November 13, 2009
The international community, including nations such as Japan and the United States, must undertake a long-term commitment to Afghanistan to ensure that it never becomes a ‘forgotten country’ again, according to Mrs. Sadako Ogata, the President of the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
In an address at Columbia University in New York (November 12), Mrs. Ogata also emphasized that though Afghanistan faced continuing current problems, it should never be forgotten that it had already made major progress in the last few years in many areas such as health care, education and infrastructure.
In a lecture delivered to an audience of some 250 people including many Japanese students in the United States, Mrs. Ogata outlined Japan’s long association with Afghanistan and the current role of Japan and the United States in that country.
Mrs. Ogata has enjoyed a large personal role in the region. As the High Commissioner for the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), in the 1990s she was responsible for helping millions of refugees who fled Afghanistan to surrounding countries. Currently, she is not only the President of JICA, but also the Japanese Prime Minister’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Though Japan does not contribute to the international military force currently in Afghanistan, it has an extensive development assistance program there and Tokyo announced recently it would substantially increase its aid further in such areas as agriculture in the near future.
“We shouldn’t underestimate what has been achieved in the last eight years,” Mrs. Ogata said, noting that six million children were now enrolled in schools compared with one million seven years ago. At that time there were no girls in the classroom, but today 35 percent of students are female.
Eighty percent of the population has access to basic health services, compared with only nine percent in 2003 and more than 12,000 miles of all-weather rural roads have been built.
“Still there is a lot to do for Afghanistan,” she said. The international community had to commit itself to the long term rehabilitation of Afghanistan so that the country never again becomes ‘a forgotten country’ as it had become after the withdrawal of Soviet troops in the 1980s.
Since 2002, JICA assistance had concentrated on several areas including agriculture and rural development, urban planning and capacity development in health and education. The agency had also collaborated with Malaysia in promoting vocational training, Iran in vocational training, agriculture and gender mainstreaming, Cambodia in reproductive health and Pakistan in road maintenance, reproductive health and literacy.
With 80 percent of Afghanistan’s population living in rural areas, agriculture is key to improving national living standards, the JICA president said, and encouraging results in improving rice production in the Jalalabad region will soon be introduced to Afghanistan’s northeastern areas, the potential food basket for the entire country.
To encourage rural development, JICA has participated in a nationwide project which ‘clusters’ small and disparate communities together allowing them easier access to agricultural, educational and health resources.
In the capital, Kabul, Mrs. Ogata said JICA experts have been collaborating on a blueprint for a vastly expanded metropolitan area to accommodate a rapidly increasingly urban population.