Evacuees eager to return home, regain normalcy PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 15 January 2014 11:23

As per latest data from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), there are still 3,971 families or 19,001 individuals still taking shelter at the evacuation centers in Zamboanga City following the month-long siege here in September last year.

Ma. Lourdes Eudela of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) said that the number of internally-displaced persons (IDPs) sheltering at the evacuation centers has continuously been decreasing as more and more of them are moving into the bunkhouses in Taluksangay, Tulungatung and in the Joaquin Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex, or the Zamboanga Grandstand, where a bulk of the IDPs are temporarily sheltered. The IDPs there have lost their homes to the fires and explosions as a result of the standoff between the Moro National Liberation Front – Misuari Faction and government forces last September.

City Public Information Office (PIO) chief Sheila Covarrubias added that currently, 834 families or 4,571 individuals have already transferred to the transitory sites. “In the transitory sites, the IDPs will have the opportunity to participate in livelihood activities such as Cash-for-Work and Food-for-Work, so that they will gradually be able to stand on their own,” said Covarrubias. In addition to livelihood opportunities, free medical and health services are given to the IDPs there.

P3.5 billion for ‘better communities’

Last December 22, President Benigno S. Aquino III visited the newly-constructed bunkhouses at the Grandstand to personally assess the situation of the families who are temporarily staying there. He assured that within more or less 18 months, they will be able to move back to their communities in Rio Hondo, Talon-Talon and Mariki, which would have already been rebuilt.

“We have allocated P3.5 billion for the Zamboanga City Roadmap to Recovery and Reconstruction. This includes shelter assistance, infrastructure, and assistance to more than 5,600 affected families,” President Aquino was quoted as saying to the mass of IDPs who gathered around him at the Grandstand during his last month. The reconstruction strategy is anchored on the “build back better” principle.

IDPs moving towards normalcy

Meanwhile, the IDPs still at the evacuation centers are trying to maintain normalcy into their lives. At the stretch of R.T. Lim Boulevard, fish vendors regularly flock to sell fish that they catch nearby. Inside the Grandstand and similarly in other evacuation centers such as the one in Sta. Maria Elementary School, IDPs have erected sari-sari stores in front of their tents to sell whatever they can to earn. Some IDPs who rely on agar-agar fishing have voiced out their desire to be permitted to go back to Sumatra in Talon-Talon, which is still closed.

“Kahit di na kami matulog doon, basta papasukin lang kami. Kailangan na talaga naming magkahanapbuhay,” (Even if we could no longer sleep there, they just allow us to get inside. We need to eke out a living) appealed one of the IDPs, as seaweeds are their only source of livelihood.

Moreover, during a rapid assessment of communication needs earlier, it was learned that the IDPs have been persistently encountering a number of difficulties – physical and emotional. IDPs shared that they lack potable water, light, access to information, among others. In addition, they experience emotional stress as non-IDPs would often harass them.

“Gusto na talaga naming makauwi,” (we really want to go home) one of them declared, ironically in spite of knowing that they do not have a home to go back to.

During his visit, President Aquino appealed for the IDPs’ patience, assuring that government is doing everything to swiftly rebuild their homes and to help them enjoy better lives. He assured that the IDPs’ welfare is of paramount priority – in a matter of months, they will be moving back to better, more resilient communities.