9 December 2013 |

Comprehensive response to wave of displacement crises needed

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.

Background and causes of displacement

Armed conflict and human rights violations have displaced millions of people in the Philippines over the past three decades. Most of the violence and displacement has taken place on the island group of Mindanao in the southern Philippines, where the government has been fighting insurgent groups since the 1970s. Mindanao is the poorest region of the country, and the conflict there has its roots in under-development, poor governance, inequitable wealth distribution and the marginalisation of the Muslim or Moro community and indigenous people known locally as Lumads. Both groups have historically been dispossessed of their land and property rights by a number of discriminatory laws and policies favouring Christian settlers and private companies. The government has also been fighting the New People’s Army (NPA), communist rebels who are active throughout the country, since the end of the 1960s.

The Philippines is also prone to frequent disasters brought on by natural hazards, which in recent times have led to more than a million people a year being displaced (IDMC, 13 May 2013, p.22).

The Bangsamoro conflict

In 1976 the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the government signed the Tripoli Agreement, which established a degree of autonomy for 13 provinces and nine cities in the southern Philippines. After only limited success in implementing it amid continuing conflict, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was formally established in 1990. Six years later, MNLF entered into a final peace deal with the government, leaving the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as the country's main Muslim insurgency. Of the six regions that make up Mindanao, ARMM has tended to suffer the worst in terms of conflict, displacement and lack of development.

Most of the 3.5 million people estimated to have been displaced between 2000 and 2013 were concentrated in ARMM provinces, all five of which are in the bottom ten of the national human development index (HDI). Poverty incidence numbers in ARMM increased from 25 per cent in 2003 to 38 per cent in 2009 (WFP, April 2013, p.10). Life expectancy, school enrolment, literacy and income levels are among the lowest in the country (OCHA, 4 February 2011, pp.17-20; Mindanews, 26 April 2013). Economic growth is also the lowest, and depends largely on post-conflict aid and reconstruction programmes, the exploitation of natural resources and illicit activities such as smuggling and the trafficking of small arms, drugs and people (NewsDesk, 30 January 2013; CHD, July 2011, p.14). These activities tend to benefit a small minority of powerful land-owning Moro oligarchs and their clients, tacitly backed by a central government which has traditionally relied on them for help in its fight against Moro insurgents and for political support during national elections (Lara Jr. & Champain, July 2009, p.9; WB, March 2011, p.2). Insurgency-related violence, and inter-clan violence known locally as rido, provide a favourable context for this exclusionary economy, which is controlled at gunpoint.

In August 2008, the suspension of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA-AD), a deal between the central government and MILF on the issue of an autonomous Moro homeland, led to the collapse of peace talks and sparked renewed clashes. The fighting led to the displacement of at least 750,000 people across several Mindanao provinces, with ARMM particularly affected (DSWD, 15 May 2009). By the time hostilities ended in July 2009, hundreds of thousands of people were living in collective centres and camps - known by the government as evacuation centres – in resettlement sites or with host communities. The ensuing ceasefire allowed most of the IDPs to go back to their home areas, but the absence of a peace agreement, the continued presence of armed groups and escalating rido remained serious obstacles to return until 2011. They also caused new displacements.

Rooted in the Muslim culture of honour and exacerbated by poverty, poor governance, corruption and the proliferation of firearms, rido is usually related to political or business and land disputes (AF, 2007, p.12). Rival claims to land are one the main triggers of recurrent conflicts between influential Moro clans, most of which maintain private armies. Often formed with tacit government support, many of these armies have become indistinguishable from other state-backed militias such as the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Units (CAFGUs) and Civilian Volunteer Organisations (CVOs) (CHD, July 2011, p.8). Following the 2009 “Maguindanao massacre” in which the private army of one of the region's most influential clans killed 58 people, including 37 journalists, the Philippine president, Benigno Aquino, promised to disband such groups and to revoke Executive Order 540 which allows local officials to arm CVOs. Four years later, however, little progress has been made, and as of 2012 at least 107 private armies were still active (HRW, 21 November 2012 and 21 November 2013).

The government made significant progress in its peace negotiations with MILF during 2012, in particular with the October signing of a framework agreement that provides for the creation of Bangsamoro, a new political entity to replace ARMM by 2016. While both parties managed to make encouraging progress during 2013 with three of the four annexes of the peace deal signed by the end of the year, the relationship between the government and MNLF, however, deteriorated markedly. MNLF signed its own peace deal with the government in 1996, but considers implementation to have been inadequate. A tripartite review of the agreement with the participation of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) is ongoing, but it has made little headway. The signing of the Bangsamoro agreement was not well received by MNLF, as it felt it had largely been sidelined. In August 2013, the group’s founder and leader, Nur Misuari, declared the independence of the “Bangsamoro Republik”, signaling that the rebel movement no longer considered itself bound by the 1996 peace agreement (PhilStar, 15 August 2013). A month later, fighting between MNLF and the armed forces erupted in the city of Zamboanga and spread quickly to Basilan province. The clashes caused widespread destruction in Zamboanga and forced around 120,000 people to flee their homes (NDRRMC, 1 October 2013).    

Other Muslim armed groups in Mindanao include the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), which is mostly active in the western province of Sulu and is notorious for its kidnapping activities; and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a MILF breakaway group. In August 2012, BIFF carried out a series of attacks on military detachments in Maguindanao and North Cotabato provinces that displaced as many as 60,000 people. It also launched renewed attacks in North Cotabato in August and September 2013, forcing nearly 20,000 people to flee their homes (Rappler, 23 September 2013; Philippine Inquirer, 13 August 2013).

