With the G8 summit taking place this week and the government tasked with halving the number of people suffering with hunger by 2015, I am looking at how the British Red Cross is working with partners to tackle some of the underlying causes of poverty and hunger in three countries.
This week, the focus is on Azerbaijan – a country where continued hostilities make it difficult for people living in the conflict affected areas to meet their family’s basic needs.
Conflict over Nagorny Karabakh has plagued the lives of those living near the frontline for more than 20 years. Despite a 1994 ceasefire agreement, armies exchange fire daily, threatening the safety of communities and making it challenging for people to earn a living and meet their basic daily needs.
Anna Hirsch-Holland, British Red Cross recovery support officer says: “Many people in this region rely on farming to produce food and also to earn a small income, but in many cases they have lost their livestock and access to their land due to the conflict.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Azerbaijan Red Crescent Society, with support from the British Red Cross, are helping to get the most vulnerable people back on their feet through the provision of cash grants
Households are using these grants to invest in new agricultural assets such as sheep or cows, and to meet other essential needs required to maintain their livelihoods.
Ramil and Narmina*
One household devastated by the conflict is husband and wife, Ramil and Narmina. They used their entire Red Cross grant to pay for health care for Narmina, who was very sick with kidney problems.
Without this support, they would have been forced to sell their one cow – whose milk they rely on for a crucial part of their diet. Before the conflict, Ramil was a truck driver and welder, but since the conflict there are no employment opportunities, and so Ramil and Narmina are reliant on their livestock and health to work and survive.
Reflecting sadly, Ramil said: “Before the conflict, we had everything but the bombs forced us to leave our home, and when we returned there was nothing left.”
Despite this, they remain optimistic: “Everybody wants to live a better life and we do too – we will do our best.”
Investing in the future
In 2013, the Red Cross is giving cash grants to 500 of the area’s poorest households and has already helped hundreds of people to meet essential health and housing needs, improve their diets, and make an income through agricultural activities like cattle breeding.
Anna explains: “There is little outside investment in these struggling communities, and existing community structures are very fragile, making it even more difficult for the most vulnerable households to cope.
“As well as helping households to get a foot on the ladder, we are also supporting community work so that local people can decide what is needed in their neighbourhood – such as building new community centres or organising a training scheme.”
In the midst of conflict, it is crucial that communities support each other so that their livelihoods thrive, making them more resilient and less vulnerable to hunger in the long run.
* Names have been changed to protect identity.