March 13, 2008
JICA President Sadako Ogata met regional leaders and international officials and visited a series of development projects during a nine-day visit to the Middle East to bolster Japan's continuing efforts to promote peace and stability in the region.
Mrs. Ogata held a meeting Wednesday (March 12) with Syrian President Bashar al- Assad during which the two discussed JICA's assistance and environmental and development projects but also wider regional problems including the massive presence of refugees in Syria.
More than 1 million Iraqis have fled the chaos in that neighboring country to Syria and many face an uncertain future, needing immediate material assistance and other help in determining their long-term future. There are also some 400,000 Palestinians, many of them living in camps and some having been in-country since the late 1940s.
As the High Commissioner for the UN Refugee agency UNHCR in the 1990s, Mrs. Ogata was intimately involved in regional refugee problems.
They agreed that the issue needed further urgent attention both regionally and from the international community.
Mrs. Ogata also toured the capital, Damascus, reputedly the world's oldest inhabited city, before she was scheduled to fly to London and the United States Thursday.
Earlier, Mrs. Ogata was in Israel where she held talks with Acting Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. During a stopover in Palestine she met Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and later Jordanian Prince Hassan.
The visit was part of Japan's continuing efforts to strengthen the Middle East peace process by fostering economic and social development in the region.
A key to that process is a project, the Concept for Creating the Corridor for Peace and Prosperity, to promote closer ties between Israel, Jordan and Palestine. The ‘Corridor’ refers to the Jordan Valley, the dominant geographical landmark on the West Bank where JICA last year launched three regional agricultural and water schemes.
Mrs. Ogata also took the opportunity to visit the historical Dead Sea area and view Japanese efforts to bolster tourism, a vital component of Jordan’s economy, by helping construct a new major highway and museum and tourist complex.
Another important JICA regional initiative has been the development and distribution among tens of thousands of Palestinian families of a mother and child health handbook which provides practical advice and basic information for mothers as well as recording their medical histories. The handbooks are particularly useful in conflict zones such as Palestine where women may sometimes have to seek help from hospitals and clinics unfamiliar with their medical histories.