BANGKOK (AlertNet) – Almost a month after a fatal storm hit the north of Mindanao island in the Philippines, relief efforts are largely ignoring hundreds of thousands of affected people in remote areas and outside evacuation centres, the United Nations’ refugee agency told AlertNet.
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. About 176 people are still missing, the latest U.N. situation report showed.
“Our biggest concern is that charities and aid agencies seem to be providing assistance to evacuation centres only. People living outside the centres and (in) remote places are not getting the same support,” Brenda Escalante, associate protection officer for the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) in the Philippines, told AlertNet by phone from the disaster zone.
“Even without typhoons, these remote communities were already marginalised and poor... they are also victims of the conflict that is affecting the island, so the disaster is compounding their problems.”
A decades-old conflict between government forces and Muslim separatists in Mindanao has killed 120,000 people, displaced 2 million and stunted growth in the poor but resource-rich island.
REMOTE AREAS UNDERSERVED
The UNHCR has been supporting about 37,000 vulnerable people in isolated areas outside the city of Iligan and around Lanao del Sur, a neighbouring province, Escalante said.
There are also vulnerable communities in other neighbouring provinces such as Lanao del Norte and the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, all of which are “still largely underserved,” according to the latest U.N. situation report.
“The focus of the government is mostly in the lowland where most devastation happened. In the hinterlands, the casualties are low but there is damage on crops, farmland and livestock and they are receiving less attention,” Escalante said.
The report also 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.
“Distribution of aid remains insufficient and inequitable; the focus must shift from ECs (evacuation centres) to the displaced outside of ECs, host communities and people in remote and isolated areas,” the report said.
“The lack of documentation, including birth certificates, impedes access of people in rural communities to national and local government services.”
The report follows the United Nations’ call last week for authorities to urgently find more land for tens of thousands of displaced people as the risk of disease outbreaks mounted. The U.N. also said Leptospirosis vaccination was provided to more than 20,000 people in the first week of January, following an outbreak of the severe bacterial infection that has killed 16 people. There are 594 suspected cases of the disease, it said.
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)