Comprehensive response to wave of displacement crises needed

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Within the last 12 months, the Philippines has experienced three major natural hazard-related disasters - typhoon Bopha in December 2012, the Bohol earthquake in October 2013 and typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. These three disasters and others have directly affected 23 million people and internally displaced as many as eight million. Nearly 1.4 million homes have been damaged or destroyed, and millions of livelihoods lost. As of early December 2013, it was estimated that around 4.5 were displaced throughout the country, most of them in Western and Eastern Visayas, the regions most affected by Haiyan. In Mindanao, despite significant progress in the peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) -the main Muslim rebel group-ongoing conflicts between the government and several other rebel groups, and clan-related violence, have continued to cause displacement, forcing nearly 200,000 people to flee their homes since January 2013. This includes an estimated 120,000 people who fled fighting in Zamboanga city in September 2013, of whom at least 72,000 are still displaced.

Typhoon Haiyan’s devastating power left millions of people in need of life-saving food, shelter, clean water and health assistance. To date the government and aid agencies have faced immense logistical and transport challenges in reaching affected communities, particularly those in the most remote locations, and many people have been unable to access humanitarian aid. Nearly two weeks after Haiyan struck, more than half of the estimated 2.5 million people were still waiting for emergency food assistance. Vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, children, older people and the disabled often require particular attention. Displaced and separated children are at risk of exploitation and abuse, including trafficking. Haiyan is thought to have displaced as many as 1.7 million children.

Many internally displaced people (IDPs) reportedly returned to their homes within a few days of Haiyan's passing, and the majority of those still displaced are expected to do likewise in the coming weeks. Given the scale of the destruction, returnees are in urgent need of materials to repair or rebuild their homes. Those who lost their official land ownership or tenancy documents in the disaster will need help, both in ensuring that their paperwork is reissued and in accessing compensation if return is not permitted, particularly in areas considered at high risk from future disasters. Informal settlers will also need assistance in protecting their land rights.

Displacements caused by conflict and violence are much smaller in scale than those caused by natural disasters, but they tend to affect the same deprived communities over and over again, gradually undermining their resilience and pushing them further into poverty. Many of these communities are also affected by natural disasters, which often cause new displacements and disrupt their recovery. In central and western Mindanao, floods made the already precarious living conditions of those displaced by conflict worse, particularly in the area's poorly-equipped camps and makeshift shelters. In eastern Mindanao, some communities affected by typhoon Bopha were already suffering deepening social and economic vulnerabilities as a result of conflict and previous displacements before the storm hit, and their remote locations made humanitarian access difficult.

Haiyan overwhelmed the response capacity of both the government and its international humanitarian partners, whose resources and personnel were already stretched by previous emergencies. It also destroyed roads, bridges and other infrastructure, creating further obstacles to the response, particularly for local authorities in poor areas whose capacity was already weak.

The government has adopted landmark legislation in recent years to protect its citizens against displacement risks arising from natural disasters. The 2010 Philippine National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act (PDRRM-2010) in particular has significantly strengthened the legal framework, but challenges persist in the implementation of laws and procedures at the local level. In February 2013, congress adopted new legislation on internal displacement which recognised the right of all IDPs to protection and assistance, whether displaced by conflict, natural disasters or development projects. In May, however, the country's president, Benigno Aquino, vetoed the law on the basis that some of its provisions were unconstitutional. As recent events have shown, internal displacement is a recurring feature in the Philippines and adequate protection mechanisms need to be put in place to ensure IDPs are able to exercise their rights. As such, it is essential that both the government and congress work together to renew efforts to adopt legislation on the issue.

The international community has mobilised tremendous material and financial resources to support the government's response to Haiyan. Only three weeks after it was launched, a $348 million appeal to support humanitarian and recovery activities was already 48 per cent funded. Significant gaps remained, however, particularly in the livelihoods, nutrition, camp coordination and management and emergency shelter sectors. The government and its international partners have also made significant efforts in recent years to address the immediate humanitarian needs of people displaced by conflict and violence in Mindanao, but a lack of funding has often undermined early recovery and rehabilitation programmes. Donor support in response to Haiyan has been positive, but there is a clear risk that the aftermath of the storm will overshadow previous emergencies, leaving hundreds of thousands of IDPs, returnees and members of host communities without the assistance they need to rebuild their lives.