Marawi’s hidden hostages
Perhaps it’s good news that Marawi has fallen off the front pages of the major newspapers. By the typical measure of newsworthiness, it could mean that the siege of that city has ceased to become a major concern, a subject of intense public scrutiny.
Indeed, reports from the military paint a guardedly optimistic scenario, claiming that only 30-40 “good fighters” of the Maute Group or their sympathizers remain in the city. Certainly a big “bragging right” is the capture, or re-capture, of Mapandi Bridge, a landmark structure that leads to Marawi’s commercial center where the remaining terrorists are said to be holed up.
AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla told the media that the main objective of the military right now is not to attack the positions still held by the Mautes, but rather to “rescue the hostages” they still have. After which, it is presumed, government forces would then launch a “massive assault.”
Even as the country faces this most delicate situation, evacuees and internally displaced people, especially children, continue to face dire threats to their health and lives, unwitting and unrecognized hostages.
Timely then is the announcement by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and the government of Japan which has given a grant of $800,000 to the UN agency. The money, it was pointed out, is meant to respond to the heightened risks of diarrhea outbreaks and other health hazards among the displaced children, families and host communities in Marawi and surrounding areas.
The donation from Japan should scale up response to the massive and still growing need of over 200,000 children to vital health services, including access to clean water, immunization and nutrition.
“Unicef thanks the government of Japan for the generous support that will enable us to scale up response to the displaced and affected population,” said Unicef representative Lotta Sylwander. “Access to immunization, nutrition, safe drinking water and clean sanitation is a fundamental human right of children and families we serve. Impeded access of these life-saving services poses significant public health threats and adversely affects the livelihoods and safety of women and children that further exacerbates humanitarian crisis and displacement,” Sylwander added.
The armed conflict in Marawi has resulted in 359,680 people displaced, with many of them living in host communities or across the 75 evacuation centers. Over 200,000 children have been displaced. Many of those living in host-communities are affected by scarcity of household resources, including food and school supplies, in one of the poorest areas in the country.
According to Unicef, the Marawi crisis which is now into its third month, is still far from resolved. There is no expectation that families will be able to return to their homes soon. Needs have been reported across all humanitarian sectors, but poor sanitation and hygiene is a key concern in heavily congested evacuation centers and host communities with the largest numbers of displaced families.
Unicef response in the Water and Sanitation sector so far includes distribution of 1,751 hygiene kits and 2,166 water kits, and hygiene promotion sessions in four areas of Lanao del Norte: Pantao Ragat, Pantar and Balo-i and Iligan City; and Saguiaran in Lanao del Sur. Unicef also provided water storage bladders, jerry cans and water purification tablets to ensure adequate clean water for drinking and general household use to ease sanitation conditions in evacuation centers.
The UN agency-supported Water and Sanitation response has so far benefited nearly 25,000 people. Health response has reached a few thousand children with micronutrient and Vitamin A supplements along with 3,000 pregnant and lactating women with iron-folic acid tablets. At least 20 children with Severe Acute Malnutrition and 79 children with Moderate Acute Malnutrition were identified and managed. Unicef promoted breastfeeding for hundreds of young children by providing breastfeeding kits and sensitization programs for caregivers.
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