Last Updated: Friday, 22 August 2014, 15:07 GMT

Philippines: No respite for displaced in Mindanao

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 18 September 2008
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Philippines: No respite for displaced in Mindanao, 18 September 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48d74b70c.html [accessed 22 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

DATU PIANG, 18 September 2008 (IRIN) - Guiaria Kiyaw fights back tears as she recounts her ordeal in an overcrowded and filthy evacuation camp in a remote town on Mindanao Island.

She told IRIN her seven children had not had a decent meal for nearly a month, and subsisted on relief aid that seemed to be diminishing daily. All around her dirty children were lying on the cold cement floor of a gymnasium, which has been subdivided into makeshift shelters.

"It has been a very difficult month," Kiyaw, 46, said. "We can't go back to our village now because there is still fighting. But where else can we go?" she asks. "Here, we can survive, but may slowly die of hunger if we don't get more help."

Kiyaw, whose husband works out of town, fled her village when the military carried out air raids to flush out Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) guerrillas from a rebel base near Dapiawan, where she lived in Maguindanao Province.

"It was very frightening. We ran for our lives and my children seem to have been traumatised because of the loud explosions," she said. "And this is all we brought," she said, pointing to a mound of dirty clothes and a battered sewing machine.

The 12,000-strong MILF has been locked in intense gun battles with government troops since August, when two of its commanders launched deadly raids across towns on Mindanao Island. The violence was triggered after the Supreme Court on 4 August issued an injunction against a proposed MILF-government deal that would have expanded a Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao to be governed by the MILF.

More than half a million people have been displaced in the ensuing violence, which aid agencies say has been the worst since 2003, when the MILF signed a truce with the government.

President Gloria Arroyo has ruled out any prospect of an immediate return to the negotiating table, sending more troops to track down the insurgents.

Heavy rains slow down delivery

Aid has been slowly trickling into the evacuation sites, but the level of security remains a concern. Just recently, 26 bags of rice being delivered by the World Food Programme (WFP) were seized, according to the UN agency. The military claimed they were stolen by the MILF.

In addition, heavy rainfall has caused flooding in many evacuation sites, complicating relief work, according to the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council.

"While some help is getting through, clearly it is not enough," Stephen Anderson, WFP country representative, told IRIN on 17 September as he led a convoy to deliver about 500 bags of rice to some 800 families sheltering in a school in Datu Piang town in Maguindanao.

The situation is being compounded by flooding, which is starting to get worse day by day," he said. "More and more people are arriving in evacuation centres," he said, describing the humanitarian situation as "grim".

"Clearly, much more is needed in helping people by addressing camp management. People live in very overcrowded conditions," Anderson said. "The water and sanitation conditions are unacceptable. These need to be addressed on an urgent basis."

An Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) assessment mission visited Mindanao last week, according to Anderson, and will release its findings only after reviewing them with the National Disaster Coordinating Council.

"The initial findings," he said, "are that the situation warranted continued support. A lot more preparedness needs to be done. Every day, we had hoped that the situation would normalise fairly quickly and that Ramadan would even be a time of peace for everybody.

"And while a lot of the large-scale conflict has abated, the situation is still very tense and people are fearful," he said.

He said WFP had so far delivered 1,700 metric tonnes of rice since last month, and is looking at increasing deliveries.

"Everything depends on the security situation. If it deteriorates further, a significant increase in support will be required," Anderson said.

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