One year after the Siege of Marawi started on May 23, 2017, an estimated 237,000 people are still displaced. While an estimated 164,000 people have returned to the city, “ground zero” or the site where the intense fighting occurred still remains closed.
The displaced population, many of which are suffering from psychological stress, are hardly receiving support from the international community. “We are talking about an intense unprecedented siege in the country that lasted five months that turned Marawi into a ghost town,” said Javad Amoozegar, former Country Director of Action Against Hunger Philippines, who led the emergency response projects when the armed conflict started. “Although the battle officially ended on October 23, 2017, seven months later the level of destruction made it impossible to return to ground zero and 237,000 displaced persons (an estimated 360,000 people initially left the city) still live in settlements or in host communities that can barely cover their basic needs: they depend on food aid and water purchased from private suppliers or supplied in tankers,” explained Benedetta Lettera, Desk Officer for Action Against Hunger Philippines.
“The delicate situation was further exacerbated when Tropical Storm Vinta made landfall in the areas where the evacuees were staying on December 22, affecting 175,000 people,” added Amoozegar. Lettera also mentioned that many farmers or people with peri-urban orchards were displaced, losing their livelihoods and source of food. “The siege completely broke the market dynamics: Marawi was the main commercial center and supplier of goods to the river communities of Lake Lanao. The economic impact of the armed conflict was that it completely destroyed trade,” she explained. Amoozegar warns of the risk of radicalization among the young people: “In the context of extreme poverty, they will find that joining jihadist groups to be an easy option. What happened in Marawi could resurface at any time or anywhere in the island of Mindanao. ●