Philippines: Don't forget Mindanao IDPs, officials urge
|Publisher||Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)|
|Publication Date||8 December 2009|
|Cite as||Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Philippines: Don't forget Mindanao IDPs, officials urge, 8 December 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4b28a1431e.html [accessed 21 April 2014]|
MANILA, 8 December 2009 (IRIN) - The government and international donors should not forget the crisis in southern Mindanao after a shift in focus to flood-ravaged Manila and the main southern island of Luzon, officials say.
While stressing that work should continue in Luzon, where thousands of families are still in evacuation centres, officials warn that aid originally meant for those in need in Mindanao island could be diverted to the north.
"It is incumbent upon humanitarian actors and other NGO networks to make sure that the spotlight also remains on Mindanao, and that it does not turn into a forgotten emergency," Lan Mercado, former country chief of Oxfam, now an adviser to the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) disaster management and emergency response unit, told IRIN.
She said progress in the peace talks between the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the government "would likely bring the Mindanao agenda back to the forefront of the national consciousness".
Both sides resumed negotiations in Malaysia on 8 December after agreeing in September on the composition of the so-called International Contact Group (ICG), a panel of third-party observers helping to facilitate the talks.
The peace talks were suspended last year, when two MILF commanders broke a five-year ceasefire and launched simultaneous attacks across Mindanao in August 2008.
More than 700,000 people were affected at the height of the fighting, which also left nearly 400 dead. Over 250,000 people remain in evacuation sites or are staying with friends and relatives, according to the National Disaster Coordinating Council.
The good news about the negotiations was pushed to the back-burner after tropical storm Ketsana pummelled Luzon on 26 September, triggering the worst flooding in Manila and outlying areas in more than 40 years. It was followed a week later by Parma, a super typhoon that lashed Luzon for a week. Another typhoon, Mirinae, compounded the crisis in October.
Over 1,100 people were killed by the typhoons, including 178 survivors who contracted a deadly flood-borne disease called Leptospirosis. Some areas in Manila's southern region, including urban centres near Laguna de Bay, a massive reservoir, remain flooded and officials have said waters may not subside before next year.
The UN recently revised upwards its flash appeal of US$74 million to $144 million, warning that a funding shortfall had limited aid agencies' capacity to effectively respond to the crisis.
Mercado said Mindanao was not part of the flash appeal and that there were existing avenues for funding for the island. "However, funds are flowing through slowly as of now," she said.
Mindanao also suffered a setback after clan violence led to the massacre of 57 people, including 30 journalists, on 23 November in the island's Maguindanao Province.
The attack raised fears that an increase in such violence would undermine humanitarian aid, and sparked the imposition of martial law in the province on 4 December.
The Australian government announced over the weekend that it had advised the temporary suspension of Australian aid programmes on the island until the situation stabilized.
The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), meanwhile, said it was "actively seeking funds" to support people affected by conflict and violence in Mindanao. "UNICEF is concerned about the security situation in Central Mindanao, since there are families still living in evacuation centres primarily within Maguindanao that require our support," Vanessa Tobin, UNICEF's representative in the Philippines, told IRIN.
She said the agency was obliged to work with the government to ensure children's rights and needs were being met in the safest way possible.
"We are aware that donor focus has been drawn away from the south in recent months, and we are keen for a shift in focus back to the south, as we see many of the displaced populations in Luzon returning to their communities and rebuilding their lives," Tobin added.
She said it was difficult to say if funds raised for Luzon would adversely affect those required for Mindanao, and that the agency had found donors who are "open to discussing the needs of both areas. But we cannot say for certain until 2010 when all the appeals have been made."