October 3, 2008
As Japan enters a new era of development assistance, the country’s top aid official said Thursday (October 2) her agency will shortly open its first office in Iraq to help that battered nation try to recover from years of war.
Mrs. Sadako Ogata, the president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), addressed the Foreign Correspondents Club in Tokyo one day after her agency merged with the overseas economic cooperation section of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) to form the world’s largest bilateral cooperation agency.
‘New JICA’s’ operational volume will be an estimated $10.3 billion in fiscal year 2008 and for the first time one organization will be able to offer three schemes of help all ‘under one roof’ including technical assistance, soft loans and grant aid.
Mrs. Ogata said these combined schemes will be particularly helpful in Iraq where JICA will open a field office in the northern city of Erbil in this winter or spring. Millions of people have been uprooted after several years of war and much of the country’s infrastructure has been destroyed. In addition to helping to train thousands of Iraqis in various skills, JICA will also provide Japanese ODA loans totaling up to $ 3.5 billion to rehabilitate power plants, oil facilities, irrigation facilities, sewage facilities, and some other infrastructure projects, Mrs. Ogata said.
One of the organization’s main challenges, the JICA President told journalists, “will be how skillfully and effectively we will be able to combine all of these three schemes” to meet the real needs of millions of the world’s poorest people.
Japanese foreign assistance helped create the so-called Asian economic miracle in recent decades and Mrs. Ogata said her agency was now devoting more resources to the world’s poorest continent, Africa. The percentage of JICA’s technical assistance budget to Africa has increased from 14% to 24% in the last five years, the JICA president said and overall Japan has pledged to double development assistance to the continent by 2012.
The merger also comes at what Mrs. Ogata called a ‘crossroads’ in Japan’s development assistance.
She also highlighted Japanese assistance to Afghanistan in the years following the fall of the Taliban regime and said that though it had gone largely unnoticed in the outside world, Japan had launched a series of ambitious programs in health, education, rural development and infrastructure including a new international airport in the capital, Kabul.
Japan’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) has dropped 40% in the last decade and the country has slipped from being the world’s largest donor overall, to No. 5 today.
Mrs. Ogata has repeatedly expressed concern in recent months at this downward trend though under the current fiscal situation she has said she saw little chance of decisively reversing the trend. Thursday, she expressed her frustration with the level of domestic support for foreign assistance.
“Japan has become a very comfortable country and people are more and more looking inward.” she said. “I feel very frustrated.” While acknowledging that people today “have a lot to be worried about” she said there was a lack of understanding at home that the world had become inter-dependent and Japan needed to play a strong role internationally.