position to support the country’s poorest if aid groups begin leaving and foreign governments do not help plug the gap.

“It’s most worrying because the type of work Oxfam has been doing improved livelihoods in rural areas where most others don’t reach, both aid groups and governments,” he said. “They have no other sources of incomes, just a little land, and face challenges getting healthcare, also education.”

Oxfam closures will affect offices in Asia, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean, and result in the loss of 1,450 programme staff.

Pedro Vega, a member of a farmers’ association in Paraguay that received support from Oxfam, said the NGO’s withdrawal was a great loss.

“Oxfam helped our association to make a very important leap forward,” he said. “It showed that if NGOs’ projects are well implemented, they can create change, help construct a different way of living in the countryside and get our produce the real value that it deserves.”

Oxfam has been in Paraguay for 28 years and worked collaboratively with more than 60 local organisations on projects including those promoting women’s rights and sustainable development.

In a statement, ÓscarLópez, head of Oxfam Paraguay, said: “We hope that our contribution to strengthening civil society will continue to bear fruit.”

Carlos Mejia, the executive director of Oxfam in Colombia, said: “The decision to leave countries was anything but easy, it was a painful decision.”

Insiders say Oxfam’s restructuring is expected to impact other parts of the charity in the coming weeks, including at its Oxford headquarters in the UK.

An Oxfam GB spokesperson said that aside from the announcements made by the international charity, its largest national affiliate will now have to reduce its expenditure and review plans made before the pandemic. (Source: The Guardian)