The communist insurgency 

The 46-year conflict between the government and the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), is estimated to have cost more than 40,000 lives (ICG, 14 February 2011). Its effects are felt throughout the country, but they are particularly significant in eastern Mindanao, an NPA stronghold. Inhabitants are regularly displaced, both by armed clashes and the militarisation of their communities as the army consolidates its presence in the region. There are reports of violations of a number of human rights and of international humanitarian law (IHL), which have led to displacements. These include indiscriminate bombardments, the use of schools as barracks and command centres, harassment, threats, forced labour, restricted freedom of movement and extrajudicial killings (UNCHR, 5 March 2003; UNICEF, October 2006, CERD, 28 August 2009) .

Those displaced by the conflict are mainly Lumads, who live in remote, mountainous areas. Many NPA fighters are themselves Lumads, and the military tends to perceive the indigenous group as a whole as being NPA insurgents or supporters. As part of its counterinsurgency strategy, the army is encouraging Lumad communities to form or join civil defence militias and paramilitary groups. Caught between the two warring parties, Lumads are exposed to high levels of violence and are at risk of abuses by both sides. Many communities are split between those who support NPA and those who seek government protection. Most of the violence civilians suffer, and which causes regular displacements, takes place in remote areas and is under-reported.

Armed conflict is not the only displacement threat indigenous people in Mindanao face. Their land and human rights are also under attack as outsiders seek to exploit the region's abundant natural resources. Mindanao is thought to hold the country’s largest reserves of nickel, copper and gold, and resistance to extraction projects is sometimes met with violence. Many indigenous people are forcibly evicted, particularly those who lack ancestral land titles or other proof of ownership. Tensions over land access and management, one of the underlying causes of the conflict, add another dimension to the violence and are thought to fuel the fighting and increase NPA recruitment (IDMC, 9 August 2013).

Natural hazard-related disasters

The Philippines, and Mindanao in particular, is prone to natural disasters, mainly typhoons and floods but also earthquakes, and the country has recently experienced unprecedented levels of new displacement caused by rapid-onset natural hazards. On 9 November, typhoon Haiyan, thought to be the worst disaster of its kind to have affected the Philippines in recent history, hit the Visayas region. The storm affected more than 14 million people across nine regions, or close to 15 per cent of the country’s population. At least 5,600 people were killed and an estimated five million people displaced (NDRRMC, 1 December 2013; DSWD, 6 December 2013).  

Haiyan was the latest in a series of disasters to affect the country during 2013, and some areas experienced multiple events. More than 340,000 people were displaced by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Bohol province in mid-October, and the majority were still living in tents and makeshift shelters three weeks later when they had to evacuate again ahead of Haiyan. In August, typhoon Utor and heavy monsoon rains made worse by tropical storm Trami forced around 800,000 people to flee their homes in the northern Luzon region of the country (IFRC, 26 August 2013). Landslides and floods brought on by typhoons Usagi and Nari in September and October also caused deaths, destruction and the displacement of around 100,000 people (OCHA, 14 October 2013; 23 September 2013). 

The Philippines experienced its highest level of disaster-induced displacement in five years in 2012, with more than three million people displaced. Displacement peaked in June and December as a result of major floods and the typhoon Bopha respectively. Bopha struck Mindanao, forcing more than a million of the 6.2 million people impacted to evacuate. It destroyed or damaged more than 235,000 homes and much public infrastructure (OCHA, 23 January 2013). Damage to agricultural-based livelihoods was enormous, in particular in Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental where most coconut and banana plantations were wiped out, leaving thousands of families with no means to make a living and feed their families. Eastern Mindanao bore the brunt of the disaster, with indigenous communities particularly affected. Almost a year earlier to the day tropical storm Washi struck northern Mindanao, displacing an estimated 430,000 people. It also destroyed around 40,000 homes in the worst affected cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro (IDMC, 31 January 2013).

Filipinos are disproportionately affected by natural hazards such as floods and storms, compared with other nations with similar populations and exposure to such events. People living below the poverty line tend to suffer most as a result of their socioeconomic vulnerability. Poor building standards and the high number of vulnerable people living in areas prone to hazards mean disaster and displacement risk levels are high.

In many cases, natural disasters make the already precarious living conditions of people displaced by conflict worse and increase their vulnerability. This is particularly true of IDPs living in poorly-equipped camps and makeshift shelters across Mindanao. They also often make return and recovery more difficult when, for example, crops and property are lost. A study conducted by the World Bank (WB) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) at the end of 2010 showed that displaced and returned households in central Mindanao were more exposed to weather-related shocks than those who had not been displaced mainly because of their comparatively poorer food security (WB/WFP, 15 February 2012, p.42).

Displacement figures and patterns

Cumulative displacement since December 2012

It is estimated that at least eight million people have been displaced by conflict, violence, human rights violations and natural hazard-related disasters since December 2012, with Haiyan the largest single event. The overall figure includes more than 200,000 people who have fled armed conflict, rido and other violence in Mindanao. Levels of displacement caused by conflict are set to overtake those of last year, when 178,000 people were displaced, and the number fleeing natural hazard-related disasters has already more than doubled from three million in 2012 to nearly 7 million in 2013. 

