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Oxfam - Covid-19

Covid-19 forces aid agency Oxfam closes 18 country offices globally

File photo of an Oxfam banner.
File photo of an Oxfam banner. © REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Development aid agency Oxfam International will withdraw from 18 countries around the globe and lay off thousands of staff, according to a story in Devex, a development news website. The cuts are a result of financial issues made more glaring in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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The announcement will affect almost a third of its staff, or 1,450 out of some 5,000 people. A total of 700 out of 1,900 partner organizations on the ground will also be affected.

Oxfam is shutting down country offices in Egypt, Tanzania, Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Benin, Liberia, and Mauritania, as well as Thailand, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Paraguay. Devex reports that Oxfam has been present in some of those countries for over half a century.

The international aid agency said that program offices would not necessarily be shut down in the 18 countries immediately, as it would see projects already in flux to completion.

Interim Executive Director Chema Vera explained that the cuts were coming after a restructuring began in 2018, but the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the changes.

Oxfam currently partners with 700 local organizations in those countries.

“We will have to work with those 700 local organizations, over time, in a responsible and orderly way, so they can find other funding sources and begin [to] take over fully the work we did together," said Oxfam spokesman Matt Grainger.

The charity first started in Afghanistan in 1961 and has worked throughout Tanzania from the 1960s onwards, focusing on governance, rural issues and female empowerment. It was key in trying to drum up efforts to stop the 1994 Rwandan genocide that killed 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the span of two months.

Oxfam had been tainted by scandal 10 years ago in Haiti, where sexual abuse by staff members created issues for the British office of the organization.

Its second-hand stores throughout the UK were closed in March and two-thirds of its staff were furloughed.

The organization will remain in 48 countries, some to benefit from an increased budget.

“Looking strategically at where and how we operate is the essential first step in ensuring that Oxfam can continue to make the best possible contribution to fighting inequality to end poverty and injustice, and to influence for change as effectively as possible,” Vera said.

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