Advancing Sustainable Development that Leaves No One Behind

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Since beginning cooperation in 1992, Azerbaijan and the UN have developed close and mutually beneficial ties in many areas. UN Resident Coordinator in Azerbaijan Ms. Vladanka Andreeva tells the Azeri Observer about four key priority areas for collaboration according to the Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework for 2021-2025, joint efforts aimed at post-conflict recovery and reconstruction of Azerbaijan’s liberated territories, and numerous events organized by the UN office in Azerbaijan on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of these cooperative relations. She also comments on the reforms that should increase the effectiveness of the international organization, women’s empowerment, and challenges faced by the women and girls around the world. In addition, she shares some impressions from her life and work in Baku as well as detailing her goals while serving in the country.

BY ELENA KOSOLAPOVA

AZERI OBSERVER STAFF WRITER

Question: This year marks the 30th anniversary of relations between Azerbaijan and the United Nations. What do you consider the main achievements of bilateral cooperation during this period?

Answer: Yes, 2022 marks two important milestones: the 30th anniversary of Azerbaijan’s membership to the United Nations (UN) and the three-decade-long presence of the UN Family in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan became a UN member on the second of March, 1992. Two months later, on the sixth of May, Azerbaijan opened its Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York, USA. In November of 1992, the UN opened its first office in Azerbaijan.

In the early days of Azerbaijan’s independence, the UN’s assistance was primarily focused on the immediate needs of refugees and internally displaced persons affected by the first Karabakh war, providing food, shelter, health, and other services. The Azerbaijani National Agency for Mine Action (ANAMA) was established with UN support in 1998 and remains the leading national entity for humanitarian demining. At the same time, efforts were made by the UN to support Azerbaijan’s economic growth through investments and targeted technical support. Within a short time, Azerbaijan has transformed itself from a transition economy to an upper-middle-income country. According to official statistics, the national poverty rate reduced from almost 30% in 2005 to 5.9% in 2021; the resulting economic growth has translated into the improved well-being of residents.

Since joining the UN, Azerbaijan has contributed to our shared commitment to peace and development and continues to engage in a comprehensive and wide-reaching agenda under the principles and objectives set forth in the UN Charter. This was recognized at the global level when Azerbaijan was elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for a two-year term by 155 member states. During the outbreak of COVID-19, Azerbaijan has demonstrated its commitment to multilateralism and shared responsibility by contributing to the regional and global efforts fighting the pandemic. As the Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, Azerbaijan initiated a Special Session of the UN General Assembly in response to COVID-19 and financially supported global COVID-19 efforts. With the latest UN-Azerbaijan Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework for 2021-2025, we have created a very ambitious agenda in cooperation with the Government, focusing on four key priority areas for collaboration: 1) promotion of inclusive growth that reduces vulnerability and builds resilience; 2) stronger institutions for better public and social services; 3) protection of the environment and climate action; and 4) empowerment of women and girls in every life sphere. The UN Family in Azerbaijan will continue to work closely with the Government, academia, civil society, the private sector, the donor community, and others to translate these ambitious priorities into positive progress in the everyday lives of the Azerbaijani people.

Q.: Tell us about the events organized by the UN office in Azerbaijan to celebrate this anniversary.

A.: This was a very busy year for me and my team. In partnership with Government, academia, and civil society, we organized a series of events and activities to celebrate the UN-Azerbaijan partnership. Let me highlight just a few. The yearlong celebration was kicked off with a photo exhibition on the second of March, the day Azerbaijan became a member of the United Nations, at Seaside Boulevard – one of the most visited places in Baku. The exhibition featured 100 photos illustrating the history of the UN-Azerbaijan partnership and the activities of the UN agencies, funds, and programs in the country.

This was followed by the Model UN event at ADA University, which we organized in partnership with the Foreign Ministry and ADAMUN club with an aim to provide a better understanding of the inner workings of the UN and help young people build skills in diplomacy. About 80 students from 15 universities and high schools role played delegates to the United Nations. They discussed and adopted resolutions on pressing global issues such as cybersecurity, forced displacement of people, climate change, and food security.

In partnership with the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources, IDEA Public Union, and the Azerbaijan Youth Foundation, we organized a beach clean-up and planted a few thousand pine and olive trees to promote environmental protection and support climate action in Azerbaijan. In August, we had a UN week for the participants of the Summer Festival in Shamakhi, organized by the Youth Foundation. Throughout the week, my UN colleagues and I met with over 200 young activists and discussed the role that young people should play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In November, I had the privilege of working with the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Ali Ahmadov, in launching the SDG Dialogues under the auspices of the National Coordination Council for Sustainable Development. The SDG Dialogues aim to serve as a high-level policy discussion platform for key stakeholders: the Government of Azerbaijan, the UN, the private sector, civil society, academia, international financial institutions, and development partners. The Dialogues are meant to catalyse knowledge, share international best practices, and facilitate innovative solutions to support the implementation of the Azerbaijan 2030 Strategy.

All of these events offered excellent opportunities to exchange ideas, share experiences, connect people, and renew our collective commitment to the bold and transformative steps needed to propel sustainable and resilient development.

 Q.: You have already talked about the UN-Azerbaijan Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNSDCF) for 2021-2025 and its priority areas. How would you evaluate the first year of the implementation of this document?

A.: In the first year of the UNSDCF implementation, we achieved significant progress towards the ambitious goals thanks to the generous support of donors and partners. In our response to COVID-19, the UN in Azerbaijan helped distribute some 1.2 million items of personal protective and medical equipment. We supported the medical education of 13,000 healthcare workers in the prevention and control of infection, vaccinations, and quality assurance. In our post-conflict recovery efforts, the UN helped 23,000 people living in conflict-affected areas (including teachers, school psychologists, parents, youths, and children) to get immediate access to mental health and psycho-social support. We further increased the capacities of 60 medical facilities to deliver primary healthcare services.

