Marawi Crisis: Insights from WHO Philippines Humanitarian Workers

When conflict erupted between the Philippine government and a local non-state group in Marawi City on May 2017, the World Health Organization provided immediate support to the Department of Health in the affected regions in Mindanao. WHO staff members flew to Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur to help coordinate and provide technical assistance in the region.

Many humanitarian health workers risk their lives working in insecure locations to ensure that the affected internally displaced people (IDPs) have access to basic services including health care. This is the story of two WHO Philippines staff members who are helping the displaced population in the Marawi conflict.

Julie Villadolid
Technical Coordinator, Disaster Risk Management – Health, WHO Manila Country Office

Julie Villadolid speaks during a mental health and psychosocial support cluster coordination meeting with WHO, DOH, local and international organizations, and other UN agencies.
Photo: WHO/F. Tanggol

I joined WHO Philippines in 2010. Under the lead of Dr Gerrie Medina, Technical Officer of the Emergency and Humanitarian Action of WHO Philippines, I am currently deployed in the Marawi crisis as an information management officer and also the focal point for disease surveillance. Since I came here, I have observed how the crisis has brought a lot of challenges in the delivery of health services in the region. With the ongoing crisis, we still don’t know the extent of the damage to the health facilities brought by the conflict. The health sector that are currently responding are trying their best to address the health needs of the IDPs. But security and safety conditions hinder them from accessing the isolated municipalities.

For us at WHO, our services reach only limited areas due to security issues. But despite this, we have a good partnership with the DOH that gives us the access to reach out to the affected population.

With our support, we are able to provide much needed capacity in monitoring diseases and coordinating information in the Marawi conflict. As the surveillance focal point, it is a significant responsibility to be in-charge of the disease surveillance making sure the health conditions of IDPs are regularly monitored. Since doing surveillance activity covers the public health component of humanitarian response, I make sure that the findings and recommendations are being discussed with the health cluster and the concerned health officials on the ground. It is also important to check if the recommendations are being carried out to ensure appropriate interventions.

I hope that as the months pass, the Marawi crisis will not be forgotten. While in displacement, the IDPs should live a life with dignity with their basic needs and rights ensured. As the situation normalizes, I hope that the National Response Cluster and the Task Force Bangon Marawi will collaborate in moving forward from relief response to transition, rehabilitation and recovery.

Rauell John "Rhaj" Santos
Service Delivery Network Coordinator, WHO Subnational Initiative Davao Office

Rhaj Santos (right) delivers logistics support in the form of jerry cans to the Department of Health Region 10 to help transfer clean water to people in evacuation centres.
Photo: DOH Region X/J. Mariscal

I was the first WHO staff deployed in the Marawi conflict just eleven days after it erupted. Working in emergencies is not new to me since I’ve joined WHO in 2011. I’ve helped respond to different types of emergencies including typhoon Washi (locally known as Sendong) in 2011, typhoon Bopha (Pablo) in 2012, the Zamboanga armed conflict, Bohol earthquake and typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) in 2013, and typhoon Koppu (Lando) in 2015.

However, the Marawi conflict is a unique crisis, far different from the emergencies I've responded to before because of the concerns on security and access. Even up to now, there are security limitations for government, non-government and UN workers. Majority of the displaced population in home-based settings are in need of assistance but are located in 38 of the 39 municipalities in Lanao del Sur, which we and other health workers don't have access to.

Information and coordination is crucial in times of emergencies. As WHO, our role in the beginning was to link and ensure that information flows regularly from the two operations centre setup by DOH. I am happy to provide support to this in my own way by producing information management products and liaising with partners in the health cluster.

As the Marawi crisis continues on its third month, there are already plans towards early recovery and rehabilitation phase but the conflict is still ongoing. I hope that the humanitarian needs will still be focused on, including addressing the needs of the most vulnerable population – the children, pregnant and lactating women, elderly, and persons with disabilities. There is much that still needs to be done.

By Faizza Tanggol