Update 00/01 - Manila Regional Delegation: shifting focus to food aid for internally displaced people in Mindanao
19-10-2000 Operational Update
Civilians remain the primary victims of the fighting which has gripped Mindanao for most of the year 2000. Intensified clashes between the Philippine Armed Forces (AFP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have forced hundreds of thousands of persons to flee their villages. Currently, some 70,000 of them remain in evacuation centres, where initial observations have found malnutrition to be on the rise. A similar number of displaced people remain lodged with relatives or host families. The following is an update on the ICRC's strategy to respond to the needs of persons displaced in Mindanao.
In the second half of 1999, clashes between the Philippine Armed Forces (AFP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) intensified, forcing sporadic civilian displacements. In October it appeared that formal peace negotiations between the Government and the MILF might finally be underway, however these were complicated in November by an intensification of military operations. In April 2000, the peace talks collapsed entirely and fighting escalated again, culminating in July with the army's capture of the MILF's largest stronghold, Camp Abubakr. Violence continues in Mindanao with an upsurge of MILF guerilla tactics which continue to provoke displacements, along with the recent government offensive responding to the hostage crisis in Jolo.
This year's increased fighting forced up to 500,000 people to flee their villages for some period, and at the end of September the ICRC estimated that between 100,000 and 150,000 people remained displaced. Of these, some 70,000 have been sheltered in over 120 evacuation centres, often without adequate water and sanitation facilities. The Department of Welfare and Social Development (DSWD), local church organizations and NGOs have distributed food to the displaced, but there are signs that their nutritional situation has become precarious: families have started selling their livestock and personal possessions in order to meet their survival needs, and recent reports - corroborated by the ICRC medical team's observations - indicate a rise in malnutrition among children. Because their planting activities have been disrupted for the season, the displaced population will be unable to recover their livelihood for the coming year without assistance.
The ICRC works jointly with the Philippines National Red Cross (PNRC) to provide assistance to those displaced by violence in Mindanao, and coordinates closely with other international NGOs in order to maximize its programmes'effectiveness. As this year's earlier assessments did not indicate that the displaced suffered from nutritional problems, ICRC/PNRC assistance efforts have concentrated so far on non-food relief in 50 of the 120 evacuation centres: between April and September 2000, the joint Red Cross programme provided essential items, such as tarpaulins, mats, and cooking utensils and improved water supplies and sanitation facilities for some 70,000 displaced people.
With indications that the nutritional status of the displaced is worsening, ICRC/PNRC assistance will shift its focus to food assistance. A joint ICRC/PNRC nutrition survey is currently assessing the needs of the population in order to tailor assistance accordingly. In the meantime, logistics preparations are currently underway in order to have the distribution capacity, on short notice, of food rations for 50,000 people in the various centres where the joint Red Cross programme has focused its activities.
This involves Red Cross mobilization of 700 tonnes of rice, 250 tonnes of beans, 85 tonnes of oil and 20,000 tarpaulins, as well as blankets and mats to ensure that basic needs are met, and setting up logistical structures capable of distributing the assistance needed. Additional stocks will be required to allow a rapid reaction to other emergencies, particularly in view of developments in Jolo. In cooperation with other humanitarian agencies present, mechanisms will be established to monitor the impact of distributions on market prices, and on the nutritional status of people internally displaced. The security situation will be followed closely in order to determine when changes allow them to return to their villages, indicating a shift from relief assistance to rehabilitation measures - such as seed distributions and other agricultural assistance to help returnees regain their self-sufficiency.
The ICRC and the PNRC will jointly implement the proposed assistance to the displaced in Mindanao, with the support of the Spanish Red Cross which will secure a substantial part of the food aid mobilized and provide specialized staff. The extensive network of PNRC staff and volunteers will carry out direct registration of each family meeting the criteria established by the nutritionist; and the PNRC will be pivotal for obtaining needed secu rity clearances and maintaining contacts with opposition leaders. Full-time specialist staff will be seconded for the operation, and the collaboration between expatriate and PNRC specialists should enhance the PNRC conflict response capacity. The ICRC will further support the concerned PNRC chapters with vehicles or equipment as needed, to help them maintain their operational means.