QUESTION: What are main development priorities identified by the government of Kyrgyzstan that UNDP is supporting?
ANSWER: I would say, today one of the main sectors that UNDP is addressing in line with the priorities of the government relates to poverty alleviation. Over the past five to six years, UNDP has been present in all seven provinces of the country. It has been quite successful, operating through community mobilization work. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the collective and state farms it was necessary to show people different ways of building up their livelihoods. UNDP programs were very successful in this regard, helping people to move into credit unions and marketing cooperatives, as well as helping to establish small and medium enterprises, mainly in the rural areas.
The second big priority is governance. There are two main areas here. One is to support the main democratic institutions on a national level, related to strengthening the parliament, including building up the democratic practices of parties and party politics. Next year, parliamentary elections associated with the transition from a bicameral to a unicameral parliament will take place in February. This change will require a lot of support and advice.
Another important area of governance reform is the administration. Here obviously a lot is being done by other organizations, like the World Bank and DFID [UK Department for International Development]. UNDP supports the rationalization of government institutions and fiscal decentralization. Building democracy at a grass roots level, including local self-governance and capacity building are also important aspects of UNDP's work here.
Kyrgyzstan is in the center of Central Asia, [and so] the question of ethnic relations is extremely important. After the creation of five states [in Central Asia] out of one Soviet Union it became obvious that ethnic Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Kazakh, Tajiks and many others were scattered throughout the region. So in Kyrgyzstan we have around 80 ethnic groups. Quite obviously the largest are Uzbek and Tajiks and Uighurs, along with sizeable numbers of Russians and Ukrainians. So there are real differences in culture and different political choices that those groups have made in the past 13 years.
This creates a situation where inter-ethnic harmony and collaboration based on citizenship rather than ethnicity should create peace in the region. Here you have a minority in one state being in the majority just across the border. That's why good ethnic relations have to be based on good relations between neighboring states.
Yet another priority UNDP is addressing is regional cooperation. For a small, landlocked country like Kyrgyzstan, with few natural resources, trade, exports, transit rights and cooperation with neighbors is a matter of long-term survival. Cooperating within Central Asia is of paramount importance for all the nations to access other markets in Asia, but also to the north, like Russian markets.
Q: Kyrgyzstan is prone to natural disasters. We've seen growing numbers of landslides in the south for example this year. What is UNDP doing to coordinate national and external responses to these emergency situations?
A: Yes, landslides happen every year, and there is often substantial loss of life and assets. There is a lot of effort from the government to cope with these situations. The UN and UNDP respond quite efficiently to these crises, working together with OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs]. We received excellent support from OCHA Geneva last year, we had a mission from OCHA to assess and advise the UN system on building response mechanisms. We received US $35,000 from OCHA for immediate humanitarian relief. A mission is coming to help strengthen the government's response capacity to deal with emergencies and disasters, especially in southern Kyrgyzstan.
Q: Why is it important for UNDP in Kyrgyzstan to be involved in conflict prevention in places like the Fergana Valley?
A: UNDP is perhaps best suited to carry out this kind of work because it works with government as well as civil society and local community groups. UNDP has wide global experience of working in many pre and post-conflict countries. This helps us to build an impartial position, within different ethnic groups and interests, which is recognized and respected.
Q: Kyrgyzstan appears to be one of the more progressive Central Asian republics from a social and political stand point. Have lessons been learnt here that could be heeded by some of the other republics?
A: The country is a pioneer in the region in terms of economic and democratic reforms. The process does not go without problems. The collapse of the Soviet Union for Kyrgyzstan has meant that for the first time in its history it is building its own statehood. Therefore it's not just about changing the system, but also building it from the beginning.
The only institutional memory is of the old Soviet institutions that allowed this country to move into the modern world several decades ago. Kyrgyzstan is one of the poorest states in the region. The neighbors, like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have their natural resources - gas, oil and cotton. Kyrgyzstan has none of these, so openness and cooperation with the other countries in the region is the only option.
The experience of reforms in Kyrgyzstan may show that democracy and openness is something that pays off and gives good results. From this point of view, the Kyrgyz experience, as a principle of transformation from an authoritarian to a more liberal system, can be looked upon by other countries, particularly to avoid some of the mistakes this country has inevitably made over the past 13 years.
IRIN, July 12, 2004