Mindanao’s 600,000 IDPs in 2008 is biggest worldwide

The number of Mindanao IDPs – 600,000 at the height of  skirmishes last year — is higher than the “massive new displacements” in Sudan (550,000), Kenya (500,000), Democratic Republic of Congo (at least 400,000), Iraq (360,000), Pakistan (over 310,000), Somalia (300,000), Colombia (270,000 to June 2008), Sri Lanka (230,000) and India (over 220,000).

According to IDMC’s report, “Internal Displacement: Global Overview of Trends and

Developments in 2008,” an estimated 26 million people were still displaced within their

countries, the same number as in 2007 and the highest since the early 1990s.

The largest internally displaced populations as of yearend 2008 were found in Sudan (4.9 million), Colombia (up to 4.3 million) and Iraq (2.8 million).

By yearend, the Philippines’ IDP population in Mindanao had gone down to 308,000. As of March 17, 2009, the last report of the National Disaster Coordinating Council’s (NDCC) on the IDPs in Mindanao, the number of displaced had gone down to 209,320. But there have been additional reports of displacements since then.

Displaced by GRP-MILF conflict only

The Philippine report in the IDMC “only includes people displaced as a result of the August 2008 upsurge in fighting between the MILF and government forces in Mindanao. It does not include people displaced in previous years and who have not been able to fund durable solutions, nor people displaced by clashes between government forces and communist NPA rebels in Mindanao and elsewhere.”

The IDMC was established by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) following the request of the United Nations Inter-Agency Standing Committee to set up an IDP database in 1998. The Centre has since evolved into the leading international body monitoring internal displacement caused by confl ict and violence in some 50 countries worldwide.

“We all share the responsibility to assist and show our solidarity with the world’s IDPs”, NRC

Secretary-General Elisabeth Rasmusson said in a press statement dispatched by e-mail.
At the report’s launch in New York,
António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees said “in the context of conflict prevention, forced displacement remains a major challenge, as does the protection of IDPs.”

The report says that countries with at least 200,000 people newly displaced in 2008 “in order of scale” are: “Philippines, Sudan, Kenya, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC),

Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Colombia, Sri Lanka and India” while countries with at least 80,000 people returning during 2008 in order of scale are “DRC, Uganda, Sudan, Kenya, Philippines, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Georgia, Yemen, Côte d’Ivoire, Central African Republic (CAR) and Timor-Leste.”

The National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC)’s last report on the IDP situation in Mindanao as of March 17, 2009, showed 209,320 displaced persons were still in evacuation centers and “house-based,” of which 14,729 are in Datu Piang, Maguindanao.

At its height in October,  Datu Piang hosted 8,194 families or 41,000 displaced residents from 16 of its 20 towns and from villages in neighboring towns.

While about half the number of evacuees had returned home, Musib Uy Tan, executive secretary to the mayor said they were still hosting 4,112 fam
ilies or about 20,000 persons as of April 20. Between April 21 and 26, an additional 853 families were displaced, bringing the number to 4,965 families or about 25,000. Since April 27, 582 more families have been displaced.

According to the IDMC report, before the last upsurge in fighting, it was estimated that conflict had displaced more than two million people since 2000.

Army: common agent of displacement

“Most displacements have taken place in the southern region of Mindanao where the government has fought secessionist Moro (Muslim) rebels groups for the past 40 years. Although hopes of a formal peace agreement were raised in July 2008 as the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) reached a consensus on the issue of autonomous Moro territory, strong opposition to the deal by Christian groups and growing Moro frustration led to intense fighting in August in North Cotabato Province, which spread to several other provinces,” the report said.

“By the end of 2008 only low-level fighting persisted, but it continued to cause displacement and more than 300,000 people remained unable or unwilling to return to their homes,” it added.

The report said the “common agent of displacement nationwide has been the army, operating across the country against communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, and in Basilan and Sulu provinces against the Abu Sayyaf group and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), as well as against the MILF throughout Mindanao and particularly in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).”

The report also noted that “development projects backed by military support and disproportionately affecting indigenous groups have also caused displacement” and that two groups have been particularly vulnerable to displacement: Moro people living in conflict-affected areas of Mindanao, and indigenous groups whose territory is rich in natural resources. Counter-insurgency operations against the NPA have often resulted in human rights violations against civilians suspected of supporting the insurgents and caused regular displacement although on a smaller scale.”

The NDCC reported 276 dead and 138 injured in the affected areas in Mindanao since August; 3,763 houses damaged, 3,039 of that totally. Damage to property has reached P251.59 million, of which P152.56 million is agriculture and P99 million on infrastructure.

The NDCC also reported that the “overall cost of emergency relief assistance” has reached P251,502,751.85 of which P40.9 million is the “cost of early recovery and initial rehabilitation.”

John Holmes, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said in the IDMC press statement that the number of IDPs “will rise significantly due to anticipated increases in the intensity and frequency of natural disasters. That is why we need to focus urgently on finding appropriate solutions for IDPs to end their displacement and their dependence on relief assistance.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)