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World Humanitarian Day 2016: Staff profiles

Staff profiles: Prosperidad - Philippines

Mindanao is the second largest island in the Philippines, representing about a quarter of the country’s total population. The region has a long history of conflict with armed groups and is also prone to natural disasters. Displacement due to armed conflict between Government troops, the Moro International Liberation Front and terrorist groups such as the Abu Sayyaf continues to this day with around 125 000 internally displaced persons recorded in 2015.

Prosperidad ABONETE has recently joined FAO as the DRR/AAP and Gender Specialist in the province of Mindanao. She is an agriculture and environmental science graduate who had always aspired to work in the field of rural development, food security and climate change. She shares some of her experiences about her work in this region.

What motivated you to work in the humanitarian field?
The desire to make a contribution, in line with an area where I have a certain know-how (i.e. agriculture), towards the alleviation of suffering experienced by a vast number of people in the world today due to poverty, hunger, violence, disasters and unjust systems.

Can you give an overview of the scope of the conflict/emergency?
Displacement due to armed conflict and natural disasters is a constant feature in the lives of people in Central Mindanao. During the “all-out-war” initiated by the national Government against a Muslim secessionist group in 2000, close to a million individuals were displaced. Displacement due to armed conflict between Government troops, the Moro International Liberation Front and terrorist groups such as the Abu Sayyaf continues to this day; around 125 000 internally displaced persons were recorded in 2015. Changing climate patterns and extreme weather events likewise create major disruptions in the economic activities of the people, who are primarily involved in agricultural production in these areas.

Can you describe how the conflict has affected food security in the region? And what does that mean for the livelihoods of those that depend on agriculture?
Most of the families displaced by armed conflict and natural disasters make their living from farming and fishing. Disruption of economic activities and damage to agricultural livelihoods have clearly contributed to the high poverty incidence of populations in these areas, which is remarkably higher than the national average. As an example of how conflict impinges on agricultural livelihoods and food security, a total of 3 325 farming households in one municipality in Cotabato Province, with an aggregated farm area of 2 235 hectares were affected by the clash between Government troop and separatist groups in 2015. This resulted in production losses estimated at 4 728 and 3 686.5 tonnes of corn and rice, respectively.

With regard to natural hazards, low-lying villages in Cotabato were affected by floods in 2013 and incurred at least USD 2 million worth of damages to rice and corn farms. In 2015, about around USD 13 million worth of crops were damaged by drought brought about by the El Niño event. The affected population clearly needs support in restoring their agricultural livelihoods considering their lack of financial means and other resources.

What is the current focus of FAO’s emergency response in Mindanao?
In Mindanao, FAO’s is responding to farming and fishing families affected by drought, flooding and conflict to equip these communities to be more resilient to future shocks. This includes livelihood restoration through distributing agricultural inputs and provision of technical assistance and capacity building activities to increase productivity and promote sustainability and resilience of agriculture and fisheries-based livelihoods.

What do farmers/fishers (or families that depend on agriculture for their livelihood) in Mindanao need most right now in terms of assistance?
Provision of agricultural inputs (planting materials, farming tools and equipment, farm animals, etc.) to replace productive assets lost or damaged from human-induced and natural disasters and capacity development to build resilience of agricultural livelihoods against multiple hazards.

What is your current role with FAO and what does it involve?
I am the Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Planning in Agriculture/Accountability to Affected Population (AAP)/Gender Specialist. The project I work on aims to contribute to the attainment of sustainable peace and development in Cotabato Province through the provision of support to the rehabilitation and restoration of agriculture and fisheries-based livelihoods affected by natural and man-made disasters such as drought and conflict. I assist in the formulation of plan of action for DRR in agriculture for communities in North Cotabato and in organizing community-level training for women addressing gender issues. I also ensure that AAP principles are observed in FAO’s emergency response in Mindanao and promoted among partners and government counterparts.

Describe the location of where you work
I am based in Cotabato City, which is currently the hub of various UN agencies’ operations in Mindanao. Cotabato City is the regional centre of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), but itself not part of ARMM but of another region (i.e. Region XII, SOCCSKSARGEN). The city’s population is composed of both Muslims and Christians. The area is in close proximity to agriculture-dependent, conflict-affected communities.

Can you share your most inspiring moment in humanitarian (FAO) work? i.e., in terms of work achievement in the country/region where you are, what have you been most proud about?
Being new to FAO and my current duty station, I am awed by the fact that FAO is a much respected organization here in Mindanao and has established both a good name for itself and good working relationship not only among peer development and humanitarian organizations, but also among major stakeholders in the peace and development process in conflict-affected areas in Mindanao.

What is it like working in an emergency/conflict environment?
I need to be sensitive to people’s plight and their cultural background, and to always have AAP principles in mind when dealing with affected populations. I also need to take primary responsibility for my own safety and security. While I need to be on the grassroots to be able to do my job effectively, I need to be cognizant of my own safety and security especially when working in areas rife with conflicts.

What are the biggest challenges for you and how do you cope?
Not being able to move around as freely as I used to do. There is a relatively high crime rate in the current area where I am based.