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Central Asia: Top UNDP Official Considers Development Challenges

(RFE/RL) June 1, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- RFE/RL recently about development challenges in Central Asia with UN Assistant Secretary-General Kori Udovicki, who is also assistant administrator of the UN Development Program and director of the Regional Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). What follows are excerpts from that May 31 interview, which was conducted by RFE/RL Turkmen Service broadcaster Muhammad Tahir.

RFE/RL: What are the major developmental challenges that Central Asian countries are facing today?

Kori Udovicki: The major challenges for human development are indeed that now [that] the growth has picked up in most of these economies, it needs to be a growth that includes the poor, and it needs to be a growth that respects the environment, and it needs to be a sustained growth. Working backwards from that, we believe that for sustained growth it is a very high priority for the region to work on its own integration and its integration with the rest of the world. Because from an economic perspective, the biggest obstacle to the region's development is its distance from the major world's market. Now, at this moment, its immediate neighbors are growing really well, and it's an opportunity for them to hitch on that wagon; but it is important that they remove the barriers to trade, etcetera. So that's in terms of long-term growth. And the next very big challenge is the environmental damage that has occurred in the past and the challenges of managing the existing endowment -- especially the energy and water resources -- in a cooperative manner. Because this is the only way to ensure security in the region and, again, growth. And, third, we go to the fact that this is a region that has suffered an enormous impoverishment in the early 90s; and while poverty rates declined quite substantially once the growth picked up in the late 90s, they're still extremely high. And usually this is forgotten. We are all aware that Africa has high poverty, but so does Central Asia. And it is necessary to implement policies that will bring the benefits of growth to all.

RFE/RL: You recently had meetings with Turkmenistan's leadership. What impression did you get from the current Turkmen administration?

Udovicki: My impression is that the Turkmen authorities will need to study their options carefully and move gradually. We certainly see an openness. We have, for example, receive the assurances that we will work more together -- cooperatively and openly -- on the gathering and analysis of data necessary for economic decision-making and on data necessary for the realistic monitoring of the welfare of the population and the effects of policies. These are now things to be tested through time. So, as I said, we believe there is an openness to hear and to see, but we have to see how far that will go in terms of action and in what direction exactly.

RFE/RL: In recent years, the international community and human rights groups have criticized human rights violations in Turkmenistan -- including deaths of journalists in prison. Why has the United Nations remained silent?

Udovicki: The UN is not silent on these issues. As I say, [UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour] has spoken about it very openly to the authorities as well. But the UNDP's mandate is on development, and we believe that there are many levels of violation of human development -- which includes also the right to free democratic speech, but it also includes other rights. And we work on those with the governments that we work with that we can positively affect. We keep a presence so that when there are openings, we promote them.

RFE/RL: Where do you see the Central Asian region in 10 years?

Udovicki: That's a hard question. I think that to some extent, of course -- and to a large extent -- it's in the hands of these governments themselves. I believe that the positive economic environment right now is going to help positive processes in all of these countries. But I think it is also very important that the world understand the needs and the structures inherited by the people of Central Asia, and that one measure and one logic cannot fit all. It is necessary to work to build partnerships and understanding -- both within the Central Asia countries, among them and between them and the big important players or neighbors that surround [them who] pretty much cover the entire world.

RFE/RL Central Asia Report

RFE/RL Central Asia Report

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