The Arab Spring began with a massive burst of optimism for a better future among millions of people in the Middle East.
Today the picture is more confused. While repressive regimes have been overthrown, there is still widespread turmoil in some countries in the region and it is clear that sustainable progress will be long and difficult.
A car bumper sticker in the Egyptian capital of Cairo summed up the uncertain mood: "Anybody Understand Anything?"
JICA moved swiftly to strengthen democratic gains in such countries as Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt.
But Japan's major development agency also continued projects to help achieve many longstanding demands for better employment, education, healthcare and an end to corruption and glaring social inequities.
The programs include major infrastructure projects to help the recovery of Iraq's vital oil industry, provide clean energy in Egypt and implement water projects from Morocco to Jordan.
But the agency is also helping some of the region's most vulnerable groups, including disabled people and Palestinian refugees, to protect the region's rich historical heritage and promote tourism and strengthening education including vocational training and a new approach to higher learning.
More than one year after the start of the Arab Spring the Middle East faces an uncertain future. JICA helped to strengthen the democratic process in countries such as Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt and has been engaged for years in areas such as health, education and job creation which helped to spark the revolution.
Jericho is reputedly the world's oldest city. And on its outskirts today Japanese experts and workmen are busily laying the foundations for something which hopefully will represent a new and better future for the troubled region.
In ancient times Iraq was the birthplace of modern agriculture. Today it sits on some of the world's largest oil deposits. JICA is helping the country rehabilitate both sectors in addition to other projects in such fields as water supply, sewerage, medical care and education, governance and development of human resources.
The Middle East is rich in history and culture. JICA is helping to protect that rich heritage–from Pharaonic Egypt to reputedly the world's oldest city of Jericho in the Palestinian territories to the Dead Sea-and at the same time promote tourism to stimulate economic growth.
Oil reserves have fueled the fabulous wealth of some Arab states but the very survival of the entire Middle East is dependent upon a second invaluable resource: water. JICA projects across the region are helping to preserve or make more efficient use of the dwindling supplies of the precious liquid.
Particularly vulnerable groups such as the physically disabled or mentally impaired often receive inadequate treatment or attention in Arab countries. JICA experts and volunteers throughout the region provide them with additional support.
The recently launched Egypt-Japan University of Science and Technology is an innovative higher education project which will offer its students new methods of teaching and hopefully stem a regional brain drain. University President Ahmed Khairy said it hopes it will become among the world's top 500 centers of higher learning.
As civil war gripped Libya last year, hundreds of thousands of civilians sought refuge in neighboring southern Tunisia. As in many similar cases, both refugees and host communities were overwhelmed by the crisis. JICA and the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, agreed to provide hospitals and other social organizations with practical assistance such as X-ray and echography machines, trucks and computers.
Ambitious parents often want their children to become doctors or engineers. But there is a growing awareness that vocational training in such fields as mechanics, plumbing and electricity can offer good job opportunities and are vital to a nation's economic growth.
Jordanian doctor Lewa Al Islam Hazymh says it is ‘probably the main killer’ in his country's hospitals. The ‘problem’ is not malaria or tuberculosis but infectious disease caused principally by un-cleanliness. An effort is underway to improve hygienic conditions in medical centers.