Supporting mothers and newborns displaced by the Marawi conflict
MARAWI CITY, Philippines, 23 May 2017 — Twenty one-year-old Wanisa Dimaampao, pregnant with her first child, had to be taken to a hospital after her contractions started, but she and her family could not go out of their house. Earlier that day, fighting started between Philippine government troops and members of an armed group affiliated with the Islamic State. As clashes spread across the city, Wanisa’s family decided to deliver the baby at home. “Terrorists have surrounded Marawi. It was no longer safe to go out,” her mother-in-law Naima said.
With the assistance of Naima, a health worker, Wanisa gave birth to a baby boy that night. They named him Mohammad Hussein. “I was scared while giving birth to my first child because several bullets landed near our house,” Wanisa said.
The next morning, residents were forced to flee Marawi City as the fighting worsened. Leaving their belongings and home behind, Wanisa and her family walked for hours as heavy gunfire and shelling continued across the city. Without enough rest to recover from giving birth the night before, Wanisa bled throughout the journey.
“It was no longer safe. I was afraid of losing my baby. My wife nearly fainted many times because she lost a lot of blood. I was helping her to stop the bleeding with a towel and even my shirt as I carried our baby. We had to survive the long walk to our safety. I will never forget that moment when everyone was running on the streets carrying their small children,” Abdul Jabbar, Wanisa’s husband said.
They reached the town of Pantar, 12 kilometres north of Marawi City, later that afternoon. A family offered them a ride further North to Iligan, were they joined throngs of people also seeking refuge.
“I’m really afraid of having to live that moment again,” Wanisa said, recalling her family’s escape. “Those were the longest days of my life. I’m really grateful that my family and I still have each other in this difficult time,” she said.
Wanisa and her family are staying in an evacuation centre in Maria Cristina, Iligan. They live with 1,200 people crammed in a half-covered court. They sleep on plastic woven mats, surviving on staple relief goods like rice, canned sardines and instant noodle packs.
Children are among the most vulnerable in any emergency. Because of living conditions in evacuation centres, there is increased risk of malnutrition, diarrhoea, and contracting infections and other diseases. “Mothers and newborns need proper nutrition and ample rest to keep them healthy post-pregnancy. I’m really scared of not being able to keep my grandson healthy,” Naima said.
To help keep children like Mohammad Hussein healthy, UNICEF provided supplies for health workers to screen young children in evacuation centres for acute malnutrition. UNICEF also provided breastfeeding kits and information materials to be used by health workers to promote breastfeeding and educate mothers and caregivers on appropriate feeding for infants and young children.
As part of the organization’s support for the government-led response, UNICEF also provided hygiene kits, water kits and water supply systems. Having access to clean water, sanitation facilities and hygiene supplies helps keep families and children healthy.
As the crisis in Marawi continues, more displaced families and children need support and assistance. In the Maria Cristina evacuation centre alone, there are currently 15 pregnant women in their last term.
“I hope that the situation will become better for everyone in exceptionally difficult circumstances, particularly the rest of the pregnant mothers living in cramped evacuation centres elsewhere,” Wanisa said.
Wanisa and her family hope to return to their home in Marawi City someday. “I hope that the situation will improve. I wish that Mohammad Hussein will never experience what we are facing now,” Naima said.
“If this conflict doesn’t end soon, many more children and women will experience the same fate as mine,” Wanisa said.
By Rosa May Maitem
To support UNICEF’s response for children and families affected by the Marawi conflict, donate at https://www.donate.unicef.ph/campaign/313/help-marawis-children