While guns are silent in Marawi, displaced civilians continue to suffer

MORE than two months after the war in Marawi ended, tens of thousands of civilians displaced by the conflict still need humanitarian assistance in the coming months, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has said.

OCHA appealed to donors for funds amounting to PHP2.2 billion (US$43.7 million) for continuing support to the needs of the displaced civilians, including food supplies.

“A significant number of the 353,000 people displaced by the conflict will continue to rely on humanitarian assistance for the first quarter of 2018 and beyond,” said OCHA Philippines head Mark Bidder.

SEE ALSO: Marawi evacuees start returning to city in shambles

As of Dec 10, OCHA said the government, assisted by UN migration agency International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has facilitated the return of 26,000 families following the termination of military operations in Marawi on Oct 23.

Some 9,500 families living in the main battle area spanning 24 villages lost their homes with the intense fighting that left Marawi City in shambles.

Data by IOM showed that 353,626 individuals or 77,175 families were displaced by the war in Marawi after the Islamic State-inspired Maute Group attacked the city on May 23, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law in the entire Mindanao.

The war killed at least 1,100 individuals, mostly Islamic militants, including the key leaders of the siege – two Maute brothers and Isnilon Hapilon, an Abu Sayyaf chieftain who was the designated emir of the Islamic State in Southeast Asia.

On Oct 23, the government terminated military operations in Marawi that eventually allowed residents to return to villages cleared by the military, excluding the main battle area.

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Tent cities house civilians displaced by the five month-war in Marawi City. Source: Bong Sarmiento

So far, the government has handed at least 800 transitional shelters to displaced civilians as full-blast reconstruction works for the war-torn city was slated to start in the second quarter of 2018.

Bidder said that many of those who initially returned to Marawi have subsequently gone back to evacuation centres and host communities due to the delays in restoration of utilities, services and schools.

Lawyer Aminoden Macalandap, president of Integrated Bar of the Philippines – Lanao del Sur chapter, also said that many of those who have returned to villages cleared by the military left after seeing their houses destroyed or looted.

Macalandap told Asian Correspondent:

“They either stayed back at the evacuation centre or with their relatives outside Marawi mainly due to lack of livelihood opportunities.”

He lamented that many displaced civilians also opted to remain as refugees as basic services have yet to be restored, including markets to serve the public. On funds intended for Marawi, Macalandap stressed the need for transparency to ensure the money will not be corrupted or will go to wrong priorities.

“What is intended for Marawi must go to Marawi,” he said. Officials estimate that the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Marawi will cost the Philippine government at least US$1.1 billion.

Meanwhile, the United States announced Wednesday an additional assistance for Marawi amounting to PHP330 million (US$6.6 million).

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Personal belongings are scattered inside a damaged room of an apartment house located in a residential area in Malutlut district, Marawi city, southern Philippines, on Oct 27, 2017. Source: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

The allocation from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) brings Washington’s total contribution to the recovery and rehabilitation of Marawi and surrounding areas to over P1 billion ($20.9 million).

This assistance will provide opportunities for young women and men to enhance job skills and attain livelihoods, helping to stimulate the economy. The new fund is also aimed at helping vulnerable populations strengthen positive engagement within their communities.

SEE ALSO: Philippines: US extends aid for Marawi recovery, deploys another plane to Mindanao

“This new funding will support some of the most vulnerable populations affected by the conflict,” US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim said in a statement.

“The United States is deeply committed to supporting our friend and ally in long-term recovery efforts to ensure a brighter and more peaceful future for the people of Mindanao,” he said.

The US government, through USAID, has been helping the Philippine government in the recovery, stabilisation, and rehabilitation of Marawi City and the surrounding areas.

USAID’s early assistance involved restoring access to water and distributing desks for schools where displaced students are enrolled.

SEE ALSO: Japan will help rebuild war-torn Marawi City

Kim assured that USAID will continue to coordinate with the Philippine government and humanitarian organisations to deliver critical relief supplies to improve conditions in evacuation centres and transitional housing.

USAID has provided health clinics in Marawi and surrounding areas with supplies and services to combat tuberculosis and support maternal, newborn and child health needs.

To bolster the recovery, USAID will also help restore public services, like water and electricity, and will work with communities to jumpstart livelihoods, promote community dialogue, and improve health and education systems.

To help fortify the area’s longer-term stabilisation and rehabilitation, USAID will offer skills training and psychosocial counselling for youth, and promote community alternatives to violent extremism.

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Students from Mindanao State University (MSU) paint a mural symbolizing a call for peace after the end of assault against pro-Islamic State militant groups in Marawi, on a wall along a main highway of Pantar, Lanao Del Norte, southern Philippines, on Oct 28, 2017. Source: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

Besides US, China, Australia, Japan, Thailand and the European Union, among others, also pledged to help rebuild Marawi.

For his part, Marawi Bishop Edwin dela Pena has called on Catholic dioceses across the country to adopt communities affected by the war in Marawi and to assist in long-term recovery efforts.

The “Adopt a Community” is a project of “Duyog Marawi,” the Prelature of Marawi’s response to help in the healing and recovery of civilians displaced by the Marawi conflict, in partnership with the Redemptorist missionaries and Caritas Philippines.

While the war in Marawi is over, martial law is still in effect in the whole Mindanao until the end of 2018.

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