Number currently displaced

As of early December 2013, it was estimated that between 4 and 5 million people were displaced, including 4 million in areas affected by Haiyan (DSWD, 6 December 2013), 829,000 in areas affected by Bopha (Mindanao PC, 30 August 2013), 71,620 in Zamboanga (OCHA, 24 November 2013) and 8,550 in Bohol (OCHA, 24 November 2013).  

Nearly all of those displaced by Haiyan were concentrated in the regions of Western and Eastern Visayas. Some 103,000 people remained in more than 385 government-run evacuation centres, but the overwhelming majority of IDPs - 97 per cent - were living outside such facilities (DSWD, 6 December 2013). Half of those displaced in Zamboanga were living in 14 evacuation centres, and the other half with host families (OCHA, 24 November 2013). Most of those still displaced in areas affected by Bopha were reported to be living with host families or in spontaneous settlements in the Davao region, particularly in Compostela Valley where nearly half a million people were originally displaced by the disaster. As of July 2013, Davao Oriental had the highest proportion of people still displaced as a percentage of its overall population, but no current figure was available (REACH, October 2013, p.18). At the end of 2012, around 224,000 people were displaced in the province, 179,000 of whom were living outside camps (NDRRMC, 25 December 2012).

It should be noted that figures fluctuate constantly as some people are newly displaced while others return, integrate locally or settle elsewhere. At best they provide a snapshot at one given time of situations which may change significantly in a matter of weeks or months. In July 2013, it was estimated that just over a million people were displaced nationwide. Four months later, the figure was almost five times as high. Figures also tend to only partially capture the reality of displacement as they generally reflect the initial movement of people who seek refuge in government-run evacuation centres. They sometimes fail to account for, or at least underestimate the number of IDPs who opt to stay with host families or in makeshift shelters, and secondary movements of those for whom return may not be possible or who chose to settle elsewhere. Estimates may also be distorted upwards by the double registration of IDPs, either by the displaced themselves in the hope of additional assistance or by local officials trying to secure more generous allocations of resources. 

Data collection only focuses on certain IDP groups and does not include communities hosting IDPs and resettled groups, or returnees who may still need humanitarian and protection assistance. Host communities often need humanitarian and livelihood assistance to cope with influxes of IDPs, which put additional strain on their often already stretched resources. A multi-cluster assessment conducted in 33 Mindanao municipalities in September 2012 showed that around 911,000 people - IDPs and members of current or former host communities and resettlement groups -  could be considered “at risk”, meaning that they were classified as among the most highly vulnerable and in need of protection. The main driver of their vulnerability was forced displacement caused by a combination of conflict, violence and natural disasters. Of the total, 522,000 were classified as “affected”, mainly IDPs and returnees in need of humanitarian and recovery assistance and protection (OCHA, 27 November 2012, p.25).

Number of people displaced by conflict and violence in 2013

All of the 200,000 people displaced by conflict and violence since January 2013 fled homes in Mindanao. The majority have been able to return, but as of early December an estimated 72,000 people were still living in displacement in Zamboanga and Basilan, most of them with host families (OCHA, 24 November 2013). Others may still be taking refuge elsewhere in the region.

In North Cotabato province at least 30,000 people were displaced between May and September. They fled fighting between MILF and MNLF in May and June, and clashes between the government and BIFF in August and September (Rappler, 23 September 2013; Philippine Inquirer, 13 August 2013; Mindanao PC, 10 June 2013).

In February, around 2,000 people fled fighting between MNLF and ASG in Sulu province, and police operations against an escaped drug trafficker led to the displacement of a similar number of people in Basilan province in May (Rappler, 5 February 2013; Mindanao PC, 5 May 2013). Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi also had to cope with the return of more than 17,000 migrant workers who fled neighbouring Malaysia between February and April to escape clashes between the Malaysian army and Filipino militants in an ongoing territorial dispute (Philstar, 18 June 2013; OCHA, 1 June 2013). Most returnees were accommodated in evacuation centres in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi (PhilStar, 1 April 2013). Rido also caused displacement, mainly in Maguindanao province (Zambotimes, 11 October 2013; GMA News, 23 May 2013; Philstar, 18 January 2013).

The main cause of conflict-induced displacement in eastern Mindanao is fighting between the government and NPA. The largest incident occurred in March when more than 600 people fled their villages near Butuan city in Caraga region to escape military operations against the rebels (Mindanews, 11 March 2013). A few days later, clashes forced around 60 families to flee their homes in Agusan del Norte province (Mindanews, 17 March 2013). In August around 500 people fled counterinsurgency operations in Loreto, Agusan del Sur (Philippine Inquirer, 29 July 2013). In September, around 360 people fled their homes in Makilala, North Cotabato, also as a result of military operations against NPA (Zambotimes, 4 September 2013). 

Drawing on available data, IDMC estimates that between 2008 and 2012 around 44,000 people were displaced in some 85 incidents affecting 12 provinces in eastern Mindanao. The worst affected areas were the north-eastern Caraga and the south-eastern Davao regions. Displacements affect an average of 500 people at a time, and most tend to be localised and short-term, with people returning home within a few days or weeks (IDMC, 9 August 2013).

