Disasters brought on by typhoons, floods and earthquakes displace millions of people across the Philippines each year and leave hundreds of thousands living in protracted displacement. In the southern island group of Mindanao, decades of internal armed conflict and instability continues to drive new displacement.
About 3.8 million new displacements were recorded in the Philippines in 2018, the highest figure associated with disasters in the world. About half of the total number of new displacements were caused by Typhoon Mangkhut, which hit in early September. Conflict and violence triggered about 188,000 new displacements, primarily in the southern Mindanao region.
Average expected number of displacements per year – for sudden-onset hazards:
What causes displacement?
Frequent and prolonged displacement in the Philippines occurs as a result of disasters brought on by natural hazards, conflict in Mindanao, and development projects that often affect indigenous people’s ancestral land. The vulnerability of marginalised minority communities, including indigenous groups and people living in informal settlements, means they tend to face the greatest risk and worst impacts of displacement.
Poverty coupled with rapid urbanisation and the growth of unplanned settlements, many of them in coastal areas prone to hazards, and ineffective or unenforced building and land-zoning regulations are major drivers of disaster and displacement risk, compounded by weak governance and a lack of accountability.
Its geographical location along the Pacific “typhoon belt” and “ring of fire” mean the archipelago is highly exposed to recurrent hydro-meteorological and geophysical hazards, including tropical storms and typhoons, floods, landslides, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and drought. It experiences an average of 20 tropical storms a year, mainly between June and September, of which an average of five are destructive. Floods occur during the rainy season from June to November and during the south-west monsoon from November to April.
The country is also highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and adverse effects are already being reported.
An annual average of 3.7 million displacements associated with disasters were recorded between 2008 and 2017, 84 per cent of which were triggered by typhoons and the storm surges, floods and high winds that accompany them. The largest single displacement event in recent years was caused by typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, a category-five storm which displaced more than four million people in November 2013. In 2018, the Philippines had the highest displacement related to disasters worldwide, with a total of 3.8 million new displacements recorded. The passage of typhoon Mangkhut in September triggered 1.6 million new displacements alone. Other major events included Typhoon Son-Tinh in July, which triggered 902,000 new displacements and Typhoon Yutu in October, which caused 439,000 new displacements.
The southern Philippines also has a long history of multi-faceted internal conflicts involving Muslim separatists, communists, clan militias, criminal groups and political elites, mostly on the remote islands of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), recently renamed to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, after a plebiscite in January 2019. The largest rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), waged an armed rebellion for more than 40 years in pursuit of its demand for an autonomous Islamic state for the Moro people, an indigenous group that converted to Islam several centuries ago.
After numerous failed attempts, the government and MILF finally signed a peace agreement in 2014, which granted greater political autonomy in exchange for an end to hostilities. Implementation of the agreement has been slow, however, and violence has continued as other insurgent groups continue to fight for full independence.
These include the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the smaller but more extreme Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). Clashes between these groups and the Philippine military have displaced thousands of people. The military declared an all-out offensive against BIFF in February 2015, and launched a number of operations against ASG over the course of 2016.
In May 2017, the conflict moved to the capital of Mindanao, Marawi city. The military and the Maute group (allegedly supported by elements of the ASG and BIFF) clashed, displacing more than 350,000 people in the city and surrounding region. The conflict officially ended in October 2017, however, a year on, 65,000 people remain displaced. Martial law was extended in Mindanao in December 2018 for another year, giving the military widespread powers including the right to make arrests without warrants and to set up roadblocks and checkpoints.
About 188,000 new displacements due to conflict and violence were recorded in 2018, a decrease on the previous year, and 301,000 people were still displaced at the end of the year.
Where and how do people move?
Pendular and multiple displacements associated with disasters, conflict and violence have become common in some areas of the Philippines. These complex movement patterns happen over time as IDPs seek the best options to meet their evolving needs. Many first move to evacuation centres or take refuge with host families, travelling frequently between their places of shelter and their former homes as they start to rebuild and recover their livelihoods. Others leave affected areas to seek refuge and access to basic services and livelihoods in other regions, as seen after typhoon Haiyan.
IDPs who find themselves living in prolonged displacement and unable to return are often relocated to transitional shelters to meet their medium-term housing needs. This was the case for around 200,000 people whose homes were in areas the authorities designated as unsafe “no dwelling zones” after typhoon Haiyan.
What is life like for IDPs and communities hosting them?
The major challenges IDPs face, particularly those displaced for extended periods, including securing access to safe, durable housing and basic services such as education, and generating income despite the lack of livelihood opportunities near their new homes.
This was clearly demonstrated two years after typhoon Haiyan, when thousands of IDPs were still living in transitional shelters where conditions were sometimes sub-standard in terms of construction and access to basic services, protection and safety.
The same applies for IDPs displaced by conflict, who face obstacles including government restrictions on return to areas it considers unsafe, exclusion from permanent housing assistance and limited alternative settlement options. Relocation to transitional sites has been criticised for being coercive and failing to adhere to international standards. Ethnic minorities such as the Badjao people in ARMM and the Lumad people in Mindanao have been particularly affected in this sense.
Where does data on displacement come from and what are the main challenges?
The Philippines is one of the most reliable countries in Asia for data on displacement associated with both conflict and disasters. Our primary source is the government’s Disaster Response Operations Monitoring and Information Centre (DROMIC), a division of the Disaster Response Management Bureau (DRMB), which in turn is part of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
DROMIC publishes regular situation reports that include overall figures for displacement associated with conflict and disasters, and disaggregates its information by geography, cumulative flows and time-stamped stock. For larger or more complicated events, it issues daily reports. Given the numerous islands and regions that make up the Philippines, it works with its field offices to monitor and collect information.
DROMIC’s data is highly reliable and provides national coverage, but we have identified cases of displacement associated with both conflict and disasters that the government has not reported. This can be attributed to the small scale of some events. As a result, we also monitor media reports and information from organisations such as UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the protection cluster to gain a better understanding of the overall situation.
This is particularly the case for conflicts. The protection cluster’s data from the southern Mindanao region provides a more detailed picture of displacement broken down by type of conflict between communal tensions, clan feuds, land disputes and armed separatist attacks.
Both DROMIC and the protection cluster also report on returns when possible.
IDMC’s estimate of the total number of IDPs in the Philippines and the number of new displacements in 2018 are based on reports issued by the government’s Disaster Response Operations Monitoring and Information Centre (DROMIC) and the Protection Cluster, which provide current and cumulative figures on specific incidents of displacement. As in previous years, most in 2018 was triggered by conflict in Mindanao, including armed attacks, political violence and communal tensions.
Based on its analysis of data published by DROMIC and the protection cluster, IDMC characterises the return of 65,000 IDPs as a partial solution because they may still face vulnerabilities related to their displacement.