The city of Marawi still looks like a ghost town as the second anniversary of the outbreak of the five-month conflict approaches. (Photo by Bong S. Sarmiento)
Thousands of people remain in temporary shelters more than 18 months after Philippine troops ended a five-month conflict with Islamic militants in the southern city of Marawi that displaced close to half a million people.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated that about 66,000 people are still homeless.
Some are staying with relatives in nearby areas, while an estimated 4,500 people are still at four evacuation centers, the U.N. body said.
On May 23, 2017, terrorist gunmen claiming allegiance to the so-called Islamic State group attacked Marawi and held the city against government forces for five months.
The siege that tested the mettle of soldiers in urban warfare left the center of the city in a shambles.
Some 1,100 people were killed in the conflict, mostly militant gunmen.
Security forces liberated Marawi on Oct. 17 the same year, but ahead of the second anniversary of the start of the conflict, rehabilitation of the badly damaged city is yet to start.
The worst-hit area of the city is a central section comprising 24 sub-districts spanning 250 hectares.
Considered the heart of Marawi, the area is still off-limits to residents of the country’s only Islamic majority city.
Reynaldo Barnido, executive director of "Duyog Marawi," a Catholic initiative to help rehabilitate the city, said the organization will continue to "accompany the victims" of war.
"We employ both Christian and Muslim volunteers because right from the start, our mission was to establish a reconciling presence in Marawi to bridge the gap between [the two religions]," said Barnido.
The Prelature of St. Mary in Marawi, in partnership with the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, commonly known as the Redemptorists, established Duyog Marawi a few months after the siege ended.
The group focuses on health and wellness, healing and reconciliation, communication and protection of vulnerable sectors.
Sapia Taulani, an OCHA humanitarian affairs analyst, has called on the government and other humanitarian aid agencies to continue supporting the people of Marawi.
"The internally displaced people still need support like water and livelihoods while transitioning [to normal lives]" she told ucanews.com.
Food assistance, both from the state and aid organizations, has dropped since last year as the government shifted from emergency relief operations to the early recovery and rehabilitation phase.
Eduardo del Rosario, head of the government agency tasked with rebuilding Marawi, appealed for patience over the slow pace of recovery.
He said that even if construction work has yet to start, the worst-affected area "can be completely rehabilitated and reconstructed" by December 2021.