Protracted displacement

Most displacement in Mindanao as a whole is short-term and localised, but there are also cases of protracted displacement with IDPs staying in camps or with host families for months or even years. Those affected live in conditions under which their fundamental rights to adequate housing, food, safe water and education go unfulfilled, and with no prospect of a durable solution in sight. Nearly two years after hostilities between MILF and the government ended in July 2009, at least 25,000 people were still living in camps and relocation sites, most of them in Maguindanao province (IDMC, June 2011). A study conducted in 2011 in central Mindanao showed that nearly one in three households had been displaced for more than a year (WB/WFP, 15 February 2012, p.3). Since January 2012, the Mindanao protection cluster has identified at least 2,100 people in 18 different ARMM barangays - the lowest administrative tier of government in the Philippines - as living in protracted displacement (Mindanao PC, 30 August 2013). The extent of protracted displacement following earlier conflicts or natural hazard-related disasters is not known.

Assistance needs

The assistance effort for those affected and displaced before 2013 has more or less shifted to the recovery phase, but those impacted by the fighting in Zamboanga and the Bohol and Haiyan disasters are in need or emergency life-saving assistance to meet essential needs including food, water, health care, shelter and clothing. Given the scale of the devastation brought about by Haiyan and the inability of the usual responders, in particular local authorities, to provide the required support, most IDPs are struggling to access such help. 


People forced to flee their homes are usually only able to take minimal provisions with them, and feeding their families is understandably their first and most immediate priority. Food assistance is usually available in the main evacuation centres, and other distribution points may be set up in strategic areas, but as IDPs and other affected people may be spread across large and sometimes inaccessible areas, it can take time for food to reach all those in need. Eleven days after Haiyan struck, more than half of the estimated 2.5 million people in need of emergency food assistance had not been reached. Most of them were reportedly located in Capiz and Iloilo provinces (OCHA, 18 November 2013). Similarly, in the aftermath of typhoon Bopha it took several weeks for food assistance to reach some of the most remote areas.

Assessments conducted in recent years in areas of central Mindanao affected by conflict and recurrent displacements have highlighted the fragile food security situation of the general population and found that IDPs and returnees were systematically worse off (WFP/CFSI, March 2010, p.5). In 2013, IDPs and former IDPs (returnees and resettled) were still found to have significantly poorer food consumption levels (measured in terms of frequency of consumption and quality of food) than the non-displaced population with less than 40 per cent of the displaced households having acceptable food consumption levels, as compared to 54 per cent of the general population (WFP, April 2013, p.8).

Most IDPs borrow money from friends and relatives to buy food, pushing their households further into debt. Other coping strategies include eating less of their preferred foods and limiting the size of their meals, which reduces the diversity of their diet and increases the risk of malnutrition. According to a recent study, households affected by major storms were forced to reduce their spending on high nutrient food such as meat and eggs by up to a third during the first year following the disaster (UC Berkeley, 19 November 2013). An assessment conducted in areas affected by Bopha six months after the typhoon struck showed that the average household income had dropped from 4,406 Philippine pesos ($100.81) in December 2012 to 1,761 pesos ($40.25) in July 2013 (REACH, October 2013, p.9). 

Many IDPs find themselves obliged to move to other locations in search of assistance or even to return home prematurely. Eleven days after typhoon Haiyan made landfall, movements out of the worst-affected areas to adjacent provinces were reported to be increasing in response to deteriorating conditions, insecurity and a lack of access to shelter, food and other life-saving assistance. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimated that an average of 5,000 people a day were moving out of the devastated city of Tacloban towards Samar province to the north and via the city of Ormoc to Cebu province (IOM, 18 November 2013). In displacement-affected areas of eastern Mindanao surveyed by IDMC and its partner Balay at the end of 2012, Lumad IDPs said that the amount of food provided in camps was often only enough for one meal a day. This was cited as one the reasons IDPs were eager to return quickly, with one respondent saying he preferred to return despite the security risks than to die of starvation (IDMC, 9 August 2013, p.16).

Return, however, does not always result in better food security. In central Mindanao, people who returned home after the 2008 to 2009 conflict often did so without livelihood assistance. Having lost their household and productive assets and accumulated significant debts as a result of their displacement, most were unable to afford to replace lost livestock and tools or to buy essential agricultural items. In fact, some returnees were found to be worse off than IDPs in camps (WFP/CFSI, 5 March 2010, pp.19-22). Typhoon Haiyan destroyed the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of fishermen and farmers. The latter require urgent assistance such as seeds, tools, fertilisers and irrigation equipment to enable them to plant during the secondary season which ends in late December. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has warned that failure to plant in time would result in significant and prolonged food security and livelihood problems (FAO, 19 November 2013). The regions most severely affected by Haiyan account for nearly a third of the country’s rice production.

Adequate and safe shelter

Public buildings such as schools, community centres, churches and mosques are often used as temporary evacuation centres, which presents a number of challenges. Such facilities are not designed or equipped to accommodate large numbers of people, or to protect them against the elements, and many are in need of increased camp management capacity . The distribution of relief, and food in particular, requires sensitive handling as perceptions of unequal treatment can quickly lead to tensions. Inadequate water and sanitation facilities mean diseases spread quickly, and people living in congested camps are even more likely to fall ill.

Some of the evacuation centres where people sought refuge as typhoon Haiyan approached were destroyed as they were not built to withstand such a powerful storm. Of the 385centres still operating a month after the storm struck, some in the city of Roxas were reportedly overcrowded. Others in Tacloban were found to be poorly run and in need of urgent camp management capacity (CCCM cluster, 29 November 2013.)

