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ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines — The alarming number of deaths among internally displaced persons (IDPs) afflicted with diseases while staying in evacuation centers in this city is pressuring the city government into stepping up its efforts to transfer the long-suffering evacuees to safe sites.

The IDPs, numbering some 20,000, have been staying in cramped evacuation centers since they fled their homes in September last year when Moro rebels placed their villages under siege. 

At least 101 deaths were recorded in the evacuation centers at Baliwasan Grandstand and on R.T. Lim Boulevard from Sept. 10, 2013 to March 16, 2014.

City Health Officer Rodelin Agbulos said 48 percent of the dead evacuees were children under five years old, 41.5 percent were females and 58 percent were males.

[box type=”default” size=”large”] Fund campaign launched in Michigan to help evacuees [/box]

Diarrhea is the leading cause of death among the children and pneumonia among the adults.

Agbulos said other diseases stalking the evacuees are dengue, acute gastroenteritis, hypertension, cardiac arrest, asthma, complications with stroke and still birth.

The city health officer said the transfer of the IDPs to safe places will help improve their living conditions. If not, the number of deaths will continue to soar due to acute congestion, he warned.

To decongest the two evacuation centers, Agbulos said, the IDPs will be transferred to transitory sites in Taluksangay, Tulungatung,  Mampang and the PTSI property in Upper Calarian.

The City Health Office and the Department of Health have been vaccinating the evacuees against measles and other diseases  and have been deworming for children. Anti-pneumonia and anti-influenza immunization for adults is also being done. Daily health consultations are also being conducted.

Agbulos urged IDPs to watch their hygiene and clean their surroundings to minimize the risks of contracting diarrhea and other diseases caused by unsanitary conditions.

Meanwhile, hundreds of IDPs begged the military to allow them to return to the mangrove areas in Leha-Leha, Layag-Layag, Sumariki and Sumatra, where they had lived before the rebels invaded the areas in 2013.

Task Force Zamboanga (TFZ) commander Col. Andrelino Colina has declared the areas as “no-build zones” but the IDPs can still cultivate their farms in the area.

Colina said the IDPs are barred from returning to the areas for security reason, noting that the places are hazard-prone sites as declared by Republic Act 7586, otherwise known as the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act.

Meanwhile, a fund-raising drive is being conducted here in Michigan for the benefit of the Zamboanga evacuees.

A well attended, solo concert was held on March 29, 2014 at the Philippine American Community Center (PACCM) to raise funds for the evacuees.

The concert featured top Filipino comedian-singer Nico Fuentes, one of the Pork Chop duo which was popular in Manila in the 1990s.

The proceeds of the concert, which was organized by Megaworld International and Allied Home Health Care Services Inc., will be donated for the efforts to provide relief to the evacuees.

Myrna Mariano, president-elect of the Downriver Filipino American Association (DFAA) and former resident of Zamboanga City, said that many of the victims, whose houses were burned during the siege, are still homeless and living in the evacuation centers.

“The children are getting sick and dying in the Tabang evacuation center,” said Mariano who visited Zamboanga City recently.

Kind-hearts who want to donate funds for the relief efforts are asked to call Tony Kho, PACCM executive director, at tel. 248-755-6122 or Myrna Mariano at tel. 734-552-6237.

Kho said donations in checks should be payable to the Filamcco Foundation. Donors are requested to write “Zamboanga evacuees” in memo portion of check.