Philippines battle grinds on, displaced die in centres

MARAWI CITY: Four weeks since fierce fighting broke out in the southern Philippines, some people who fled the battle are dying in over-crowded and unsanitary evacuation centres, health officials say.
At least 24 people have died in the centres since fighting between security forces and militants erupted in Marawi City, Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial told reporters.
Alinader Minalang, the health director for the Lanao del Sur province which includes Marawi, said 300 cases of diarrhoea had been recorded among the nearly 40,000 people huddled in emergency shelters set up in community halls, gymnasiums and Islamic schools.
Many of those who died were elderly and had pre-existing conditions, but at least two of the fatalities were due to diarrhoea.
“The cause of the increase in diarrhoea cases is sanitation issues and a lack of sources of potable water,” Minalang said.
In the centres, families of up to a dozen people sleep together on concrete floors, and in some places hundreds are sharing a single toilet.
“My children are getting sick. One has diarrhoea and another has an allergic reaction on his skin – the water we have to use here is not good,” said Tarhata Mostare, who was staying with more than 800 people in a high school hall in Iligan City, 40 km from Marawi.
She walked out of Marawi City along with thousands of others just hours after delivering her fifth child, and trekked for hours with the infant swaddled in cloth and her own traditional malong, or long skirt, drenched in blood.
“We call him Martial Law,” she said, looking at her baby boy Sahir, his head now crowned with fine hair.
On the date of Sahir’s birth, May 23, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law across the southern island of Mindanao, vowing to drive out the militants — an alliance of groups that have pledged allegiance to the IS group.
The army says nearly 350 people have been killed in the fighting, including 257 militants, 62 soldiers and 26 civilians. Hundreds of people are unaccounted for, believed to be hiding in the basements of a city that has been pummelled by government air strikes. Residents have said they have seen 100 bodies in the debris of ruined homes in the battle zone.
The mostly Muslim evacuees are eager to return home by the weekend for Eid al Fitr, the biggest festival of the year. But for many, their homes have been devastated by weeks of artillery fire and aerial bombardment.
The army says it is nearing victory, but hostilities will have to be followed by a lengthy cleanup operation — unearthing and disarming unexploded ordnance, and scouring for possible booby traps — before residents can go home.
— Reuters