At the height of the displacement crisis in Zamboanga around 44,000 people were concentrated in the city’s main sports stadium. Five consecutive days of rain flooded many camps in the city, including the stadium, destroying shelters and making sanitation and hygiene conditions worse (ICRC, 18 October 2013). In some camps, tensions over food distribution reportedly led to aid workers being threatened (Mindanao PC, 6 November 2013, p.6).

Out-of-camp IDPs

Most IDPs tend to avoid the camps and instead move in with friends and relatives or they stay in informal settlement close to their homes. Others move to the main cities where they mingle with economic migrants also looking for better economic opportunities and access to basic services. After natural disasters, IDPs tend to return as quickly as possible, often setting up makeshift shelters near their homes while they try to salvage what they can of their property. In areas affected by typhoon Haiyan, many were reported to have done so only hours after the storm had passed (Mindanao PC, 11 November 2013, p.2). The overwhelming majority of those still displaced one month after the typhoon struck are living outside the official camps. Some have moved in with relatives or stay in informal camps near their homes. Others have moved as far as Manila where some 20,000 people are reported to have arrived in the past month from the typhoon-hit areas (IRIN, 3 December 2013). In Bohol, around 80 per cent of the 344,000 people displaced by the October earthquake were reportedly still living in makeshift shelters built near their homes two weeks after it struck (OCHA, 28 October 2013). 

IDPs living in host communities and informal sites, including in urban areas, are easily overlooked by responders as they are far less visible than those in camps. They are also often more difficult to access and to distinguish from the rest of the population. Food distribution in areas affected by Haiyan was generally limited to IDPs who were registered and living in official camps (OCHA, 29 November 2013). Similarly, IDPs in host communities in Zamboanga were not initially registered and therefore denied assistance. Inequity in the distribution of humanitarian relief was also reported, with IDPs in mosques left without access to regular aid (Mindanao PC, 6 November 2013). In areas of eastern Mindanao affected by Bopha, IDPs living in host families were found to have had much less access to both emergency and recovery shelter assistance than other displaced groups (REACH, October 2013, p.19).   

Protection concerns

IDPs and returnees in Mindanao tend to live in insecure environments prone to rapid-onset natural hazards, armed conflict and rido-related violence, and where the rule of law is often absent. They are exposed to a range of threats, including abuses by armed groups, military operations, unexploded ordnance (UXO) and gender-based violence (GBV). Counterinsurgency tactics sometimes restrict IDPs’ rights, including their freedom of movement and access to food and livelihoods. Large-scale disasters such as those brought about by typhoons Bopha and Haiyan not only result in widespread devastation and displacement, but also in worsening security conditions.

Protection risks for vulnerable groups

Vulnerable groups such as women, children, older people and the disabled often require particular attention as they are less able to fend for themselves in the scramble to access the limited assistance available. Most camps provide little specific support for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers and little privacy, with no separate or lockable bathing, washing or toilet facilities. Poor lighting adds to women's and girls' exposure to serious protection risks including GBV. At the end of September, a five-year old displaced girl was reportedly raped in the stadium camp in Zamboanga (GMA News, 21 September 2013).

It is estimated that at least 46,000 people displaced by typhoon Haiyan are over 60 years old. They are more likely to become separated from their families and support networks during displacement and many end up in camps, but their specific needs are often overlooked by humanitarian responders who tend to focus on children and women (IRIN, 18 November 2013).  

Human trafficking

Displaced women and children, particularly those living in camps but also those who have lost their primary care givers , are at significant risk of falling prey to human traffickers. Following the Haiyan disaster, which is believed to have displaced as many as 1.7 million children, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) warned that those separated from their families were at particular risk of exploitation, including trafficking (UNICEF, 20 November 2013).

According to a government representative, many of the country's human trafficking cases come from the displacement-affected areas of Mindanao (UCAN, 3 May 2012). Both legal recruiters of migrant workers and human traffickers target displacement camps because of the high number cheap labourers looking for work. Sending a daughter to work abroad, most often in the Middle East, is seen as insurance against hunger, and a way to pay off debts incurred during their displacement or to finance the reconstruction of their homes. Given IDPs' reduced access to education and training, most end up in low paid jobs such as domestic workers, in which they might expect to earn around $200 a month. Recruiters then usually charge fees which can range from two months' salary to as much as 40 per cent of total wages earned over a two-year period. In some cases, displaced girls recruited to work abroad have ended up in brothels in Singapore and Thailand (Brookings, July 2013, p.7). Trafficking is made easier, and less visible, by the fact that victims are often recruited by members of their own family. They tend to be reluctant to share information about their plight “to defend family reputation” (MMCEAI, January 2011, p.32).

Safety, security and freedom of movement 

Protection risks for IDPs in camps tend to be more acute in the context of a conflict. During the 2008 to 2009 conflict in central Mindanao, armed groups were often present near the sites, putting IDPs in danger of death and injury from gunfire and shelling (AI, 25 August 2009, pp.27-28). Since the end of the conflict in July 2009, the security situation has gradually improved, mainly as a result of the ceasefire holding and commitments by both the government and MILF to ensure the safe return of the remaining IDPs, including the removal of UXO. The mandate of the Malaysian-led international monitoring team, present since 2004, has been renewed annually and since 2010 has included a civilian protection component to ensure that all parties respect international humanitarian and human rights law. Despite such progress, however, IDPs and returnees still face a number of threats in the form of the continued presence of armed groups, UXO and rido-related violence (NP, 23 August 2013).

