Japan’s official development assistance in 1996 plunged by 35 percent from the previous year to $9.58 billion, marking the first decline in dollar terms in seven years, the Foreign Ministry said in a preliminary report released April 7.

As a result, Japan may slip from the position as the world’s top aid donor, although overseas aid figures by other major countries have not been released yet. Japan maintained the top position for five years until 1995.

It is now deemed almost impossible for Japan to attain its five-year target of disbursing a total of $70 to $75 billion between 1993 and 1997. In the first four years of the period, the nation provided only about $49.3 billion. Ministry officials attributed the plunge partly to the yen’s depreciation against the dollar. While the yen’s average exchange rate in 1995 stood at 94.07 yen to the dollar, the 1996 figure was 108.82 yen.

But the ODA was also down 24.8 percent in yen terms to 1.04 trillion yen, marking the first decline in three years, according to the ministry report. Amid the tight fiscal situation, the government has in recent years been capping growth in the ODA budget.

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