UN warns of humanitarian crisis in southern Philippines

The United Nations warned Wednesday that the southern Philippine city of Zamboanga faces a humanitarian crisis, with tens of thousands of people uprooted by a wave of deadly violence.

Hundreds of soldiers and police have been engaged in combat since September 9 when about 200 Muslim guerrillas entered the city in the most serious armed challenge to the Philippine government in recent years.

About 15 soldiers and police have been killed along with at least 104 members of the Moro National Liberation Front, police have said. Scores of MNLF fighters have also been arrested or surrendered but others are still at large, holding civilians as human shields.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that 158,000 people have been affected by the violence and more than 10,000 homes have been destroyed.

More than 109,000 people are now displaced in Zamboanga City and nearly 19,000 are displaced in Basilan province.

"We are increasingly alarmed by the situation and the growing needs of people caught up with violence,??? said the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in the Philippines, Luiza Carvalho.

"We are particularly concerned for the most vulnerable, especially the well-being of women and children."

She expressed concern over the plight of those displaced, many of whom are struggling to survive.

About 70,000 people are currently staying in the main sports complex in Zamboanga City in overcrowded conditions and with insufficient sanitation facilities, according to the UN.

The OCHA warned there is a real risk of a disease outbreak and an urgent need for food, drinking water, health services, cooking utensils, tents and other necessities.

???We are particularly concerned that aid is delivered in an impartial manner, with the needs of the most vulnerable met and those outside the evacuation centres not forgotten,??? Carvalho said.

???We expect that all humanitarian workers providing support to the victims of violence are protected and respected, and their safety is ensured by all actors.???

She also reiterated the OCHA's commitment to the humanitarian response as well as its support for government efforts to help civilians.