Marawi, one year later
United Nations deputy humanitarian chief Ursula Mueller came to a sobering conclusion after an eventful meeting last week with residents displaced by the Marawi conflict: One year after the end of the war, more help from the international community is desperately needed.
“To see is to understand the challenge,” said Mueller, who visited the devastated city as part of a three-day humanitarian mission.
The challenges are indeed daunting: “There is a long road ahead” for the over 320,000 people who have returned to Marawi City, said the August 2018 report of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Unocha).
Marawi folk have to rebuild their lives and regain employment or sustainable livelihoods to put them firmly on the road to recovery. School-age children are especially at risk—“of dropping out of school, recruitment by extremist groups and exposure to increasing poverty,” according to the Unocha report.
Basic services in Marawi City are just gradually scaling up a year since the end of the clash. The Unocha report noted that water supply systems and health facilities have yet to be restored to full capacity, and while schools are being repaired, there is simply not enough space for senior high school classes.
The most immediate need for many residents is to be able to go back to their homes, which were practically reduced to rubble following the raging battle that lasted from May to October 2017, far longer than what the government had expected.
The clash was among the deadliest in recent memory, with more than 800 militants and 162 government forces killed.
While the guns have gone silent, the government still has a disaster on its hands. Marawi remains a city in utter ruin.
The responsibility for its recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation, and those of other affected localities, was placed with the interagency Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM), which is chaired by the head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, with the secretaries of defense and public works as vice chairs.
A full year later, it is just about ready to begin the long-awaited rehabilitation of the most-affected area, kicking off with the debris-clearing of the first 6-hectare area. The groundbreaking was originally scheduled for Oct. 17 but has been moved, again, to Oct. 28 so that President Duterte himself can lead the ceremony.
TFBM chair Eduardo del Rosario has assured residents in various town hall meetings that the rehabilitation of Marawi is indeed underway, but grumbling continues to be heard over the slow pace of the efforts.
Residents are also crying out for more inclusion in the government’s rebuilding program.
The Ranaw Multi-Sectoral Movement pointed out to Mr. Duterte in a March 30, 2018, statement that “plans have been made without our participation. Plans that neither bear the stamp of our will nor reflect our culture. Plans whose mechanics and implementation are not clear to us.
But one thing is clear: The people of Marawi are largely left out. Those who came to present the plan dismissed our comments, recommendations and protestations as though we knew nothing and have no business getting involved in rebuilding our very own city.”
TFBM’s data does indicate some progress.
As of September 2018, the number of internally displaced persons is down to 11,949 from 76,284 at the start of the year.
Evacuation centers are now 23 from 67, while transitional shelters have reached 1,522 units; a second site is underway, with 1,500 units more to be completed.
TFBM has also started the Kambisita program to define anew land boundaries and ownership, and assess the cost of damaged structures.
The Kathanor program is likewise underway, which aims to collect the number, location and status of Marawi evacuees and returnees to help improve the delivery of services and generate better programs and projects for Marawi folk.
But more needs to be done, and done fast. The government has projected that residents will only be able to return by the first half of 2020, when the flattened 250-hectare main battle area has been completely rebuilt.
That timetable is unacceptable to many residents, who simply want to be allowed back into their shattered city to be able to resume their lives and rebuild their homes in their old neighborhoods.
As young Marawi residents have posted on social media: “Hear me as I speak, listen with pure hearts. I don’t need much, we don’t need much. I just want to go home. Let me go home.”
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