Africa, which is 'starting to win' will remain top of JICA's agenda Mrs. Ogata said in an interview during which she reviewed 2009 and looked forward to the next 12 months.
Last year was the first fully operational period for a revamped JICA following the organization's merger in October 2008 with that section of another government organization, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), which was responsible for yen loans to developing countries as part of Japan's overall Official Development Assistance (ODA).
She noted that the two organizations had very different 'cultures' and 2008 was a year of consolidation when "we all got together as one organization." A major benefit of that was that, for the first time, one development agency is now able to offer all major components of development assistance - technical aid, ODA loans and grant aid.
In project terms, 2009 had been a year of "positive developments, but many (continuing) problems" which JICA had needed to address. This was complicated because of 'the real world outside' - in other words few problems or projects can be solved or achieved in isolation and an increasingly globalized world needs global solutions.
In 2010, Mrs. Ogata said, "We must (now) show the efficiencies resulting from this coming together and that (effective) integration is a reality. We have to move forward very quickly, grabbing (those major issues) which need quick resolution."
She stressed that "Africa is top of the agenda" and expressed optimism that while there remained major trouble spots such as Darfur and eastern Congo "Africa as a whole is moving much better. Africa, I would say, is starting to win. This is a great feeling and it is important to share."
In recent years JICA has greatly expanded its operations throughout what is widely acknowledged as that part of the developing world in need of greatest assistance. JICA's operations range from post-conflict aid in such countries as Sudan, Congo and Rwanda, to a region-wide cooperative effort to double the continent's rice production within 10 years to major infrastructure programs.
Mrs. Ogata acknowledged, however, that other areas such as Latin and Central America, the Middle East and Asia also needed continuing help to tackle issues such as climate change, energy and food security at a time of unprecedented financial crisis.
On the international scene, she said, JICA had tried to adjust its operations to reflect these financial difficulties and meet the increased needs of some of the world's least developed countries and also those states which had been undergoing rapid economic expansion but which had been hit severely by the global turndown.
Despite major difficulties, "We were just able to hang on," Mrs. Ogata said.
In Japan itself, a new government had instituted a widespread review of all its operations and Mrs. Ogata acknowledged that "There will be a cutting in the overall budget, yes." However, this had to be accomplished 'very carefully so that we do not sacrifice" some of the basic aims of the country's ODA, including its recent commitments to doubling aid to Africa and also boosting overall assistance to Afghanistan.
"In general, I don't think it will have a negative impact," Mrs. Ogata said. It will not be "a bad thing for operational efficiency" to cut overall expenses while pursuing the agency's development goals.
PhotoPresident Ogata receive an explanation of ophthalmic instrument in China Medical University
Climate change projects will play an important role in JICA operations, but this is a complicated and still evolving area. Environmental and climate change projects cover a vast array of activities. She noted that during a recent visit to China she had discussed a range of programs in such areas as clean air, water sanitation, water purification and forestry - all of which were related in some way to 'climate change.'
"It is very hard to know what should be done as a matter of priority now, and which projects can be accomplished at a slightly later time," she said.
During 2009 Mrs. Ogata undertook eight overseas trips to many parts of the world and field visits had been particularly helpful in "keeping me fresh after I have seen first hand what is happening. Being exposed to things on the ground, meeting (Japanese) volunteers, the U.N., other agencies, all help with forward planning."
She said she had been particularly impressed during one recent visit to Iraq where JICA opened its first field office in 2009 with the economic and infrastructure projects, particularly major highways lit at night by solar powered lighting. Japan has pledged a total of US$5 billion to that country, of which some US$3.5 has been committed by JICA, and while infrastructure reconstruction has been notable, going forward JICA hopes to increase its assistance in such areas as agriculture, she said.