BANGKOK (TrustLaw) -The United Nations refugee agency has voiced concern over the lack of sanitation facilities for women at evacuation centres on flood-hit Mindanao, and over the risks of displaced women and children on the Philippines island being trafficked.
In mid-December Tropical Storm Washi, said to be one of the country’s worst natural disasters in two decades, killed more than 1,200 people on the conflict-ravaged island in the southern Philippines. It also destroyed more than 10,000 houses and displaced more than 300,000 people, mainly in the cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro at the north of the island.
The latest U.N. situation report said 55 functioning evacuation centres are hosting less than 25,000 people while the vast majority of the displaced – nearly 89 percent, or 197,480 people – are with host families and in makeshift shelters.
Sanitation facilities that are child-friendly and women-friendly – well-lit bathrooms and latrines built close to the centres – are needed so that women and young girls need not wash outside, said Brenda Escalante, associate protection officer for the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) in the Philippines.
“There is no space for women to do things that are particular for them, like for lactating mothers (to breastfeed their children) or to change their clothes,” she said.
Her comments came as United Nations said in its latest situation report that – among the 300,000 affected people who its health cluster aimed to help – there were some 10,000 pregnant and lactating women.
“There are no women-friendly spaces in ECs (evacuation centres) or relocation sites,” the report said.
The risk of women and children being trafficked, especially those separated from their families or whose relatives died in the disaster, is another concern.
“Here in Mindanao, studies have shown that during emergencies, especially in conflict situations, the number of children who are trafficked increases,” said Escalante, who said UNHCR is working with the Philippines government to trace separated families.
The U.N. said at least 15 children in Iligan are believed to be separated, unaccompanied or orphaned.
Meanwhile, concerns have been raised over overcrowding in the evacuation centres.
In some cases schools were converted into evacuation centres, and Escalante cited the example of a classroom measuring 10 metres by 5 metres accommodating 10 families.
“Although the ECs are the best served locations in terms of the provision of assistance, the conditions they offer are far from optimal,” the U.N. report said, adding factors such as overcrowding, a lack of privacy and a lack of sufficient sanitation facilities compelled people to seek alternative shelter solutions.
Displacement is not a new problem on Mindanao. A decades-old conflict between government forces and Muslim separatists on the island has killed 120,000 people, displaced 2 million and stunted growth in the poor but resource-rich island.
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)