US hikes aid to Mindanao; extends accord with MinDA

MANILAThe United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has increased its contribution to the development of Mindanao by at least USD11.45 million as it extended its bilateral agreement with the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) until September 2019.

As of 2018, the total contribution of the USAID to its Mindanao Peace and Development (MPAD) Assistance Agreement with MinDA reached USD144.87 million.

On Tuesday, MinDA Secretary Abul Khayr Alonto accepted the additional aid during the ceremonial signing with USAID Acting Mission Director for Philippine Patrick Wesner.

Alonto said the contribution made for fiscal year 2018 will be allocated to social services and other developmental programs to meet challenges on water and energy in Mindanao.

But given the recent Marawi siege in 2017, Alonto noted that a large part of the increase will be focused on the Marawi rehabilitation.

"(The specific concentration of this year's MPAD) is the reconstruction of Marawi, and the economic rehabilitation of the conflicted areas beyond Marawi," he told reporters in an interview.

Wesner, meanwhile, said the US is committed to assist Filipinos affected in the war, particularly the displaced families in ground zero.

"This new assistance will offer opportunities for displaced families to improve their economic conditions after the Marawi siege. (It) will strengthen community cohesion among the displaced populations," he said.

For the 12 years, Wesner noted that US has provided provinces and nearly 800 barangays in Mindanao infrastructure projects such as construction of water sanitation systems, warehouses, market centers, boat landings, bridges, and even the upgrade of airport runways.

"These are transformational infrastructure projects in Mindanao, and they were completed in close partnership with Philippine government in all levels," he stressed.

Aside from infrastructure projects, MinDA and USAID have also partnered in conducting the Water-Energy-Nexus Study, which seeks to identify Mindanao provinces that are most vulnerable to climate change, including its effect to the region's water reserves and agriculture industry.

MinDA Undersecretary Janet Lopoz said in case of a water shortage, the largest impact can be seen in the urban areas of Mindanao, largely in the south-central part-- one of the Philippines' food basket areas.

With the study, she said the Philippines will be able to establish a baseline quantity for surface water supply specifically for the eight river basins in Mindanao and simulate impact of climate change on surface water supply.

Lopoz is optimistic that through this research, "policies that efficiently match natural resources to supply availability" may be explored.

Wesner echoed similar sentiments, saying the US is hopeful "the insights gained from the study will fuel a robust and evidence-based strategy led by MinDA in partnership with other government agencies that advances resilience and economic growth in the region." (PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency

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