Tens of thousands of displaced persons in Mindanao are experiencing severely compromised living conditions in evacuation camps that offer protection from the fighting between government troops and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) guerrillas.
The National Disaster Coordinating Council said that of the more than half a million people displaced at the height of the fighting in August-September 2008, over 112,000 are still in evacuation camps while another 200,000 are staying with friends or relatives.
At an evacuation site in Talayan that holds more than 1,2000 families or about 8,000 people, 24 people – six of them children – had died in the past two weeks. Living conditions are unsanitary, with scant supplies of drinking water, food, and medicine provided by aid workers. When supplies are delayed, the evacuees who live in makeshift tent and dwellings fetch water from a muddy stream that doubles as a latrine and cleaning area for farm animals.
The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said it was "undertaking a detailed nutrition assessment in the IDP camps and areas" to help the most vulnerable, particularly the children. Aid workers on the ground report 132 people had died in evacuation camps since August.
"About 60 of the 132 deaths are children. Most of the causes of deaths of children are diarrhoea, pneumonia, malnutrition or a combination of those," UNICEF's chief of communications, Angela Travis, told IRIN, adding that some died due to injuries sustained in the fighting and others from an outbreak of measles.
The incidence of diarrhea cases in children has gone down from 956 in the third month of fighting to 163 in the sixth month.
UNICEF has been providing medicines, including vaccinations for measles, micro-nutrients and clean water.
Running gun battles and artillery exchanges between troops and renegade MILF guerrillas occur almost daily near tens of thousands of displaced persons crammed inside camps.
The government said relative calm had returned to some areas and was encouraging evacuees to decamp. Many displaced people, however, fear random attacks by MILF guerrillas, and said that despite the hardship in the evacuation camps, they provided a sense of security, with government troops regularly checking on their situation.
"Getting a ceasefire in Mindanao would be an important achievement in humanitarian terms alone," the International Crisis Group stated in its 16 February report.
IRIN, Philippines: Death and disease stalk IDP camps, 23 February 2009, http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=83089