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Philippine conflict-displaced on Mindanao now hit by floods

Flood waters are submerging tents used as evacuation centres
(Courtesy of Philippine Red Cross)

Still recovering from three weeks of fighting between government troops and Muslim separatists that left tens of thousands displaced, battle-scarred Zamboanga region in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao is now dealing with flooding in already congested evacuation centres.

Rains brought by the annual southwest May-October monsoon and the effects of Typhoon Danas (locally known as Ramil) starting on 4 October wreaked havoc on the islands of Western and Central Visayas, Palawan and Mindanao, affecting close to 138,000 people and displacing 100,000, according to the government’s latest update on 10 October.

Worst-hit was the Zamboanga peninsula in Minadao, which includes the port city of Zamboanga where an almost month-long siege displaced about 119,000 people in the city plus another 8,100 in neighbouring Basilan Province, killing a total of 140 as of 29 September.

Evacuated - again

The military forced Nursia Addulkadal, a 57-year old widow, to evacuate on 9 September when Muslim rebels sought to take control of the city in protest against ongoing peace talks between the Philippine government and the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), an MNLF splinter group.

The two sides are negotiating for the creation of what is envisioned to be an expanded autonomous region for Mindanao's Muslim population that would supersede the one handed to the MNLF, a development that Nur Misuari, its founder, and a number of fighters oppose.

Addulkadal cannot remember precisely how long it has been since she, her three children and 10 grandchildren have been living in evacuation centres.

“We were first evacuated to a school, and then transferred to another school and finally here to the grandstand [stadium].”

The Jose F. Enriquez Sports Complex is the largest of the evacuation centres where Addulkadal and (at the height of the conflict) some 70,000 others, sought refuge. Some 18,000 people are still camped out in the complex.

According to local Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) figures, as of 9 October some 60,000 of the flood displaced are housed in 36 evacuation centres, many of them schools, while almost 40,000 (the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs puts that number closer to 58,000 as of 8 October) are with family and friends.

Five days of torrential rain submerged tents on the sports complex’s field, forcing evacuees to scamper to higher ground. “Before we [could stay dry] lying down on the bleachers [tiered rows of benches found at sports stadiums]. Now we have to sleep sitting up.”

Still, Addulkadal considers herself luckier than evacuees who lost their homes completely. An estimated 10,000 homes were razed by fire and bombardment during the conflict.

Schools to reopen

“We have opened three schools [in Zamboanga city] and assigned them as [additional] evacuation centres when the rain started last Saturday [5 October]. But with the non-stop rain, classrooms have also become flooded, some up to the knee,” Camilo Gudmalin, DSWD assistant secretary, told IRIN.

It is, however, just a stop-gap measure, said Gudmalin, as the Department of Education has declared that classes, cancelled since fighting broke out last month, will restart in these schools on Monday 14 October as well as others not burnt down or damaged during the conflict.

“We hope that the rains will stop soon to give us time to relocate the evacuees and clean the schools before they open. It really is so difficult; we just have to make do with what we have,” said Gudmalin. Heavy rains continued through the night of 9 October, tapering off the following morning.

Government plans to build temporary bunkhouses for those who were displaced by the armed conflict are still being finalized. For now, the estimated 6,000 people newly displaced by flooding in Zamboanga city are being moved to the second and third levels of schools to avoid rising floodwaters.

"Evacuees are piling up desks to keep their things dry and moving to the second floor of the schools," said Ronald Villano, an officer of a local NGO, I Can Make a Difference.

Stretched to the limit

After 20 days of fighting followed by five days of heavy rain, resources, manpower and emotions are stretched to the limit, say government social workers.

"We were just getting used to no more bullets flying, no more houses burning. And then, here comes the rain. Everyone is stressed, even us [aid workers]. We all miss our normal lives," said Jerrick Go, a DSWD regional development officer based in Zamboanga.

“There may be no more fear of fighting, but there remains fear of uncertainty. Most of the evacuees have nowhere to go after this,” Gwen Pang, secretary-general of the Philippine Red Cross, told IRIN.

The UN Central Emergency Response Fund has provided US$3 million in assistance through UN agencies and the International Organization for Migration. On 30 September the UN-led team of international humanitarian organizations presented a request for $24 million to cover needs for what is expected to be the next six months.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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