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Philippines: ICRC and Philippine Red Cross assist 1,000 displaced families in Jolo

21-12-2000 News Release 00/49

The island of Jolo, in the south-western Philippines, made international headlines in April when Abu Sayyaf rebels abducted a group of western tourists who were eventually released. In mid-September the Philippine armed forces launched a major offensive on the island, causing a massive displacement of the population. It was not until mid-November, however, that a joint ICRC/Philippine National Red Cross team was able to carry out a survey of needs, after the armed forces allowed it to move about unescorted.

The team found that approximately 1,000 displaced families were still living in 19 evacuation centres, in tents or school buildings, most of them in deplorable conditions. It immediately started to distribute relief items (plastic sheeting and mosquito nets for babies), carry out water and sanitation activities (disinfection, construction of latrines, digging of garbage disposal pits) and organize information sessions on international humanitarian law.

ICRC and National Society medical staff also provided emergency care for displaced persons, in particular children suffering from measles as the result of an outbreak that threatened to reach epidemic proportions, and the ICRC treated four surgical patients (civilians with gunshot and shrapnel wounds). The ICRC is now considering the possibility of strengthening the medical infrastructure in Jolo, where there is no resident surgeon and the lack of basic medicines, disinfection materials and dressings is chronic.

The Philippine armed forces have recently stepped up their operations in the towns of Patikul and Talipao. As a result, two evacuation centres housing 244 displaced families have been declared off limits. The ICRC and the National Society nevertheless expect to be able to provide assistance there by January.