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Manila, Philippines – The United Nations World Food Programme announced today that it will provide food aid to Mindanao in the Philippines in support of the government’s effort to end the long-standing conflict on the island.

Plans are underway to start a US$ 27 million food aid operation to assist more than two million people from poor and conflict-torn communities, especially families displaced by the violence, former combatants, poor women and children.

“The World Food Programme looks forward to assisting the Government of the Philippines and the people of Mindanao in bringing food security, improved health and nutrition and other tangible benefits of peace to the communities hit by conflict,” said Anthony Banbury, WFP Regional Director for Asia.

The operation will be carried out in cooperation with the Government of the Philippines in the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and adjacent provinces. It aims to support the peace process between the Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) by providing tangible assistance to civilians in the areas affected by the conflict, where poverty, nutrition and education levels are far worse than anywhere else in the country.

More than half of the population lives on less than US$0.60 per day. Approximately 30 percent of children under five years of age are stunted – a sign of chronic malnutrition – and just one third of children finish primary school. WFP’s project aims to improve nutrition and boost school attendance among children and rebuild schools and health clinics in conflict-hit communities on Mindanao.

The President of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, has repeatedly appealed to international donors to provide more assistance to conflict areas in the southern Philippines ahead of an expected peace deal this year.

The one year operation has a budget of US$27.2 million, but the amount of actual assistance provided will depend on donor response. Last month the Japanese government announced the first major contribution of US$1.2 million for the Mindanao programme as part of their aid package to WFP’s operations addressing peace building activities. This contribution to WFP was welcomed as further evidence of Japan’s commitment to peace building and human security.

“We are grateful for the support received for this critical operation from the Government of Japan, and we seek the support of other donors,” said Banbury.

WFP has also received valuable assistance from Citigroup, a global financial services provider that has worked with WFP on past emergency operations. Sanjiv Vohra, Citigroup Country Officer for the Philippines, noted their support for the emergency feeding operation, saying, “As part of our global partnership with WFP, we are happy to extend our support to WFP, providing the team office space and communication installations that will jumpstart their operations.”

“Citigroup’s close management support has allowed our staff to focus immediately on the needs of the people of Mindanao.” said Coco Ushiyama, WFP’s Officer-in-Charge for the Mindanao operation.

In 1996, WFP concluded some 30 years of assistance to the country, due to improvements in the nation’s economy and ability to feed its population. WFP decided to return to the Philippines at the request of the government and international donors wishing to further the peace process in Mindanao.