Last Updated: Friday, 19 December 2014, 13:25 GMT

Philippines: Sharp increase in IDPs after Mindanao bombings

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 14 July 2009
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Philippines: Sharp increase in IDPs after Mindanao bombings, 14 July 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a5d996fc.html [accessed 22 December 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.

MANILA, 14 July 2009 (IRIN) - Displacement levels on the war-ravaged Philippine island of Mindanao have risen to more than 430,000, according to data from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and other sources.

This marks a significant increase in the number of internally displaced people (IDPs), from an estimate of 290,000 by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in mid-June.

However, DSWD Secretary Esperanza Cabral, whose office is the lead agency for IDPs, stressed the scale of the problem was not enough to categorize it as a humanitarian crisis.

"There is still no humanitarian crisis, but there is certainly a requirement for humanitarian assistance, which we have been able for the most part to provide," she told journalists in Manila on 13 July.

Cabral confirmed there had been a spike in the number of IDPs, as heavy clashes between government forces and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) intensified in June, culminating in last week's bomb attacks.

"A few days will pass and the number of IDPs will decrease again because they will go back to their areas," she said.

Most of the displaced are staying in some 150 government evacuation centres, such as schools, or with family or friends, in the three conflict-affected provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur and North Cotabato, the country's National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) reported.

Describing the situation as "very fluid", Cabral, who cited figures closer to 300,000, noted that the number of displaced was actually much higher than officially reported, especially in recent weeks.

The nearly year-long conflict was also beginning to strain the government's finances, Cabral said, noting that it had already spent more than US$10 million in humanitarian assistance since fighting began in August, while international aid agencies have spent nearly as much.

"That's a lot of money that could have been spent on development projects, if we did not have to spend it this way," she said.

Food deliveries resume

Cabral's comments followed an announcement by the World Food Programme (WFP) that it was resuming food distributions to Mindanao following the bombings.

The three bomb attacks, which killed at least eight and wounded over 100 on the island of Jolo and the cities of Cotabato and Iligan where the agency maintains sub-offices, were blamed on the MILF and the smaller militant group Abu Sayyaf, which denied responsibility.

"With travel restrictions being lifted, WFP was able to begin distributions to just under 17,000 families in the municipalities of Datu Odin Sinsuat, Sultan Kudarat, Sultan Mastura, South Kabuntalan and North Kabuntalan in the province of Maguindanao, as well as in the city of Cotabato," WFP country director Stephen Anderson said, adding that the agency had provided 11,700MT of food to more than 500,000 people in six Mindanao provinces in the past 11 months.

Operations on the islands of Basilan and Jolo, where the Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf largely operate, remain suspended.

"We plan to continue to monitor the situation," he said, stressing that WFP "stands ready to continue its complementary support to conflict-affected" areas.

Coordination challenge

Anderson said one of the key challenges was coordination efforts with the government, especially in monitoring numbers in IDP camps. "One of the major challenges we've had to face is the fact that the situation is very fluid? There has been quite a bit of fluctuation in the numbers," Anderson said.

"It's a situation that involves tens of thousands of families. It's serious and they do require assistance. But at the same time, assistance is forthcoming even as there are operational challenges that are being addressed."

While there has been some improvement on the ground in terms of camp management and logistical support, Anderson said "continuing action is needed to sustain" this.

Intense fighting began in August after the MILF, which has been waging a separatist rebellion since 1978, broke a five-year-old ceasefire and launched coordinated attacks across Mindanao after a high court decision scotched a proposed deal that would have granted them control over what they claim are ancestral lands.

At the height of the fighting in September, more than 600,000 people were displaced, although many of them have since returned to rebuild their villages.

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