Last Updated: Friday, 11 July 2014, 13:14 GMT

Philippines: Death and disease stalk IDP camps

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 23 February 2009
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Philippines: Death and disease stalk IDP camps, 23 February 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/49a660d7c.html [accessed 12 July 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.

TALAYAN, 23 February 2009 (IRIN) - Community health worker Hassan Kalupa was overseeing the burial of yet another child amid the extremely unsanitary conditions at an evacuation camp on Mindanao Island.

Kalupa said 24 people - six of them children - had died in the past two weeks at the evacuation site in Talayan, where more than 1,200 families or about 8,000 people live in makeshift tents and dwellings, with scant supplies of drinking water, food and medicine provided by aid workers. If supplies are delayed, the evacuees fetch dirty water from a muddy stream, which is used to clean farm animals and doubles as a latrine.

"The source of water is totally unacceptable. That's our problem here. Most of the children who died suffered from diarrhoea," Kalupa told IRIN, adding that the people in the camp came mostly from the town of Linamonan, in Talayan, Maguindanao province - an area devastated by attacks by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in August.

Running gun battles and artillery exchanges between troops and renegade MILF guerrillas occur almost daily near tens of thousands of displaced persons crammed inside camps.

Kadidu Andig, a mother of seven, said her new-born baby girl died of heatstroke at the evacuation camp. She told IRIN she lacked medicines or money to buy infant formula. In a corner of her tent, her surviving children fight over a small portion of rice. Her husband is away, trying to look for work and to check with the army if it is safe yet for them to return to their village.

Security doubts 

The government said relative calm had returned to some areas and was encouraging evacuees to decamp. Many displaced people, however, fear random attacks by MILF guerrillas, and said that despite the hardship in the evacuation camps, they provided a sense of security, with government troops regularly checking on their situation.

Fighting between the 12,000-strong MILF and the government erupted in August last year. While the government had said it was open to resume talks with the MILF and agree a ceasefire, troops on the ground told IRIN they had not been advised to cease offensives until two senior rebel leaders blamed for most of the attacks are caught.

The National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), said that of the more than half a million people displaced at the height of the fighting in August-September 2008, over 112,000 are still in evacuation camps while another 200,000 are staying with friends or relatives.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said it was "undertaking a detailed nutrition assessment in the IDP camps and areas" to help the most vulnerable, particularly the children. Aid workers on the ground report 132 people - including the 24 in Talayan - had died in evacuation camps since August.

"About 60 of the 132 deaths are children. Most of the causes of deaths of children are diarrhoea, pneumonia, malnutrition or a combination of those," UNICEF's chief of communications, Angela Travis, told IRIN, adding that some died due to injuries sustained in the fighting and others from an outbreak of measles.

"We are not complacent, but reassured that the number of diarrhoea cases in children has gone down progressively each month, from around 956 in the third month [of the fighting] to 163 in the sixth month," she said.

She said UNICEF has been providing medicines, including vaccinations for measles, micro-nutrients and clean water.

Peace doubts

The International Crisis Group think-tank warned in a 16 February report that both sides would be hard-pressed to bridge their differences.

"As it stands, the two sides are too far apart, the potential spoilers too numerous, and the political will in Manila too weak to hope for a negotiated peace any time soon," ICG's senior adviser, Sidney Jones, stated in the report.

"Progress around the edges" is possible if the MILF acknowledges the wrongdoing of its commanders, said Jones, and restricts their movement without formally arresting them or turning them over to the government. This way, both sides can agree to put in place an interim ceasefire and explore the possibility of full resumption of talks.

"Getting a ceasefire in Mindanao would be an important achievement in humanitarian terms alone," the ICG stated.

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