Remembering, visiting Zamboanga City
DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Neil Reeder (The Philippine Star) - July 17, 2014 - 12:00am

Along with other representatives of diplomatic missions, UN agencies and NGOs based in Manila, I recently visited Zamboanga City, at the invitation of Social Welfare and Development Secretary Dinky Soliman and United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Luiza Carvalho. 

The visit was meant to obtain a first-hand view of the humanitarian situation among those displaced by the fighting that took place last September between a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Our trip also aimed to raise awareness of the current state of planning for recovery and reconstruction of more durable housing solutions for the displaced. 

Firstly, credit must be given to the great efforts undertaken by the national government and the local government of Zamboanga City, working with other donors, in dealing with this tragic situation and move people into more permanent housing. While many have now found permanent accommodation, there are still about 64,000 people remaining in temporary evacuation centres, schools and host communities.

To me, the situation of internally-displaced persons (IDPs) living along the city’s Cawa-Cawa shoreline seemed particularly precarious as well as the general living situation for those inside the Joaquin F. Enriquez Sports Complex. The greatest needs, according to our personnel on the ground, were in shelter, livelihood, protection, water, sanitation and hygiene. According to the Health Cluster, a total of 104 IDP deaths have been reported over the past six months, primarily of children under the age of five, with diarrhea as the leading cause of mortality.

It was good to see that the Philippine government is advancing with the completion of transitory housing and plans for more permanent housing. The transitional shelter facilities, which we visited, were solid and well-constructed and families are now moving into these facilities. They were very happy to be in more secure, safe accommodation. We were informed that planning is proceeding to secure land for the construction of more permanent housing.  Under the Zamboanga City Roadmap for Recovery and Reconstruction, a joint national/city project supported by Mayor Beng Climaco, the first phase of permanent housing is meant to be completed later this year.

The visit was also meant to highlight shortfalls in funding where foreign governments and donor agencies are being asked to complement funding from the Philippine government in areas such as livelihood, early recovery, education and health.

In that respect, I am proud that Canada has stood up to assist the IDPs in conflict-affected areas of Mindanao, including Zamboanga. The Government of Canada recently announced two major funding commitments to vulnerable communities in the southern Philippines, including C$800,000 (approx. P32 million) for the International Organization of Migration. This assistance will help improve coordination and management of camps for more than 25,000 IDPs in 10 evacuation centers and four temporary shelters in Mindanao including Zamboanga City.

Canada is also contributing C$200,000 (approx. P8.2 million) to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)  to provide protection services (such as monitoring, legal assistance, civil documentation) for approximately 67,000 affected people and support to survivors of sexual violence in conflict areas in Mindanao. 

Our assistance to Zamboanga and other parts of Mindanao reflects a long-standing Canadian tradition of support to refugees around the world.  It also follows other humanitarian assistance we have provided to the Philippines including after typhoon Yolanda and the Bohol earthquake. With these commitments, we are standing up to help protect the internally-displaced in the southern Philippines, who have greatly suffered because of past conflict and civil unrest.

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(Neil Reeder is the Ambassador of Canada.)

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AMBASSADOR OF CANADA ENRIQUEZ SPORTS COMPLEX GOVERNMENT OF CANADA HEALTH CLUSTER INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION OF MIGRATION JOAQUIN F MAYOR BENG CLIMACO MINDANAO MORO NATIONAL LIBERATION FRONT AND THE ARMED FORCES OF THE PHILIPPINES ZAMBOANGA CITY
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