Oxfam India’s Response to Natural Disasters

Oxfam India’s Response to Natural Disasters

Oxfam and later Oxfam India has spearheaded humanitarian responses in India for many decades now.

Between 2008 (when Oxfam India became an independent affiliate) to 2019, Oxfam India has delivered more than 40 highly effective humanitarian responses across the country; it has reached out to nearly 1.3 million people directly and supported affected communities of many times greater that size indirectly through recovery and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) interventions.

Oxfam India responded for the first time outside of India in 2015, during the Nepal Earthquake. The Humanitarian team provided assistance in Gorkha district of Nepal, the epicentre of the earthquake.

Oxfam India has achieved a high level of expertise and experience in the field of emergency response and rehabilitation. Oxfam India believes that responding to the immediate needs does not alone ensure the survival and development of the disaster-affected communities. Equipping them with the knowledge and skills for making informed decisions to reduce the impact of future disasters, by leveraging the available resources at community as well as at government level, is the most effective strategy for making the communities resilient to face future disasters.

Oxfam India is recognised as water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) leader in the consortia and networks in the country.  It has built the operational capacity in rapid emergency response and has shaped Oxfam India’s core humanitarian competencies in WASH and Emergency Food Security and Vulnerable Livelihoods (EFSVL).

Oxfam India has engaged with state governments for the development of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) on flood, earthquake, mass casualty management, drought, fires in hospitals, and has contributed in the review of Disaster Management Act, 2005. It was also an active partner and core member of the drafting committee on DRR Roadmap in the state of Bihar. In Assam too, Oxfam India is playing an important role in developing the state’s DRR roadmap.


During the year 2018-19, Oxfam India reached out to more than 25,000 most vulnerable households across 6 states of India—Assam, Karnataka, Kerala, Manipur, Odisha, and Tripura. Currently, the Recovery and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) programmes are being implemented in Assam, Bihar, Karnataka, Kerala, Odisha, and Uttar Pradesh to equip the disaster-affected communities with the knowledge and skills to reduce the impact of future disasters.


During the current year, Oxfam India responded in Odisha to Cyclone Fani. Immediate relief and long-term recovery support for flood-affected people in Assam and Bihar are going on. 
Soon after floods hit the states of Karnataka, Kerala, and Maharashtra, Oxfam India Humanitarian teams swung into action to monitor the situation. With support from the existing partners in Kerala, Oxfam India Humanitarian team conducted the Rapid Needs Assessment (RNA) in the four worst affected districts. The team also conducted RNA in Maharashtra with support from its local partner Sneha.


Key focus areas:

Ensuring better Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) facilities for the disaster-affected communities. This is a priority focus area during any disaster because:

• Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) facilities are of tremendous concern in everyday life which get accentuated during an emergency.

• In a disaster situation lack of safe drinking water, safe sanitation, and hygiene practices can lead to serious health epidemics.

• Women, children, adolescent girls, and differently-abled people are the worst affected, who face WASH related challenges during and after disasters. Thus, ensuring access to these facilities is important.

Emergency Food Security and Vulnerable Livelihoods (EFSVL) for the worst affected and most vulnerable households to help them develop the capacity to build disaster resilience. This aspect of humanitarian intervention is crucial because:

• Better nutrition for women and children from the worst affected families through dry food distribution to ensure their immediate survival is an important step towards ensuring their long-term survival.

• Provision of Unconditional Cash Transfer (UCT) for the worst-affected and most vulnerable households (Women headed households, Households with pregnant/lactating women, differently abled people and marginalised communities like Dalits) will help ensure their survival during the initial days of a disaster.

Focus on ‘Gender in emergencies’

• In a humanitarian situation women and girls are the most vulnerable sections of the community. Attention must be given on addressing the specific gender needs during the disaster as well as after the disaster. A thorough gender analysis is done in all humanitarian context to understand their specific needs. Oxfam’s Minimum Standards for Gender in Emergencies are used as a tool to ensure a consistent approach for promoting gender equality in humanitarian preparedness and response programming.*

Ensuring ‘Inclusion’ of all the stakeholders in the interventions

• Ensuring ‘Inclusion’ of the worst affected and most vulnerable groups  under the programme coverage by Oxfam India remains a key priority focus, especially those excluded from government’s and other humanitarian agencies’ support. Attempts are made to ensure the inclusion and active participation from differently-abled people and people from socio-economically marginalised communities, with focus on active participation from women at all levels of intervention. Advocacy and influencing at various levels helps develop a system and culture of taking concerted actions by different stakeholders of disaster management.

• Oxfam India closely works with stakeholders including the government, local governance systems (PRI), CSOs and the affected communities that need to work in a concerted manner to reduce the impact of future disasters.

Linking Disaster Response with Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) initiatives

In the backdrop of the increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters in India, this strategy of connecting disaster response and recovery phases with DRR is the most effective method for achieving the goal of saving lives and livelihoods of people now and in the future. Oxfam India plans for a gradual shift from Humanitarian Response to Recovery and then to Disaster Risk Reduction through community capacity building to ensure the sustainability of the intervention.

Use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) based application to enhance the effectiveness of the humanitarian and DRR interventions.

• The effective use of technology ensures wider coverage with effective support to the disaster affected communities. Oxfam India Humanitarian App is used at various phases of the project to ensure effectiveness and appropriateness of the intervention.

Emphasis on ‘Localisation’ of humanitarian responses by larger participation of local communities at every level of the project.

• The Humanitarian interventions by Oxfam India are always implemented through the local partners under supportive supervision from Oxfam India Humanitarian Team.

• The major part of the resources is used for providing support to the communities and creating sustainable systems (capacity building of community on various aspects of disaster management, Task Force Groups, Linkage with government etc.) and structures at community level.

• Training and capacity building of local partners and supporting them to plan and manage disaster response projects, including logistics and procurement activities, act as a step towards sustainability of interventions at the community level. 


Linking the communities with their entitlements from the government

• Our field level interventions and various studies include creating awareness among the communities for negotiating with appropriate authorities to access support of various government programmes. Oxfam India creates awareness at both the service providers’ (government officials, local government/ PRI members) and service users’ levels (community) and facilitates the process of connecting the communities with their entitlements.

Connecting DRR and Climate Change Adaptation (CCA)

• Changing patterns of climate, fluctuating rainfall and temperature also adversely affects livelihoods, especially of those engaged in agricultural activities. Specific attempts are made throughout the programme implementation phase to ensure communities adapt to climate change, such as promotion of disaster resilient varieties of seeds for use in kitchen gardens or agricultural land.
• Attempts are made to help the communities understand the impact of human activities is contributing to natural disaster. They are motivated to adopt appropriate steps to ensure environment protection.


*Children, pregnant women, elderly people, malnourished people, and people who are ill or immunocompromised, are particularly vulnerable when a disaster strikes, and take a relatively high share of the disease burden associated with emergencies. Poverty – and its common consequences such as malnutrition, homelessness, poor housing and destitution – is a major contributor to vulnerability. Socio- economically marginalised groups such as Dalit and women are coming under this category as they face discrimination against their right to survival in almost all disaster situations.
Humanitarian Response and DRR

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