Japan’s official development assistance of $15.32 billion in 1999 made it the world’s top donor to developing countries for the ninth consecutive year, according to an annual report on ODA endorsed Friday by Cabinet.

Dollar-denominated ODA made a record year-on-year rise of 44 percent, due mainly to the $3.3 billion contributed to the Asian Development Bank to help Asian countries recover from their economic crisis, the report says.

The yen’s sharp rise in the currency market also helped boost the value of ODA in dollar terms. In yen terms, the ODA amounted to 1.745 trillion yen, up 25.3 percent.

ODA to Asian countries grew 23.4 percent to $6.63 billion, accounting for 63.2 percent of Japan’s overall bilateral assistance, up from 62.4 percent in 1998. Africa received 9.5 percent of the total, followed by Central and South America with 7.8 percent and the Middle East with 5.2 percent.

By country, Indonesia was the single biggest recipient, getting $1.605 billion. China followed with $1.225 billion.

In terms of the ratio of ODA to gross national product, Japan ranked seventh among the 22 member countries of the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development at 0.35 percent, up from 0.28 percent in 1998. Denmark ranked No. 1 at 1 percent, and the United States was last at 0.1 percent.

Loans accounted for 32.2 percent of Japan’s ODA, technical assistance 20.8 percent and grants-in-aid 15.2 percent. Disbursement for international organizations — such as the U.N. Development Program and UNICEF — accounted for 31.8 percent.

The report focuses on how the latest medium-term ODA policy was carried out in 1999, the Foreign Ministry said.

The policy guideline, announced in August 1999, sets goals for Japan’s ODA over the five-year period from fiscal 1999 through 2003. These goals include providing assistance to Asia and promoting education, health care and empowerment of women in all regions.

The report says Japan’s ODA earmarked for education enabled some 1.2 million children in 13 countries to study at school in 1999, through assistance in building schools, providing equipment and training teachers.

Japan also helped provide safe water to 20 million people in 19 countries through drainage and well projects.

The report also mentions developments after the policy guidelines were announced, including providing $3 billion to fight infectious disease and $15 billion to reduce the digital divide between developing and developed countries in the next five years, both of which were announced at the Group of Eight summit in Okinawa in July.

The report also notes that the government set up an expert panel to review yen-loan policies.

The government also established an ODA monitoring system under which private representatives from each prefecture visit developing countries and inspect how ODA projects are being carried out, an effort aimed at informing and securing the understanding of ordinary people with regard to ODA spending, the report says.

Focus shifts to poverty

The World Bank is increasingly focusing on combating poverty in developing nations — as opposed to simply helping their economies grow — as the number of poor people in the world continues to rise, a high-ranking official of the bank said Friday.

Gary Perlin, senior vice president and chief financial officer of the World Bank, told a public forum in Tokyo that the challenges facing the bank have changed dramatically in the last few decades.

Of the world’s population of some 6 billion, nearly half — 2.8 billion — live on less than $2 a day. This means the traditional formula of development assistance, such as lending money to poor countries to build dams and roads, is no longer sufficient, he said.

The globalization of financial markets and the resulting increase in inflow of private sector capital has also changed the role of public-sector financial institutions, Perlin said.

While private-sector involvement in such areas as telecommunications and information technology is spurring economic growth in some developing countries, poverty within these countries persists, he said.

“In an environment (where) the private sector in developed countries is willing to lend to the private sector in developing countries, the aspect that may not otherwise be addressed is that of fighting poverty,” he said. “It’s still a public-sector interest.”

To alleviate poverty, Perlin said it is crucial to listen directly to the needs of the poor and let them map out their own development strategies instead of forcing a formula made by rich nations upon them.

The forum attracted some 200 participants from a wide range of backgrounds, including representatives from nongovernmental organizations, academics and financial institutions.

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