Food in the Time of Conflict: The Marawi Siege Crisis, and How We Can Help

ph_locator_lanao_del_sur_marawi

© Mike Gonzalez, 2005.

Photo By Mike Gonzalez (TheCoffee) (English Wikipedia) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Bullets and bombs are the most well-known, but not necessarily the most widespread of weapons during times of war and conflict.  Displacement, disease, and hunger affect both combatants and civilians, with the latter often winding up as refugees forced to make perilous journeys to safety away from the ‘Ground Zero’ of war zones, places that had once been home to them. In different parts of the world, refugees from all parts of the world are forced to make do in crowded temporary housing, camps, and evacuation centers. In these places, they often face shortages in basic necessities such as food, potable water, clothing, and medication.

One such ongoing crisis is the siege in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, Philippines. Marawi was a beautiful city, the provincial capital with a rich history because of the heritage of its Muslim and Christian inhabitants. On May 23, 2017, a group of extremists known as the Maute group attacked Marawi City, leading to clashes with the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Most of Marawi’s 220,000 residents were forced to flee to neighboring cities and municipalities such as Iligan City and Cagayan de Oro City to escape the continuous firefights and airstrikes between government forces and the extremists.

At present, more than 55,000 refugees are staying in Iligan City and neighboring municipalities. The Department of Social Welfare and Development, as well as other agencies involved in the relief and evacuation efforts have to stretch limited supplies of food and other relief goods to meet the needs of refugees already being housed in 37 schools, multi-purpose halls and other buildings converted to evacuation centers, as well as newcomers who have just been rescued from or escaped the conflict zones in Marawi City.

One of the most immediate needs of the refugees is food, whether ready-made or in prepackaged forms. What makes this food crisis more challenging is that food donations for refugees from Marawi must be halal or prepared according to Islamic dietary laws. Halal foods are free from pork or pig by-products, therefore even vegetables and other foods fried in pork lard or fat are not permissible for consumption. Halal foods must also be free from blood, alcohol, and also involves a specific means of humanely butchering animals to be used for food.  

Apart from the Department of Social Welfare and Development, other groups involved in the relief efforts for the refugees from Marawi include the Red Cross, Alagang Kapatid foundation, Save the Children, Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership, and the Office of the Vice President. Universities such as the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila, Ateneo de Naga, De La Salle University, and La Salle Academy in Iligan are also accepting and coordinating donations for the refugees. One group directly involved in preparing and distributing halal food to the refugees is the Art Relief Mobile Kitchen. The Art Relief Mobile Kitchen (ARMK) at present prepares 10,000 to 12,000 meals each day for the evacuees in Iligan City.

Art Relief Mobile Kitchen is no stranger to feeding refugees from calamities after all. Starting all the way back from the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda (International Name: Haiyan) in 2013, ARMK set up a mobile kitchen near the area where refugees landed from Leyte and other typhoon-hit areas, with the efforts from volunteers and donations either in cash or in kind helped feed the multitude coming to Manila for safety.

Now the same case is happening in the evacuation centers in Illigan and Cotabato City almost a month in with the fighting in Marawi, where there are still reports of people in need of assistance and relief. Let’s not sit back and allow hunger to become a weapon of terror, help out in anyway you can, especially with addressing Art Relief Mobile Kitchen’s herculean task of feeding of our brothers and sisters in Marawi during Ramadan.

To learn more about Art Relief Mobile Kitchen and how to donate, one can visit their Facebook page by clicking here.