Kids die in Zambo evacuation camps; shelters needed

Of the 86 people who have died in evacuation camps in Zamboanga City, more than 50% are children

RELOCATION URGENT. The photo shows families displaced by the standoff between government troops and the Moro National Liberation Front in September 2013. File photo by DSWD

MANILA, Philippines – Displaced Zamboanga City residents might have escaped the gunfire during the bloody standoff between government troops and Muslim rebels in September 2013 but they risk death every day as they continue to live in evacuation camps 5 months after the crisis. 

Of the 86 people who have died in evacuation camps in Zamboanga City since September 2013, more than 50% are children under 5 years old, Zamboanga City health officer Rodelin Agbulos said Wednesday, February 19. 

At one point during the height of the crisis in September, child mortality rates in the camps exceeded the international emergency threshold of one death per 10,000 people per day, Agbulos said.

“As a health intervention, we conducted a survey on children and moms, which are, of course, the part of the population that is highly vulnerable. We found that a lot of them were suffering from severe and acute malnutrition,” Agbulos said. 

The standoff between government troops and Moro National Liberation Front troops identified with the faction of its founding chairman Nur Misuari killed at least 110 people and displaced over 100,000 individuals. (READ: Zambo crisis: The fog of war)

Five months later, about 26,000 residents continue to live in evacuation camps, with most of them located at the Joaquin Enriquez Memorial Grandstand near the city’s main boulevard.

Cramped shelters and poor living conditions have caused health problems for families.

Agbulos said gastroenteritis, diarrhea and dehydration were the leading causes of death for the displaced residents. 

Too many people

“The primary factor is really why we’re having this mortality is really the congestion – there are too many people,” Agbulos said. 

A temporary health center in the grandstand with an assigned doctor that conducts regular rotations has been set up. 

Local officials said it is high time for displaced residents to be relocated to better temporary shelters. 

Mayor Isabelle “Beng” Climaco-Salazar said that on Wednesday, local government officials met with Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson and National Housing Authority General Manager Chito Cruz in Manila to finalize their relocation plans. 

“Timelines were set as the priority is to decongest [evacuation camps in] RT Lim and the grandstand to prevent illness and deaths. We urge host communities to support temporary shelters,” Climaco said. 

President Benigno Aquino III in December 2013 approved a P3-billion funding for the Zamboanga City Roadmap to Recovery and Reconstruction otherwise known as Z3R. 

Agbulos said the Z3R team plans to start relocating displaced residents this week. 

In a Wall Street Journal report, Salazar said one of the reasons behind the delay was the failure of the government to identify land where temporary shelters may be constructed. 

During the meeting, Agbulos said the Z3R team identified barangays Curuan and Taluksangay as the possible location of the planned bunkhouses.  –