Safety and security were major concerns in all five returnee sites IDMC surveyed in eastern Mindanao at the end of 2012. Forty-three per cent of respondents said they did not feel safe in their community and 60 per cent thought their communities had become less safe in the previous 12 months. Most felt that counterinsurgency operations and clashes between the military and NPA put them at risk of being displaced again. All five sites were in what the military identified as “NPA areas”, and the main driver of physical violence was its suspicion that community members, and particularly men, were rebel fighters or supporters. In May 2012, a 16-year-old boy was injured during fighting that displaced his community in Agusan del Sur province. The military identified him as an NPA recruit, but according to the human rights group Karapatan he was caught in crossfire while looking for wood. He was detained for two weeks before being released (IDMC, 9 August 2013).

Returnees also faced recruitment into rebel or paramilitary ranks and the presence of UXO and landmines. The military imposed restrictions on their freedom of movement for two months after their return, “advising” them not spend too long on their farms or to venture into the forests for their own safety.

National and local authorities have the primary responsibility to ensure that IDPs return in conditions of safety and security, and that they have access to national and local protection mechanisms including effective courts and police. Without such guarantees, returnees remain at risk of being locked into a cycle of violence and displacement by the same threats that initially forced them to flee. High levels of fear and uncertainty associated with the constant risk of displacement also undermine long-term and sustainable development.

Obstacles to durable solutions

The cycle of violence, natural disasters and displacement tends to have long-lasting effects, particularly in Mindanao, and IDPs' needs and vulnerabilities often do not end when they return. They find themselves faced with limited access to agricultural assets, education, health care services and water and sanitation facilities. Some returnees receive a package to help them during the recovery period, but most get nothing. Without adequate assistance, many are unable to support themselves or pay off their debts.

IDPs are seldom provided with options other than return. When return is not possible, for example in areas considered at high risk of disaster or conflict, resettlement is sometimes offered, but conditions seldom meet people’s needs and aspirations, particularly in terms of livelihood opportunities and tenure security. Those who opt to integrate locally tend to do so without any support from the government.

Food and livelihoods

Natural disasters and conflict may severely hamper IDPs’ access to livelihoods, and re-establishing them takes considerable time and resources. As such, both IDPs and returnees often need food support or early recovery initiatives such as food-for-work (FFW) or food-for-training (FFT) schemes. They may also require livelihood support and compensation for lost property as they try to rebuild their lives. Efforts have sometimes been made to provide such assistance, but they have not been systematic. During the recovery phase after typhoon Bopha, 219,000 people in eastern Mindanao benefited from FFW and FFT initiatives, and more recently returnees to Zamboanga were provided with seven-day food packs and some non-food items (OCHA, 18 June 2013, p.13; DSWD, 17 October 2013), In most cases, however, IDPs return under their own initiative. If they receive any food assistance at all, it is normally enough for only a few days or at best weeks. Some who returned or resettled elsewhere after the 2008 to 2009 conflict received a two-month food ration and non-food items, but the majority who returned spontaneously only days or weeks after their displacement did so without any assistance (WFP/CFSI, 5 March 2010, p.31).

Only one of the five communities IDMC surveyed in eastern Mindanao reported having received food assistance, and the supplies only lasted for four days. The level of support took little account of the state of crops and property damaged or looted during displacement. 

Loss of assets and lack of land ownership

Returnees often lack property and land rights, and the absence of mechanisms for restitution and compensation for their losses mean that livelihood opportunities cannot be guaranteed (WB, March 2011, p.8). An assessment conducted in 2010 showed that nearly half of those who returned in central Mindanao did not own their farmland prior to their displacement, but rented it in exchange for crops or cash payments. Some returnees did not manage to secure any access to land at all, while others who owned land prior to displacement found their holdings much reduced. Only 68 per cent of returnees and those who resettled elsewhere had access to land, and the average plot size had decreased from 1.46 to 1.15 hectares (WFP/CFSI, 5 March 2010, pp. 16-17). As a result, many have been driven further into poverty and left unable to pay for health or education services. 

Informal settlers who do not officially own their homes and land face being excluded from housing assistance during the reconstruction phase, because proof of ownership or written permission from the owner is required. Many of the people worst-affected by typhoon Bopha are thought to have had informal tenure arrangements and no supporting documentation. Six months after the storm struck, however, there were indications that some people in the urban areas it affected had formalised their situations so as to benefit from shelter assistance (REACH, March 2013, p.4; October 2013, p.28). Improving tenure security also helps to protect displaced families against arbitrary eviction. In Zamboanga, there are reports that informal settlers, who constitute the majority of those still displaced, will not be permitted to reconstruct their homes. Some IDPs have been encouraged to relocate to other areas of their home provinces with financial and transport assistance, but not all are willing to do so, preferring the option of return (Mindanao PC, 6 November 2013). Those targeted for relocation should be properly consulted so as to ensure they have a say in their settlement choice and in the way the process is planned and carried out.

Identifying suitable land for relocation can be difficult, given that it needs to afford IDPs both tenure security and access to basic services and livelihood opportunities. At the end of November, IDPs living in the stadium in Zamboanga protested against their planned relocation to a site 18 kilometres from the city centre on the basis that they would be cut off from their main source of livelihoods (ABS-CBN, 29 November 2013). A study conducted by IDMC during 2012 on the response to tropical storm Washi showed that most of those relocated found themselves far from livelihood opportunities in the central business districts of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan. Unable to afford the time or the cost of commuting, they depleted their assets and their vulnerability increased. Local authorities' ability to resettle displaced families in permanent relocation sites was hampered by a lack of available land and the high cost of building materials (IDMC, January 2013, p.4).

