Appeal for help in Marawi as 50,000 families remain displaced

THE United Nations’ humanitarian agency has appealed for sustained relief assistance as many of the 77,000 families displaced by the five-month conflict in Marawi City in the southern Philippines continue to languish in squalid evacuation centres.

Mark Bidder, the head of UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the Philippines, urged the donor community to continue supporting more than 350,000 civilians affected by the war in Marawi, which the military liberated from the clutches of Islamic State-aligned militants last October.

“As the government develops a comprehensive recovery and rehabilitation plan for Marawi City, humanitarian needs (of the refugees) remain,” he told Asian Correspondent last week.

“Displaced communities are gradually returning to some areas of Marawi and surrounding municipalities. Both returnees and the displaced need continued support to address their basic food and nutrition requirements, among other priority needs,” Bidder said.

SEE ALSO: How Marawi pushed Asean nations to join forces against terrorism

In December, OCHA Philippines appealed for donations amounting to PHP2.2 billion (US$43.7 million) for continuing support to the needs of the displaced civilians, including food supplies, for the first half of 2018.

Latest data from the government’s social welfare department showed that 26,450 families from 36 of the city’s almost 100 villages have been allowed to return to Marawi as of early December.

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Residents who left their homes to avoid the intense fighting between the government forces and insurgents from the Maute group are seen inside the evacuation centre in Iligan city, southern Philippines, on June 18, 2017. Source: /Romeo Ranoco

The remaining 50,550 displaced families continue to languish at 66 evacuation centres or with their relatives in towns surrounding lakeside Marawi, desperately waiting to go home amid dwindling relief assistance.

Eduardo del Rosario, a retired military general heading the Task Force Bangon (Rise) Marawi, the body formed for the war-torn city’s recovery and rehabilitation composed of various government agencies, said in a recent press briefing that the reconstruction of ground zero is expected to begin late April.

The main battle area straddling 250ha in 24 villages has an estimated population of at least 11,000 families, he said.

“Ground zero remains restricted to civilians because of the ongoing clearing operations by the military for unexploded ammunition and ordinances. After the military finishes the clearing operations, we will immediately start rehabilitating the 250 hectares,” said del Rosario, also the government’s current housing czar.

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Residents staying at evacuation centres at an open gym in Basak, Malutlut district in Marawi city, southern Philippines, on Oct 29, 2017. Source: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

The five-month battle levelevelledldings that left three million tons of debris, the official noted, stressing that repairing ground zero will take four years or until December 2021, a few months short before the Duterte administration bows out of power.

Bidder said that restoring the food supply chain in Marawi and surrounding areas must be given top priority as it is crucial for the transition from emergency to recovery.

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

“This includes restoring production, functioning markets, and all the crucial points in the food supply and agriculture chain,” he said. Bidder stressed there is also an urgent need in restoring sources of income and livelihood to reduce food insecurity and dependency on external assistance.

Livelihood intervention and skills training should be aligned with market needs, including for women and the youth of working age, he said.

The Marawi siege that erupted on May 23 left some 1,100 individuals killed, mostly terrorist gunmen. President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao hours after the Islamic State-inspired Maute Group launched the attack.

Only 20 percent of the 6,400 temporary housing units intended for those who lost their homes during fighting in Marawi had been completed by late January, the government said.

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