In September 2013, in the city of Zamboanga on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, fighting broke out between the Moro National Liberation Front, a Muslim separatist group, and the Philippine Army. One hundred and twenty thousand people were displaced. The confrontation was the latest in a 40-year struggle by minority Muslim groups – comprised of indigenous ethnic people known collectively as “Moros” – for self-determination. Today, more than one year later, over 38,000 people remain displaced.
The fighting mainly targeted areas of the city that were home to the minority Muslim population. Many of those displaced are amongst the poorest and most disenfranchised.
Many of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) were fishermen who lived on stilt houses over the sea. The government has prohibited them from returning to their home areas based on flimsy claims ranging from geohazards to security risks.
In the immediate aftermath of the September fighting, many of the IDPs sought refuge in a local sports stadium. Today, there are still almost 2,000 families — close to 11,000 people — living in the stadium.
Conditions in the stadium are deteriorating. While progress has been made over the last year in moving IDPs out of the stadium , the national government has said that it wants all of them to be relocated by December 15th.
The transitional site that will receive the bulk of the displaced is known as Mampang, but it is located far from town and there is not enough water. This displaced family doesn’t want to go there, but has been told they have no choice.
Activity at Mampang has centered on building shelters to house the IDPs. However, the same attention has not been paid to creating adequate access to water and sanitation, as well as to education, health centers, and livelihoods.
Currently, water is brought into the site by a single, unpaved access road. When it rains, the road becomes impassible. IDPs are forced to walk through mud to get to the water — leaving the elderly, young and infirm without access.
Sanitation at Mampang is also a concern. When RI visited, several of the latrines and showers were locked. The septic tanks have not been emptied and there is no water for showers.
The nearest school is three kilometers away from Mampang, and there is no transport available for the children. Most of the children are not in school, and those who had been attending school prior to their transfer to Mampang are dropping out.
The skeletal humanitarian team in Zamboanga is ill-equipped to manage the humanitarian challenges that remain acute one year later. This woman handed us a note asking for help with healthcare, livelihoods, water, nutrition, and education for her children.