Multiple displacements

As the same areas are regularly affected by conflict, violence and natural disasters, some groups and communities tend to experience multiple displacements. In central Mindanao, 40 per cent of families fled conflict or violence at least once between 2000 and 2010, and 25 per cent were displaced twice or more. The proportion was highest, however, in Maguindanao, where 80 per cent of households fled at least once and 75 per cent were displaced twice or more. Since January 2012, more than 276,400 people in 107 barangays and 64 municipalities have been displaced twice or more (Mindanao PC, 30 August 2013). Repeated displacements tend to increase communities' vulnerability and undermine their resilience.  Those affected need both humanitarian and development assistance in order to ensure they are able to find long term durable solutions. This requires better coordination between agencies working across these two areas to ensure people are both protected and assisted immediately after they have been forced to flee, but also to improve their livelihoods, raise their standard of living and increase their capacity to absorb external shocks, including those caused by natural disasters in the future.

National response

No country in the world would have been sufficiently prepared to deal with the scale of devastation wrought by typhoon Haiyan. The storm's unprecedented strength and destructive power overwhelmed the response capacity of the government and its humanitarian partners. In a frank admission, President Aquino said: “The systems failed. We had a breakdown in power, a breakdown in communications, a breakdown in practically everything” (GMA News, 19 November). Even while Haiyan's impact is still being assessed and meeting the most urgent, life-saving needs remains a priority, lessons from past disasters suggest the government and its partners should already be planning activities to support sustainable recovery and mitigate against further disaster.

The Philippines has a good track record based on solid experience in responding to the needs of those affected by conflict, violence and disasters. It has established well-developed mechanisms and coordination structures to do so. The cluster system, formally institutionalised by the country’s main disaster coordinating body in 2007, has enabled close coordination between national authorities and the international humanitarian community. Each cluster, corresponding to one sector of humanitarian activity, is led by government departments supported by co-leaders, generally the leading actors in the humanitarian system. Only two days after Haiyan struck, all 12 clusters were activated in Manila. Sub-clusters were progressively established in the affected areas, including Tacloban city, Roxas city, Cebu city, eastern Samar and Ormoc to coordinate activities on the ground.  

In recent years, the government has introduced landmark legislation to protect its citizens against displacement risks arising from both natural and human-made disasters, in the form of the 2009 Climate Change Act and the 2010 Philippine National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act (PDRRM-2010). The latter puts into practice the Philippines’ commitment to reforming its disaster law in accordance with the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), a ten-year plan to reduce disaster risks adopted by 168 UN member states. PDRRM-2010 has been broadly welcomed as a sign of the government’s intent on moving from a disaster response to a risk reduction approach. An IDMC study released in early 2013 showed, however, that despite being a strong legislative tool, it faced a number of challenges, particularly in the implementation of laws and procedures at the local level where there was often a lack of capacity but also political will to take the appropriate measure to reduce disaster risks. There are also significant gaps in the protection of people displaced by disasters, with no official codification of a binding human rights framework for disaster response (IDMC, January 2013, p.4).

The government and its international partners have made significant efforts to address the immediate humanitarian needs of people displaced by conflict and violence, but a lack of funding has often undermined early recovery and rehabilitation programmes. The lack of downward accountability from local government representatives (LGUs) is also a major obstacle to assisting IDPs and finding durable solutions to their plight. Weak capacity and poor understanding of IDPs' rights at the local level, and a lack of reliable data disaggregated by age, gender and diversity, complicate the situation further. There is a need to develop the capacity of local authorities to respond to internal displacement as well as to increase their upward and downward accountability. Community-based protection networks and response mechanisms should also be strengthened to empower communities at recurrent risk of displacement so as to reinforce their coping capacities amidst conflict and displacement. Obtaining a clearer picture of the numbers, needs and conditions of IDPs during all phases of displacement, but in particular after return, is essential to design effective policies to address their needs and rights.

Towards a national law for IDPs

In early 2013, Congress tabled new legislation on internal displacement which, had it passed, would have recognised all IDPs’ rights to protection and assistance, whether displaced by conflict, natural disasters or the “aggressive implementation of development projects”. Potentially an important step in strengthening IDPs' rights in the Philippines, it would have recognised the importance of preventing displacement, penalising those responsible for forcing it and providing compensation to victims. It would have clearly set out the government's responsibilities in protecting and assisting IDPs, and the designation of the Commission of Human Rights (CHR) as the national institutional focal point would have ensured that sustained attention was paid to displacement issues.

In May, however, the government vetoed the law on the grounds that some of its provisions were unconstitutional (PhilStar, 30 May 2013). It raised particular concern over the bill’s requirement that CHR's mandate be expanded to include powers to determine the extent of damages incurred to IDPs and to facilitate compensation, and it objected to the provision differentiating between damages incurred as a result of displacement caused by state security forces and that caused by non-state groups. It also argued that individuals should not be allowed to claim financial assistance and compensation based on their displacement, as doing so would be contrary to the principle that the state cannot be sued.

It is essential that the government and congress renew efforts to adopt legislation on internal displacement. As recent events have shown, it 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. By giving itself the legislative tools to better prevent and respond to displacement, the government would address one of the key drivers of vulnerability and poverty in the country. It would also set an example that other countries in the region experiencing large-scale internal displacement could follow.

