My first close encounter with Laos was in the mid-1990s from the opposite bank of the Mekong River while on assignment to JICA Thailand office. At that time alas I did not have the opportunity to set foot on the "Land of a Million Elephants", just the chance to glimpse of the country from the other side of the remarkable multinational waterway. Looking upon highly-forested Laos and its natural wonders from the opposite bank I expressed hope that one day I would get the opportunity to be posted here.
In 2000, I was recalled to the JICA headquarters in Tokyo and assumed a new role with responsibility for Laos. Later, I was posted to Vientiane as senior representative of JICA Lao office from 2010 to 2013. So, this current assignment is my second in Laos and represents a long term interest in the country and people. With this welcome return comes a renewed and earnest wish – to do my utmost towards to see JICA make a successful contribution to help Laos achieve sustainable development for the country and ensure peace and prosperity for its people.
Japan's assistance to Laos started in 1958. Nam Ngum Hydropower Plant and water supply facilities in Vientiane, which supported by Japan in the 1960s and 1970s, became a key foundation for the subsequent economic development of Laos. In December 1965, the first Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV) were dispatched to Laos. Following a pause, the program returned in 1991. All the while Japan has consistently supported the socio-economic development of Laos as a top development partner.
Those familiar with Laos are aware the country was afflicted with upheavals and poverty until well into the latter half of the 20th century. But now the country's GDP per capita is growing fast ($1,793 in 2014, 5.5 times higher compared to 2000) and enjoys greater peace, stability and prosperity. It can be said that Japan's aid including via JICA has contributed greatly to achieving these goals. Currently, JICA is delivering Japan's ODA in cooperation with the government of Laos in four priority areas.
These are 1: Economic and social infrastructure development; 2: Development of agriculture and conservation of forests; 3: Development of educational environment and training of human resources; and 4: Improvement of health care services.
Based on the following three pillars of the "Japan-Lao PDR Joint Development Cooperation Plan for Sustainable Development of Lao P.D.R" agreed on by the nations' Prime Ministers in Vientiane during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Related Summits in September 2016, we are planning to implement our projects:
Although priority areas of JICA projects are described above, with respect to the perspectives on which JICA should place emphasis in the future, I would like to mention the following three points in particular.
The first point is to continue contributing to the maintenance of "peace and stability" in Laos and the surrounding region. Looking at the world today, one may observe that there have been cases in which a country/region that long appeared peaceful was suddenly torn apart by internal and external conflicts and isolated from the international community. Although Laos is a peaceful country now, certain social problems such as corruption, injustice and disparity between rich and poor would lead to the outbreak of conflict that might disturb this stability. As the harm from such cases of conflict and destabilization is felt widely, one of the major roles of ODA should be to help maintain "peace and stability" in countries such as Laos and surrounding areas, as well as the peace and stability of East Asia as a whole. Consequently, we must strive to strengthen connectivity with ASEAN countries, and to rectify the disparities through education, health, regional development, and more. Meanwhile we support the creation of stronger foundations for democracy, encompassing administrative and financial reforms and the establishment of "rule of law".
A second point is to build a "trusting relationship" between Laos and Japan. The relationship between ASEAN and Japan is important and becoming increasingly so. It will become a great asset for all parties to continue to build strong bonds with ASEAN countries such as Laos, constructing a shared vision for the decades ahead. At present, in addition to volunteers and NGOs working at the grassroots levels in Laos, there are also many institutions as well as many foreign students in universities and trainees in the private sector in Japan who are contributing to trade, development, research, exchange and trust-building between the two nations. JICA will continue to act as a catalyst for trust-building between the two nations by strategically expanding its study in Japan projects and promoting cooperation between Japanese small and medium enterprises and local governments, capitalizing on Japan's strengths and technologies.
A third point I would like to pursue the "Lao-like development". Speaking of development, it should not be forgotten that as far as the Lao people are concerned, the notion of happiness is not solely based on economic growth. A huge amount of investment and development projects from neighboring countries have entered the country, and waves of modernization are starting to reach to rural villages in the remote mountains area with or without the approval of the local inhabitants. Under such circumstances, I believe that JICA can also play an important role in demonstrating 'Lao-like development' in accordance with our policy on "human security", "fair development" and "high-quality growth". As such I seek to maintain close contacts with the government and the people of Laos and see JICA continue to be a reliable partner in responding to the various challenges the country is facing together where possible.
Being the second time to be assigned to Laos, I am well aware of the weight of responsibilities and the gravity and difficulty of the mission ahead. Nevertheless, I hope to keep my eyes, ears and mind open and continue to study and explore the real needs of Laos in my dealings with people of both our nations and all that have the welfare of Laos at heart. We can consider our mission accomplished only when Laos is firmly on track for sustainable development and its people can enjoy the fruits of the nation's development including those nourished via ODA from Japan. As such, the people of Laos, compatriots from Japan and all with an interest in these activities are most welcome to visit the JICA Laos office in Vientiane during their visit to the country.
JICA Laos Office
1. JICA's activities in Laos can be viewed at this website and via the official Facebook account of JICA Laos office (updated daily). Please take a look!
2. Visitors to JICA Lao office are welcome to wear smart casual / climate-appropriate dress.