Practical examples of United Nations support to sub-regional cooperation for sustainable development in Central Asia
Joint presentation on behalf of the UN Resident Coordinators in Central Asia by Helena Fraser, United Nations Resident Coordination in Uzbekistan at the International Conference on ensuring security and sustainable development in Central Asia under the auspices of the UN.
Excellencies, Chairmen Dr. Norov and Mr. Starr, Distinguished speakers, Ladies and Gentlemen, Colleagues,
On behalf of the UN Country Teams in Central Asia, it is a pleasure for me to address this High-level Panel on the topic of practical example of UN support to sub-regional cooperation for sustainable development in Central Asia.
First and foremost, I would like to thank the Government of Uzbekistan for hosting us in this International Conference and dedicating special emphasis to regional cooperation. This is an excellent opportunity to engage with our counterparts through dynamic discussions around issues of mutual interest and to witness first-hand the strategic thinking among government and other partners, which very much influences our work in the region, as one UN, and as a strategic partner in national-led efforts for development in each country.
As was underlined by President Mirziyoyev and many other statements yesterday, the development priorities in our region, particularly in the context of Central Asia, are framed by all five countries’ ambitious reform agendas. The potential for regional cooperation and connectivity also arises from those agendas.
As the UN, we warmly welcome the countries’ increased emphasis on regional cooperation. Many development challenges know no boundaries, and as many have point out, sustainable prosperity, security and human dignity can be best attained through strengthening regional cooperation.
A well-established UN mechanism which specifically focuses on regional cooperation is the Special Programme for Economies of Central Asia (SPECA), which is supported by the Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). It is not a coincidence that this year’s Economic Forum for the SPECA region is focusing on SDGs and Innovation.
All Central Asia countries have embraced the 2030 Development Agenda and there is a good momentum for SDG nationalization and localization. As the UN family, we believe that the SDGs present a unique opportunity to assist the governments of this region in the formulation of an ambitious development vision, and related reform priorities, which align to globally agreed goals and targets.
Today I would like to highlight a few examples of how UN family sees potential for enhanced cooperation among the countries of the region, particularly using the SDGs momentum and platforms.
I will focus on six issues in terms of sub-regional cooperation: preventing violent extremism; human rights; cross-border community and security cooperation; promoting trade and economic cooperation; disaster risk reduction; and ‘green’ Sustainable Development Goals.
Preventing Violent Extremism:
Prevention of violent extremism is surely a regional priority and also an issue of global importance. The spread of radicalization, especially among young people, is a real and present threat to peace, stability and development.
The UN family is developing practical preventative solutions to this critical challenge, in partnership with Governments, and is well positioned to engage at the grass-roots level. For instance, UNDP has developed a regional project specifically focusing on promoting social re-integration. The project supports security, judicial and social institutions to effectively carry out de-radicalization measures in order to reintegrate radicalized individuals, including especially returning foreign fighters.
We also believe that there is an increasing need to find specific solutions that balance human rights, development and security considerations. In Central Asia, the UN family is keen to reinforce our efforts to support sub-regional cooperation on human rights issues and among the institutions. We currently believe this is an opportune time to join forces to strengthen dialogue and capacities within the region, to enable stronger linkages between Central Asian institutions, and beyond, with global and other regional networks. In cooperation with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN teams in the region are starting to support sub-regional cooperation among National Human Rights Institutions of Central Asia countries.
Cross-border community and security cooperation:
In order to create a more conducive environment for the promotion of sustainable peace and development in cross-border areas, the UN also focuses on building a constructive dialogue between cross-border communities. A good example of such cooperation, supported by the UN Peace-building Fund, is the Cross-border Cooperation for Sustainable Peace and Development Programme implemented in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan aiming at promoting peace and security along the border.
The programme works closely with national and local authorities, security providers, community partners, civil society organizations, youth and women to restore cross-border linkages, cooperation and trust by jointly addressing interdependent needs associated with social infrastructure and natural resources. Nearly 40,000 local residents on both sides of the border have benefitted from the project to date.
