Aid groups see ‘humanitarian crisis’ in the Philippines

Inquirer Libre - Davao - - FEATURES -

PARIS—Fighting in the troubled southern Philippine region of Mindanao has combined with extreme weather events to create a “humanitarian catastrophe,” according to French aid groups.

Around 1 million people have fled their homes in the region, said Thibault Henry, head of the Philippine chapter of the charity Acted.

“Basic needs are not covered,” Henry told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Wednesday.

“Clearly it’s a huge humanitarian crisis, a catastrophe, that will affect the region for many years,” he said, noting that more than half of the population lives in poverty.

400,000 displaced

In early July, the government estimated that fighting between government forces and Islamic State-inspired local terrorists in Marawi City had displaced more than 400,000 people.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group, and government forces, with US and Australian military backing, are battling terrorists from the Maute group and the bandit band Abu Sayyaf who had pledged loyalty to the Middle East-based Islamic State (IS) jihadist group.

Hundreds of the terrorists occupied parts of Marawi on May 23 and the battle to retake the city from them had claimed more than 700 lives.

Mindanao was struck by typhoons in 2012 and 2013 and a drought in 2016, Henry noted, adding that other rebel movements affected other parts of the region.

Vanessa Cardamone of Handicap International said conflict combined with extreme weather events had created a “complex crisis.”

She said only 6 percent of those displaced were in evacuation centers, while most were lodging with relatives or friends.

Aid short of needs

For his part, Javad Amoozegar of the French charity Action Contre la Faim said humanitarian aid was falling far short of needs.

“The Philippines is at the bottom of the list … forgotten by the news,” he said.

“Most donors look at the number of victims before mobilizing. Here the people aren’t dead yet, but we want to help them so they don’t die,” he said.

The 10,000-strong MILF has been leading a rebellion for more than 40 years to establish an independent or autonomous homeland in Mindanao for the mainly Catholic Philippines’ Muslim minority.

Hardline militants, including former MILF members, oppose any form of peace with the government, and some have in recent years pledged allegiance to IS.

The MILF has repeatedly warned that if the peace process collapses it will lose many of its younger members to IS-aligned groups.

JEOFFREY MAITEM

SMOKE billows from the main battle zone in Marawi City in this file photo.

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