Top-level Japanese and Central American officials will meet in Tokyo in early August to discuss cooperation in weathering a spate of hurricane-triggered floods and other natural disasters that have afflicted the region in recent years.

Japan has provided technical cooperation to Central America in the area of disaster prevention as part of its official development assistance, but Foreign Ministry officials on Saturday noted that the conference will be the first of its kind to be held in Japan.

Participants will include deputy ministerial-level officials of several Central American nations, including Nicaragua, Honduras, Dominica, Panama and Venezuela, as well as senior officials of the Foreign Ministry, National Land Agency and the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the officials said, requesting anonymity.

Japanese ODA extended bilaterally to developing countries consists of low-interest yen loans and grants-in-aid as well as technical cooperation. The latter usually involves the dispatch of Japanese experts to the designated country or the hosting of trainees in various fields.

In November 1998, Japan dispatched Self-Defense Forces personnel to Honduras to engage in relief operations for the victims of Hurricane Mitch, which swept through Central America, killing more than 6,500 people and wreaking havoc on the regional economies.

It was the first time that SDF personnel had been sent abroad under a 1987 law for dispatching international emergency-relief teams to disaster-stricken foreign countries.

Although the law initially limited members of emergency-relief teams to non-SDF personnel, such as private citizens, doctors and officials of government ministries and agencies, it was revised in June 1992 to allow for the dispatch of SDF personnel.

When the 1987 law was amended eight years ago, the Diet also enacted a landmark law enabling SDF personnel to be dispatched abroad to engage in United Nations-sponsored peacekeeping operations.

The legal steps were significant for Japan’s foreign policy because the overseas dispatch of SDF personnel had been strictly limited for nearly five decades after the end of World War II. This was to prevent concerns among Japan’s Asian neighbors about a possible resurgence of its past militarism.

A senior Foreign Ministry official requesting anonymity said: “In recent years, the number of natural disasters has been growing in Central America and the Caribbean region, possibly due partly to the global warming.

“Japan is an advanced country in terms of disaster-prevention. Therefore, it will be quite useful for Japan and Central American countries to share experiences and explore possible areas of cooperation for disaster prevention and relief efforts.”

The official also acknowledged that through the Tokyo conference, Japan wants to show its firm resolve to help the development of Central American countries, which are promoting democratization and economic-reform efforts.