Japan: A global leader on DRR that can do even more to fight poverty

Families in Candahug in Palp, Leyte take shelter in temporary tents provided by the Government of Japan. Photo by: Asian Development Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

Development assistance is based on a combination of solidarity and enlightened self-interest, and the clear guiding principle of Japanese development cooperation is “to contribute to the peace and development of the international community, and thereby help to ensure Japan’s own security and prosperity”.

Japan draws on 60 years of experience and sees foreign aid as being in its own long-term interests and an important part of its foreign policy. However, Japan is increasingly going beyond this to show more and more solidarity with other parts of the world. The devastating earthquake and tsunami of 2011 brought a renewed sense of the role that Japanese aid plays in strengthening that trust and solidarity across the world.

Development cooperation is a chance to exert leadership in the world. According to the latest peer review by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Japan has unique disaster risk reduction experiences and competence in handling disasters, both with respect to advancing the international agenda and its own national programs.

Following the 2011 crisis, Japan has continued to exert global leadership on disaster risk reduction and have comprehensively incorporated disaster risk reduction elements across all its development assistance programming. For example, the government made resilience the central theme of the 2014 OECD Ministerial Council Meeting. In addition, Japan will host in 2015 the III World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, with the goal of agreeing on a post-2015 framework for disaster reduction to scale up disaster risk reduction efforts across the world.

Over the last 30 years, economic loss and damages from natural disasters have been rising, from an annual average of around $50 billion in the 1980s to just under $200 billion each year in the last decade. The frequency and severity of natural disasters are set to increase due to climate change. Developing countries are more vulnerable, with risks exacerbated by population growth, rapid urbanization and environmental degradation, so much that damages can amount to up to 100 percent of their gross domestic product.

Efficient emergency response

Japan uses innovative approaches to ensure a fast start to recovery in the aftermath of a disaster.

A pre-approved emergency credit line from Japan gives government’s immediate access to funds after a natural disaster. The first deal was signed with the disaster-prone Philippines, giving it access to almost half a billion dollars in case of an emergency when finances can be difficult to mobilize.

Japan has a highly respected disaster response system and is clearly a world leader in this area. It was well prepared to respond to Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013, as Japanese experts were on their way to the Philippines before the storm even made landfall thanks to an international early warning systems. Approval for Japanese NGO projects was provided in less than three days, and $20 million was allocated to international partners in support for short-term projects. Search and rescue and medical teams were on the ground in less than 24 hours and volunteer hospital staff on standby across Japan. The Japanese Self Defense Forces transported relief goods and provided vaccinations. The Ministry of Infrastructure provided telecommunications experts to restore important communications services, and the Coast Guard was dispatched to repair offshore electricity plants. A Japanese infrastructure expert was sent to advise counterparts in the Philippines government on infrastructure rehabilitation.

These are great examples of emergency response and the new Japanese whole-of-government approach.

Even more can be done

Japan has also launched a series of new global initiatives in climate finance and women’s empowerment that should further its global leadership and enhance its influence and impact on development.

It has been said that the 2011 tragedy also had an impact on the mindset of the Japanese people, instilling a renewed sense of trust and solidarity with the world and greater appreciation of the role development assistance plays in strengthening that trust and solidarity.

Solidarity is an important part of development assistance. A new world record in generosity was set last year as a total of $134.8 billion was provided by the world’s donors. Japan is now the fourth-largest Development Assistance Committee donor, having increased spending by 36.6 percent and reached a total of $11.8 billion last year. Japanese official development assistance reached 0.23 percent of the gross national income, which is a good step toward the U.N. target of 0.7 percent.

I strongly encourage Japan to continue on this path. It is just as important that development assistance goes to where it is most needed — yet many of the least-developed countries still do not receive enough support, and are even faced with declining aid. Japan and most other donors could do much more to support countries and people where assistance is most needed.

In conclusion, Japan needs to pay more attention to where it is providing development assistance and improve efforts to reduce poverty in the many countries in which it works. But Japan has increased its spending on ODA and is showing more and better global leadership!

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About the author

  • Erik Solheim

    Erik Solheim is chair of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee since January 2013, and incoming executive director of the U.N. Environment Program. With a solid background in climate, the environment and peace building, Solheim was also Norway’s minister for international development from 2005 to 2012.