Also supported by the Swiss government, cross-border cooperation initiatives undertaken together with the communities along the Tajik-Kyrgyz border have established mechanisms for dialogue and joint problem-solving with active participation of youth and women groups. This has helped ensure that disputes over access to natural resources in cross-border communities are better managed.
Another example of cross-border cooperation is the BOMNAF II programme financed by the EU which is reinforcing border management capacity and trans-border cooperation in the northern provinces of Afghanistan. The project aims to improve cross-border cooperation and capacity to reduce crime, thereby increasing legal trade, travel and commerce along Afghanistan’s border with Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. This also contributes to mutual trust, regional development, conflict resolution and prevention, enhanced human security, while enhancing economic development on both sides of the border.
Promoting Trade and Economic cooperation:
Reducing inequalities and promoting green jobs and growth are at the core of the SDGs and also a key Central Asian priority. The UN is working in several countries on innovative approaches to integrated local and area-based development, and strengthening regional economic networks with a particular focus on women, as well as groups at risk such as youth, vulnerable households, people with disabilities and border communities.
These efforts link to our multi-year work under the Finnish-funded Aid for Trade programme in Central Asia. Since 2009, this programme promotes economic diversification and trade for human development in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, with attention also to women’s employment and entrepreneurship. Such initiatives provide many opportunities for enhancing regional cooperation. The project has supported thousands of entrepreneurs to improve their business skills and tens of thousands of producers have benefitted from the agricultural information and marketing system applications. The project emphasizes gender equality with activities supporting women entrepreneurs with dedicated loan products as well as studies on barriers to women entrepreneurs.
Similarly, the Poverty-Environment initiative (a joint global programme of UN Development Programme and UN Environment) is another substantive effort to address poverty and security, while managing the environment in a way that improves livelihoods and leads to sustainable growth. This approach places pro-poor economic growth and environmental sustainability at the heart of economic policies, planning systems and institutions.
Currently, the Initiative is supporting full programmes in Tajikistan and Kyrgystan, assisting them in integrating poverty-environment linkages into national and sub-national development planning, from policymaking to budgeting, implementation and monitoring. It is hoped to expand this project beyond the two countries in 2018.
Disaster Risk Reduction;
Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) is a cornerstone of the Sustainable Development agenda and the Sendai Framework for Action. The UN system has been working closely with all Central Asian countries to enhance national DRR capacities and support countries to prevent, mitigate and respond to natural and human made disasters.
For example, with USAID’s support, the UN is catalyzing the process of adaptation in Kazakhstan’s wheat sector, while also opening a regional dialogue on analysis and policy recommendations around the challenges of climate change to Central Asian food security with governments, the private sector, academia, and the NGO sector.
Another visible result of joint collaboration is the establishment of the Inter-Governmental Centre for Emergency Situations and Disaster Risk Reduction in Almaty. Also notable is the creation of the first Regional Platform for DRR in the region of the Central Asia and South Caucasus in 2016 as part of the efforts on implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, thus creating solid institutional platforms for joint actions in the region.
Climate change impacts, including natural disasters, are not bound by borders of any one country, and so the UN system continues to promote joint action and looks forward to further strengthening collaboration on disaster risk reduction in Central Asia, including o the human and ecological impact of the Aral Sea crisis.
‘Green’ Sustainable Development Goals:
As other speakers have said, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) present a unique opportunity to promote sub-regional cooperation, and the UN has recently initiated a sub-regional approach regarding SDG implementation in the environment and climate change areas.
The rationale is that the green SDGs can be achieved more effectively in the region through better integration, improved policy dialogue and fostered coordination in the Central Asia region. We are glad that the concept has been widely discussed and agreed among the representatives of five Central Asian countries and international stakeholders within the context of the International Fund for the Aral Sea.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
These are only a few examples of our work as the UN family in close cooperation with our national counterparts in each country of this important region.
In closing, let me reiterate that we see a high potential for stronger cooperation and synergies for our work to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in Central Asia, to the benefit of all countries and for the wider region.
I hope that in presenting these highlights, we have also stimulated thinking on what other areas may be susceptible for expanded collaboration, to build further on the strong spirit of cooperation for mutual prosperity and sustainable development that has been evident at this Conference.