Peace talks

The government’s peace strategy, led by the Office of the Presidential Advisor on the Peace Process (OPAPP), has made considerable progress in the past two years, particularly in its negotiations with MILF but it has been less successful with other groups. Growing tensions between the government and the MNLF rooted in the rebel group’s frustration over the failed implementation of its 1996 peace deal led to renewed fighting in Zamboanga in September 2013.

In October 2012, the government and MILF signed a framework agreement which provides for the creation of Bangsamoro and represents a chance to end the conflict and address the underlying causes of displacement. Both parties have emphasised the need to create a peaceful and secure environment conducive to sustainable development, and the agreement also recognises the need to set up programmes to respond to the needs of IDPs and other groups affected by the conflict. Progress was made during 2013 with the signing of an annex on transitional arrangements and modalities in February, another on wealth sharing in July and a third on power sharing in December.  Following the signing of the last annex, the two sides expressed confidence they would sign the remaining annex on normalisation and finalise the comprehensive peace agreement by January 2014 (AFP, 8 December 2013).

Unlike the Bangsamoro conflict, the NPA insurgency has continued to attract little attention, despite its ongoing impact on the civilian population. Peace talks resumed in 2011 under the auspices of Norway, but made little progress before breaking down in April 2013. Neither party appeared willing to make concessions, and the government has since decided to seek new approaches to resolve the conflict, including consultations with various stakeholders across the country (OPAPP, 30 April 2013). In October, the assistant secretary of OPAPP reaffirmed the government’s commitment to peace talks, but acknowledged they had come to a prolonged impasse (Mindanews, 7 October 2013). 

International response

The international community has mobilised tremendous material and financial resources to help the government respond to typhoon Haiyan. On 12 November, the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) launched an action plan requesting $301 million, later revised up to $348 million, to support humanitarian and recovery activities (OCHA, 12 November 2013). The food security, emergency shelter and livelihoods sectors accounted for more than half of the total request, and as of 1 December the plan was already 48 per cent funded. Donors pledged relatively strong support for early recovery, food security and agriculture, protection, and water, sanitation and health (WASH) initiatives, all of which were more than 46 per cent funded. Significant gaps remained, however, in all other sectors. Livelihoods, nutrition and camp coordination and management were all less than 14 per cent funded (OCHA, 1 December 2013). Governments and private organisations have also contributed more than $226 million outside the action plan, with the UK, the US, Japan and Australia the top four donors.   

In consultation with the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), the UN's Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC) declared Haiyan a system-wide L3 emergency, with all humanitarian organisations encouraged to support the government with the deployment of funds, personnel, supplies and leadership capacities as a matter of urgency. In recognition that the scale of the disaster exceeded the capacity of the country's single humanitarian coordinator, ERC also decided to deploy a deputy to be located in the affected areas (IASC, 12 November 2013).              

International organisations in the Philippines were already engaged in several emergencies across the country when Haiyan struck, particularly in Zamboanga and Bohol province. Some were also still involved in the response to typhoon Bopha in eastern Mindanao, though many organisations wound down their activities during the second half of 2013 as it moved into the early recovery and rehabilitation phase. Others were working in central Mindanao, where a combination of recurrent conflict and natural disasters have caused regular displacement and increased the vulnerabilities of hundreds of thousands of people in recent years.


International organisations have long played an indispensable role in filling gaps in the government’s response to emergencies. Their interventions, however, have often been hampered by underfunding, particularly in the case of programmes in areas affected by conflict.

The 2012 Humanitarian Action Plan (HAP) requested $51 million to cover humanitarian and recovery needs arising from both tropical storm Washi in northern Mindanao, and conflict and flooding in central Mindanao. Overall funding was at 66 per cent, but there was a significant difference between the Washi components, which were 76 per cent funded, and those intended to address the protracted situation in central Mindanao, which were 58 per cent funded. Nearly two-thirds of the humanitarian funding received in 2012 from outside HAP was earmarked for natural disasters (OCHA, 27 November 2012, p.16). Early recovery activities, such as livelihood support programmes and food-for work schemes, and the protection and education sectors were particularly neglected. As a result, many of the nearly 700,000 people affected by displacement and targeted by HAP failed to receive much-needed support to recover from their plight. Instead they remained in need of humanitarian assistance and protection throughout the year.

A similar pattern is emerging with the 2013 HAP. In the face of underfunding, the original request for $120 million to respond to the typhoon Bopha crisis and the protracted displacement caused by conflict in central Mindanao was revised downwards to $91 million. As of June 2013, funding was still only at 48 per cent, and the difference between the Bopha and non-Bopha components was striking, at 56 versus seven per cent. The early recovery, protection and education sectors were again particularly neglected, along with health which received the lowest funding. None were more than 24 per cent funded (OCHA, 18 June 2013, p.6).   

Following the Zamboanga fighting and the Bohol earthquake, HCT made additional funding requests amounting to $72 million - $25 million for Zamboanga and $47 million for Bohol. As of 1 December, funding stood at only 15 per cent for Zamboanga and 21 per cent for Bohol. In less than three weeks, meantime, the Haiyan appeal generated commitments totaling nearly $167 million. This is two-thirds more than the $100 million collected by the last three HAPs covering 2011 to 2013 to respond to humanitarian and recovery needs in Mindanao caused by conflict and natural disasters, including tropical storm Washi and typhoon Bopha. The extent of donor commitment 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 in Mindanao without the assistance they need to rebuild their lives.