Our Perspectives


In high-risk areas, UNDP-Japan partnership delivers on human security

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The Tokyo League uses sports to encourage Palestinian youth in the face of conflict and other hardships. Japanese Ambassador for Palestinian Affairs Takeshi Okubo attended the Tokyo League table tennis championships in Gaza. The league uses sports to encourage Palestinian youth in the face of conflict and other hardships. Photo: Shareef Sarhan/UNDP PAPP

I’ll never forget watching the final match of the Tokyo League volleyball tournament. It was heart-warming to see the students, wearing their scarves known as Hijab, playing the game with delight, their eyes shining with joy. It seemed like a memorable experience also for the team, who have no opportunity to explore the world beyond the wall.

As you might have guessed by now, the Tokyo League doesn’t play in Japan. The league, which began as an initiative of the Japanese Ambassador for Palestinian Affairs, Takeshi Okubo, competes 9,000 miles away in Gaza. The project also includes a female table tennis league and a football league for boys.

I decided to visit the Middle East for my first mission as the head of the Japan Unit at UNDP in order to take stock of the impact of Japanese funding in this complex region. As part of the Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy, the Japan Unit’s role is to raise and manage funding from Japan, but also to deepen the policy coherence between UNDP and Japan.

Our work in the Middle East is a prime example of this partnership, which centres on realizing human security on the ground. During my mission, I visited 16 Japanese-funded project sites in the Palestinian Territories, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.

I had the opportunity to witness first-hand the significant impacts our partnership has on socio-economic infrastructure sectors such as water and sanitation, road development, solid waste disposal, job creation and the sports sector. I saw how these impacts can generate a sense of hope for Gazans, especially amongst a youth population often facing desperate circumstances.

 Around 160 female players, forming eight teams from different geographical areas, competed in the Tokyo League table tennis championships. Photo: Shareef Sarhan/UNDP PAPP

In the West Bank, I visited the Agro-Industrial Park in Jericho, the landmark project of the “Corridor for Peace and Prosperity”, launched by former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2006. The purpose of the initiative is to promote Palestinian economic resilience through cooperation amongst Palestinians, Israelis and Jordanians, based on the understanding that it is critical to promote mutual confidence for sustainable peace in the region. UNDP helped to build the infrastructure for the park, and now two Palestinian companies have already begun operations. Ten companies will launch operations by the end of this year.

It was encouraging for me to see Japanese funded UNDP projects making a positive impact in the most crisis-affected and high risk areas in the region. It crystalized UNDP’s commitment to human security, which has been Japan’s philosophy when providing international assistance for more than 20 years.

With the exception of one year (2014), Japan’s core and non-core contributions to UNDP have been the highest amongst bilateral donors since 2009. This is an essential partnership because I believe Japan’s efforts and impact on the ground in such high risk areas are better realized in conjunction with UNDP’s expertise and experience.

In Syria, we witnessed a debris removal project in Homs, where the old town was heavily destroyed by air strikes. UNDP conducted the debris removal project through the “cash for work” method by hiring local people. Removing rubble as soon as possible is a priority in order to facilitate a return to normal life, but there was still much debris left in the streets due to a shortfall in funding.

When we visited a heavily destroyed souq (market) in Homs, we found a lone chocolate shop, which had just reopened. I bought chocolates hoping to contribute in some way, but the shop owner tried to refuse my payment, instead thanking us for conducting the debris removal project.

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