THE National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) signed Thursday a 771 million yen (about P340 million) grant aid project to support the energy sector in Mindanao's conflict-affected areas.

The project will be implemented by the National Electrification Administration (NEA) of the Department of Energy (DOE) and is part of Jica's continuing support to peace and development in Mindanao.

"The project, which involves the provision of power distribution equipment such as transformers, poles, conductors and boom trucks to Electric Cooperatives, is expected to contribute to the long-term goal of lowering of System Loss by 13 percent, increase in line capacity by 130 percent, and improvement of Cooperatives’ power distribution equipment installation and maintenance work in the Bangsamoro Area," said Neda Director General Ernesto Pernia during the ceremony.

The project will upgrade the power distribution equipment of the six electric cooperatives (ECs) operating in the area.

Data from said ECs showed an average of 26 percent energy losses due to the aging equipment used for energy transmission that have been built in the 70s.

Meanwhile, the electrification rate in the area at 36 percent, according to government data, is also lower than the average rate of 74 percent in Mindanao.

"This project is part of our continuing commitment to support peace and development in Mindanao," said Jica Chief Representative Susumu Ito.

"By helping resolve the power supply issues in conflict-affected areas, we aim to help the Philippines create more economic activities in the region," Ito said.

Government poverty statistics data in 2015 showed that the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao remains mired in poverty with 53.4 percent poverty rate, higher than the national average of 21.1 percent. Forty years of conflict have deprived this region of opportunities to access social services and quality investments and jobs.

The JICA grant aid will help reduce the energy distribution losses to about 7 percent and assure reliable, resilient energy supply to nearly 44,000 households in the area.

"We will do what we can to support the people in Mindanao's conflict-affected areas realize the dividends of peace in their lives and ensure a better future for the next generation," added Ito.

Jica's support to the energy infrastructure in Bangsamoro is also part of the agency’s development cooperation with the Philippines.

The project was identified under the Jica-assisted Bangsamoro Development Plan 2 meant to jumpstart economic activities in Mindanao's conflict areas and draw up a medium- to long-term development plan (2016-2022) for the region's inclusive and sustainable development. (SDR/SunStar Philippines)