Pakistan + 1 more

Looking for a closer regional approach to help Pakistan

A more closely coordinated regional approach could be one way to tackle the development difficulties of neighboring Pakistan and Afghanistan and surrounding central Asian states, according to Mrs. Sadako Ogata.

Mrs. Ogata is the President of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and because of her long association with the region, both for Japan and as the High Commissioner of the U.N. Refugee Agency, UNHCR, she was recently dispatched to the United States as a special envoy for Prime Minister Taro Aso on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

She is attending an April 17 meeting hosted by Japan in Tokyo for major donors and also 'Friends of Pakistan' to discuss ways of helping that Asian country.

JICA has been active in both Pakistan and Afghanistan for many years on projects ranging from major infrastructure programs to grass roots human security projects in such fields as health and education.

In remarks before the scheduled conference, Mrs. Ogata acknowledged that development work had often been hindered in recent years because of deteriorating security conditions in various parts of the country which made access difficult.

However, with global attention again focused on Pakistan and its neighbor, she suggested one future approach will be closer cooperation and coordination with Afghanistan and Pakistan to develop projects beneficial to them all.

Highway Network

She noted recently JICA is already undertaking a series of highway construction projects in several central Asian countries through Japanese ODA loans and this network could eventually contribute to the development of the entire region.

Inside Pakistan itself, Japan has provided nearly $670 million in loans to upgrade most of the country's major trunk road, the 1,200 kilometer Indus Highway, linking the port of Karachi to the northeast city of Peshawar and eventually surrounding states such as Afghanistan, China and central Asia, increasing the efficient movement of both trade and people.

"Closer regional activities could eventually bring closer political cooperation among neighbors," she said. "We should look at the region as a whole to be able to exploit its full potential though there are serious security problems in several parts of the country."

Since the terrorists' attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, Pakistan has found itself in the frontlines in the so-called war on terror because of its long border with Afghanistan and close proximity to Taliban and Al Qaeda strongholds.

Though several million Afghan refugees returned to their country after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, 1.7 million remain in Pakistan, in addition to some 600,000 internally displaced persons-all of whom put an enormous added strain on the country's fragile structures.

The country's problems were not helped when an earthquake rocked northeast Pakistan on October 8, 2005 and the world watched in stunned fascination as one of the worst natural disasters in modern times unfolded.

Towns were leveled. Entire villages tumbled down mountaintops. Hundreds of thousands of persons were cutoff, often in deep snowdrifts reachable only by donkey or helicopter.

Japan, like other countries, rushed doctors, nurses, rescue teams and medical supplies to the spectacularly beautiful, but suddenly deadly region. Despite these efforts at least 75,000 persons were killed, tens of thousands were injured, 3.3 million became homeless and damage was estimated at $5 billion.

Huge Population Needs

The political, military and earthquake turmoil diverted attention from efforts to improve Pakistan's basic infrastructure such as roads and bridges, improve its industrial base and such services as education, health and energy to meet the needs of 160 million people, already the world's sixth largest population and predicted to increase to 260 million by 2035.

For 30 years Japan has been a major donor to the country. Since 1976 it has provided some $7 billion as Japanese ODA loans for 75 projects, $2.1 billion in grant aid and a further $400 million in technical assistance. Some 4,700 Pakistani officials have received training in Japan and 1,089 Japanese experts worked on projects in-country.

To meet both emergency needs and longer term help for reconstruction under a so-called 'built back better' initiative following the 2005 earthquake, Japan provided $208 million in assistance even as building work continues with the construction of scores of schools, hospitals in Battagram Northwest Frontier Province where Japanese emergency crews operated in 2005. JICA has also been working on a reconstruction plan for Muzaffarabad City, the major population center affected by the quake.

Pakistan has now embarked on efforts to both better anticipate and handle future natural disasters and JICA is helping to strengthen the National Disaster Management Authority and mitigate floods risks in the Rawalpindi area by improving the capacity of district and local communities to respond.

Blend of Programs

Other projects are a blend of programs to strengthen Pakistan's basic infrastructure such as roads, electrical output and industrialization and grass roots projects in areas such as education, water and health to improve the 'human security' of local communities.

The construction of the nearly two-kilometer long Kohat tunnel under the towering mountain peaks of the northwest frontier, aided by a Japanese ODA loan of around $126 million, eliminated one of Pakistan's major transport bottlenecks.

Karachi itself, the country's major economic center, former capital and a veritable melting pot of more than 10 million people, is in need of a massive facelift both to provide its citizens with better facilities such as water and sewage and as Pakistan's major entrepot, to jump start the economy. A blueprint has been prepared offering a long-term development vision for Karachi and mid-term plans have also been developed for the water, sewage and transport sectors.

Key Parts

Other key parts where JICA is helping is to strengthen the country's industrial base through capacity development, streamlining industrial policies and expanding public-private partnerships; eliminating current and growing power shortages where Japan has provided nearly $2 billion as Japanese ODA loans for 17 projects; and improving the irrigation and agricultural sectors through rehabilitating rundown irrigation systems and improving management and technical training.

Underlining the urgency in dealing with economic decline and noting that the ongoing instability had already cost Pakistan an estimated $35 billion, one report to be presented to the April 17 conference said "agricultural and commercial activities have been disrupted, markets and businesses have closed, employment has dropped, prices have increased and production has declined. Moreover, foreign investment has decreased and exports have been affected."

It also noted that the number of poor were again on the rise and that primary education enrolment in Pakistan was the lowest in the region, education expenditures remained far below needed levels and that rural girls continued to remain far behind in their education compared with boys.

As part of its commitment to 'human security', in addition to rehabilitating schools and health facilities in the wake of the Great Pakistan Earthquake, JICA is involved in other ongoing projects to raise the levels of both teaching and education curricula, strengthening an project aimed at the disabled and improving health service management.