Water flows and helps protect IDP families in Kabengi

Recurring conflict in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao have displaced hundreds of families over the years. UNHCR and its partners are helping displaced families in Barangay Kabengi by providing a water system in their community.

KABENGI, Datu Saudi Ampatuan – On a hillside village called Kabengi in the Municipality of Datu Saudi Ampatuan sits a few government-built houses which displaced families now call home. Datu Saudi Ampatuan, a fourth class agricultural municipality in southern Philippines, regularly hosts thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) affected by protracted conflict within and outside of its borders.

The repeated conflict in Central Mindanao comes in the form of clashes between the government and non-state armed groups, tension amongst the various non-state armed groups, as well as clan feuds or rido. Once conflict occurs, residents in Datu Saudi Ampatuan have no choice but to flee to safer areas in the municipality, while some people from affected neighbouring municipalities like Datu Unsay, Shariff Aguak, and Shariff Saydona Mustapha are also forced uproot their lives to Datu Saudi Ampatuan.

“The recurring conflict really has a domino effect on the lives of the people,” explains Municipal Administrator Mastura Tapa. “As the conflict continues, the IDPs also have to continually return to evacuation centres. In these evacuation centres, of course, we first see that that they have no houses. There is also inadequate sanitation. And then aside from that, the conflict also has a psychological effect on the children.”

For Administrator Tapa, the most memorable displacement incident in their municipality was in 2015 when law enforcement agencies clashed with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the “SPMS box”, referring to the neighbouring areas of Barangay Salbu in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Barangay Pagatin in Datu Salibo, Mamasapano, and Shariff Aguak where the BIFF are reported to operate. The incident happened after the Mamasapano encounter between the Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force and the BIFF.

“More or less 4,000 individuals were displaced during that time,” shares Tapa.

In the immediate aftermath of the displacement, the government got to work to distribute immediate food assistance to families at the evacuation centres. The municipal government also came up with a long-term solution by creating a new relocation community at Kabengi. The Department of Social Welfare and Development facilitated the construction of the houses while the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao regional government, through its Health, Education, Livelihood, Peace and Governance and Synergy (ARMM HELPS) programme, built a health centre, marketplace, and barangay hall in the newly-created community on the hill.

A UNHCR staff looks at the Kabengi village at Datu Saudi Ampatuan. Photo: UNHCR/F. Tanggol

Since the community is new, there was initially no water nor electricity on the site. UNHCR, through a quick impact project implemented by non-government partner Community and Family Services International, assisted by providing a water system in the IDP community.

One of the families that relocated to Kabengi are the Anwar family. Rahima Anwar, a 24-year old farmer, lives with her husband and two daughters. They transferred to this site a month ago, hoping for a fresh start.

“We came from another area in Datu Saudi,” says Rahima. “We had to escape the clashes that were happening.”

When there was no working water system in Kabengi, families like Rahima’s had difficulty in living at the relocation site. Families who had motorcycles were the ones who could stay since they could fetch water from other areas, while those who don’t were forced to find other places to live.

“My husband has to fetch water from below, which takes around one hour. Sometimes, when he has to go to work, I have to be the one to fetch the water,” shares Rahima.

The water system, however, was not without its challenges given the lack of continuous electricity in the community. To help augment this, the Municipality of Datu Saudi Ampatuan provided a generator to help sustain the water system.

“We called up the engineer to fix it so that the residents here will immediately have water,” Tapa reveals.

Municipal Administrator Mastura Tapa overlooks the repair of the water system in Kabengi. Photo: UNHCR/F. Tanggol

Once the power source for the water was fixed by the municipal government, the delight that the water brought to the residents was unmistakable. Children immediately went to get pails and jugs to get water for their families. Others took a quick bath while some immediately drank the flowing potable water.

With a working water system in place, the residents will have easier access to water within their community which they can use for their household needs. Mothers like Rahima are protected since they will no longer have to go downtown and possibly be endangered just so her family will has access to water.

“Water is really important for us to live. Which is why we are very thankful that we now have water here,” says Rahima.

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Rahima helps her two children, 4-year old Ashiya and 7-month old Samraida, as they take a bath. Photo: UNHCR/F. Tanggol

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A child happily takes a bath. Photo: UNHCR/F. Tanggol

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Children queue up at the water system to fetch water for their homes. Photo: UNHCR/F. Tanggol