Philippines: The dividends of peace

20 June, 2013
2013, Cotabato, Mindanao: Women working in a community-run market garden that was set up with support from local authorities and the UN. Credit: OCHA/Muktar Farah
2013, Cotabato, Mindanao: Women working in a community-run market garden that was set up with support from local authorities and the UN. Credit: OCHA/Muktar Farah

The village of Katilacan has never been prosperous. Its 2,500 residents have traditionally depended on small-scale agriculture and fishing. For decades, the people of this small village have also had to deal with Mindanao’s long-running and violent conflict. For the past four decades, the area has been disputed by the government and insurgents, with communities exposed to outbreaks of violence between clans and high rates of criminality.

All of this has served to leave the Muslim community feeling marginalized. In 2011, a particularly serious bout of violence caused the whole community to flee. When they returned one year later they found their village and its surroundings devastated.

“These people had to start from scratch,” said Muktar Ali Farah, the head of OCHA’s sub office in Cotabato. “Livelihoods, schools, drinking water sources and healthcare – everything was gone.”

The decades-long conflict has killed some 150,000 people and displaced more than 2 million. The World Bank estimates that between 1971 and 2000, the conflict cost the people of Mindanao somewhere between US$2 and $3 billion, leaving many communities impoverished.

However, in April, following on from the framework peace agreement signed in 2012, the Philippine Government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leaders agreed to facilitate the return of tens of thousands of displaced people.

Rebuilding infrastructure and re-establishing trust

For communities like Katilacan, the possibility of peace represents an opportunity both to rebuild lost homes and livelihoods, and to overcome divisions within the community.

“Conflict is no longer an option for these people,” explains OCHA’s Farah. “There is too much to lose now if the village turns to violence. Now they are working for peace.”

The community of Katilacan came together and developed a programme that they felt would allow them to break their cycle of poverty and vulnerability. With support from the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the UN Development Programme they established a fish farm and market garden.

Already, the fish farm and vegetable garden have led to dramatically improved yields, and the produce of both are contributing to a World Food Programme-supported school feeding programme. But their value goes beyond increased food production.

Baibon W Guiani has been the head school teacher since the community returned to Katilacan. “The main achievement of the alternative livelihood projects (is that) it brought together women and young men from both religions,” she said. “Because of this project they are now jointly investing themselves in the development of their community.”

“We traded our weapons for shovels”

The whole village is involved in this programme.

“We traded our weapons for shovels,” explains community leader and former MILF leader Adam S. Malim. “What we have now is the dividend of peace.”

The financial dividends of the fish farm and market garden are shared between the villagers, although some go towards expanding the programme. The community also benefitted from more traditional reconstruction projects that have provided many people with new homes, access to drinking water, a new primary school, a day care centre, a primary healthcare post and a greenhouse for drying some of the fish. Dykes were also constructed to prevent the frequent flooding that would regularly wipe out crops, providing the community with some protection ahead of the rainy season.

“Building peace is a slow process,” says OCHA’s Farah. “We need to create decent living conditions, to give people a reason to want peace.

“Katilacan is a model example of what can be achieved when we bring together the community, the government and humanitarian agencies.”

This week, a humanitarian partnership mission, led jointly by the Government of the Philippines, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and OCHA, visited Mindanao. The mission visited communities like Katilacan that are benefiting from programmes under the national government’s framework for peace and development in conflict-affected areas.

Members of the mission were also able to witness first-hand the humanitarian effects and devastation brought about by Typhoon Bopha, the deadliest global storm of 2012.