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IRIN Asia | Central Asia | KAZAKHSTAN | KAZAKHSTAN: Interview with UN Resident Coordinator, Yuriko Shoji | Children, Democracy, Economy, Education, Environment, Gender issues, HIV AIDS, Human Rights, Peace Security | Interview
Saturday 24 December 2005
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KAZAKHSTAN: Interview with UN Resident Coordinator, Yuriko Shoji

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


UNDP Resident Representative in Kazakhstan, Yuriko Shoji.

ALMATY, 2 Dec 2004 (IRIN/PLUSNEWS) - Kazakhstan has made significant progress since gaining independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In an interview with IRIN in the former Kazakh capital of Almaty, newly appointed UN Resident Coordinator to the country, Yuriko Shoji, shared her insight into some of the many challenges facing Central Asia’s largest state, including poverty alleviation, democratic governance and the fight against HIV/AIDS.

QUESTION: What is the mainstay of the UN Development Programme (UNDP)’s activities in Kazakhstan today?

ANSWER: UNDP’s work in Kazakhstan is in line with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and very closely associated with the national priorities outlined in the country’s long-term vision Kazakhstan-2030.

As you know, a common UNDP priority in the MDGs globally is poverty reduction and we have worked quite hard in this field. The government, we feel, is close to reaching that goal. Other important areas are environmental management and democratic governance. Fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic and promoting gender equality are also important areas.

Q: Kazakhstan has faced numerous challenges since gaining independence in 1991. What is your overall assessment of where the country is now?

A: It’s been 13 years since Kazakhstan gained independence. As you know, the country has made remarkable achievements, most of all in economic areas. The strength of the country is also its internal and external stability.

Particularly on the economic progress, the country’s credit rating was again increased this year by Standard & Poor’s and is now “BBB-”. Also the country is taking a leadership role in signing up on many instruments and treaties such as establishing a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia, as well as joining a number of international conventions in areas on human rights, environmental protection, and so on.

Overall, the development of Kazakhstan has been quite amazing.

Q: Over recent years, Kazakhstan has shown particularly strong economic growth. How is it doing at the moment?

A: Kazakhstan’s GDP growth in 2001 reached 13.5 percent. In the first nine months of 2004, it’s reported to be about 9 percent. The poverty rate has gone down from 39 percent in 1998 to around 20 percent in 2003. The country is one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Q: Regarding the country’s MDGs, how well is the government doing?

A: In 2002, UNDP published a progress report on the MDGs together with the government, and we have evaluated the status of each goal. Among the seven goals, two are considered achieved. The first one is universal primary education and the second one is gender equality.

Kazakhstan is also well on track to achieving its poverty and hunger reduction goals. The third area of safe drinking water is in progress and there are a number of activities with donor support in helping the government achieve this goal. The more problematic areas are reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS and maternal and infant mortality rates.

Q: In which areas do you feel more work is needed? Any recommendations?

A: On the maternal mortality rate, we are in the process of streamlining and standardising the measurement of maternal and infant mortality rates. The first step is to understand the extent of the problem. A second issue is that the healthcare system needs an overall reform, with primary health care accessible for all, including urban, rural, and lower income groups.

Still another concern, is the availability of healthcare information and consultations, in particular sex education to youth and women in rural areas.

Q: Like many countries throughout Central Asia, poverty alleviation remains a key issue in Kazakhstan. What is the situation at the moment and what efforts are being undertaken to mitigate it?

A: Kazakhstan has the lowest rate of poverty in the region. It’s around 20 percent now. The government is fully committed to poverty reduction and of course the economic progress helps in achieving this goal. Just last week we had a workshop with the government on a proposal to revise what is called the ‘subsistence minimum’ in Kazakhstan. UNDP’s proposals were positively received by the government and with this, the new structure of the subsistence minimum will more adequately reflect the population’s needs and more people will be eligible for social assistance.

The government in its reforms is improving overall social monitoring and assistance systems.

Q: The issue of press freedom, corruption and transparency continue to pop up in media reports. How well do you feel the government is addressing those areas and what more needs to be done?

A: You have to remember that Kazakhstan is a relatively young country. It’s been 13 years since it became independent. Kazakhstan has achieved tremendous economic and social progress. The pace of democratic progress perhaps is not on a par with the economic development, however, the government is well aware of this fact and is strengthening such institutions as the Commission on Civil Society Development, the Human Rights Commission and Ombudsman’s office. The international community as a whole is supporting the government in these areas and advising them.

UNDP has provided assistance in reforming civil service standards and conducted a survey on the perception of corruption among the general public.

In terms of the media, we try to raise the professionalism of Kazakhstan’s media by offering training in development and providing free access to data, as well as analysis of the country’s economic and social development.

Q: How would you compare the level of democratic reform in this country with some of the other Central Asian countries?

A: The pace of democratic reform depends pretty much on the environment as a whole, including economic and social progress. One of the main achievements of Kazakhstan is social and political stability. The country has joined more than 100 legal instruments in the area of human rights and is a leader in the region in creating a market economy and attracting foreign direct investment, which is another sign of democratic process taking place.

Q: What in your view are the main challenges the country faces at the moment?

A: One of the areas on the agenda is education reform. Kazakhstan has inherited a very good education infrastructure from the Soviet Union – which, however, needs a substantial reform. The government is committed to developing its human resources for the needs of the 21st century, both internally and externally. It has a goal of becoming a high-tech nation, so its education system needs to match the type of labour market, which is coming up in terms of quality, substance, and in terms of client focus.

In December, UNDP will be releasing a National Human Development report devoted to education where we’ll offer our analysis and recommendations in this sphere.

As already mentioned, child and maternal mortality, as well as preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS will be a big challenge.

Environmental degradation is a serious problem and the donor community is working together with the government on improving its policies and practices in managing its industry, agriculture and use of water.

Poverty reduction remains a critical area as it is felt that the progress of Kazakhstan is partly thanks to the favourable conditions within the oil and energy sectors. We feel the development needs to be more equitable. The economic progress needs to be more diversified and broad based. These would be overall the areas we should be targeting.

Q: Which of these is the most pressing challenge and what is your overall prognosis for the country for the next five years?

A: As we have seen, Kazakhstan has seen very impressive economic development and we are working with the government so that it continues to have progress on equitable growth and diversification, and to avoid having regional disparities as much as possible.

Kazakhstan has an advantage of impressive development, particularly in the energy sector, as well as having a highly literate population. That being the case Kazakhstan has every opportunity for becoming a true leader within the international community, as well as further advancing towards meeting its Millennium Development Goals.


 Theme(s) Children
Other recent KAZAKHSTAN reports:

Presidential election fell short of international standards - OSCE,  5/Dec/05

Independent inquiry into death of presidential critic sought,  14/Nov/05

Press freedom deteriorates ahead of presidential election,  25/Oct/05

OSCE to monitor presidential election,  19/Oct/05

OSCE election experts to arrive,  12/Sep/05

Other recent Children reports:

PAKISTAN: Acute respiratory infections increasing among quake survivors, 16/Dec/05

UZBEKISTAN: Forced labour continues in cotton industry, 9/Dec/05

AFGHANISTAN: UNICEF expresses concern about child labour, 6/Dec/05

AFGHANISTAN: Survey calls for end to female carpet weavers’ misery, 1/Dec/05

PAKISTAN: UNICEF launches measles vaccination campaign in quake zone, 14/Nov/05

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