Also in 2021, we supported the formulation of the draft Mine Action Law, as well as the development of National Mine Action Standards. Some 86,000 people improved their knowledge of the risks associated with explosive ordnance, and 44,000 people affected by the conflict received emergency aid. In our ongoing commitment to improving livelihoods, we provided training for 26,000 people, including youths, people with disabilities, and refugees, helping them gain new skills to enter the job market. Expansion of preschool and inclusive education was supported in seven districts across the country.

We further assisted the Government in the preparation of several important documents for climate action, including the country’s National Adaptation Plan and a national strategy for phasing out the use of hydrochlorofluorocarbon. By helping farmers to introduce sustainable agricultural practices across almost 40,000 hectares of crop-growing land, the UN contributed to improved management of land and water. Our efforts to promote the use of new technology to rehabilitate ancient water systems were recognized at the global level too. The Kahriz Revitalization Project received the Energy Global Award for 2021. On the gender equality front, we have also supported the formulation of the National Action Plans on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment and the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security.

Q.: The UN is often criticized for the low effectiveness of its decisions. What reforms are being implemented by the United Nations to become a more effective and productive organization?

A.: Multilateral action has achieved an enormous amount over the past 77 years. In an effort to create a “21st century UN” that is better equipped to address the complex compounding crises, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres introduced wide-ranging reforms to the way the UN works and how it delivers on its mandate. The reforms are focused on three areas: UN management, the development system, and the UN’s peace and security architecture.

Management reform was built on three foundation elements: the decentralization of decision-making authority, the simplification and streamlining of policy and processes, and strengthened accountability and transparency. An important part of development system reform was strengthening the role of the UN Resident Coordinator – the representative of the UN Secretary-General at the country level. As a Resident Coordinator, my responsibility is to lead the United Nations country in Azerbaijan and ensure that we advance sustainable development in an effective manner, leaving no one behind. The overarching goals of peace and security reform are to prioritize prevention and sustain peace while enhancing the effectiveness and coherence of peacekeeping operations and special political missions. Now more than ever, the world needs inclusive, networked, and effective multilateralism to better respond to humanity’s most pressing challenges.

Q.: How does the UN support Azerbaijan in the restoration of the liberated territories?

A.: I have visited Aghdam, Fuzuli, Jabrayil, Kalbajar, and Zangilan, seeing the devastation that the conflict has left in its wake. In support of the Government’s ambitious post-conflict recovery and reconstruction efforts, the UN in Azerbaijan, together with development partners, is providing catalytic support in the areas of mine action; skills development and livelihood support for internally displaced people, including women; health; education and other social services; legal assistance; and environmental recovery.

A joint meeting between the Government and the UN on post-conflict and post-pandemic recovery was held in Shusha on March 18th of this year, when we had a productive dialogue on the efforts of the UN and its partners in support of humanitarian work, recovery, peacebuilding, and sustainable development in Azerbaijan. The international conference on mine action – known as Humanitarian Mine Action and SDGs – was co-organized by ANAMA and the UN and took place from March 31st to April 1st in Baku. Over 130 participants from 37 countries, including experts from the demining sector, exchanged experiences and proposed strategic recommendations in support of mine action in Azerbaijan.

Most recently, the first Azerbaijan National Urban Forum, organized by the State Committee on Urban Planning and Architecture with the support of the UN, was successfully held on the fifth and sixth of October in Aghdam and at ADA University. His Excellency, President Ilham Aliyev joined the opening of the forum in Aghdam, highlighting the Government’s ambitious post-conflict recovery agenda. During this multi-stakeholder conference, the participants shared experiences and good practices, including inclusive and people-centred urban planning that leaves no one behind. Going forward, the United Nations, the European Union, and the World Bank are together exploring options to further scale-up support for the Government-led and people-centered multi-sectoral recovery in conflict-affected areas. We look forward to working closely with the Government in the coming months on the Joint Recovery Needs Assessment.

Q.: You are one of the few top female diplomats serving in Baku. In your opinion, why are women under-represented in high-level diplomatic roles? What can we do to change the situation?

A.: The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called attention to the fact that “in all countries, women are scandalously under-represented in the halls of power and the boardrooms of business.” The UN is leading by example, having achieved gender parity early in 2021 among Heads and Deputy Heads of Missions. In June, the UN General Assembly proclaimed June 24th of each year as the International Day of Women in Diplomacy, adopting by consensus a resolution reaffirming that the equal participation of women – on equal terms with men and at all levels of decision-making – is essential to the achievement of sustainable development, peace, and democracy.

Speaking of challenges, there are continued threats to the rights of women and girls in all walks of life and in every region of the world. To address them, the UN is supporting the repeal of all gender-discriminatory laws; promoting gender parity at all levels of decision-making; facilitating women’s economic inclusion; and implementing national plans to prevent and end gender-based violence. Access to quality education is one of the most critical transformative actions that can leverage the full potential of young women and girls while benefitting society as a whole. All these efforts combined have the power to improve the trends related to gender equality and ensure better representation of women – not just in politics and diplomacy but in every public sphere.

Q.: One personal question to conclude the interview. You were appointed to head the UN office in Azerbaijan about a year and a half ago. What have been the hardest and the most appealing parts about your work here?

A.: Before arriving in Azerbaijan in July of 2021, my family and I lived for almost 15 years in Asia. Arriving in Baku felt like coming home. The culture, food, and music are very close to North Macedonia, and the people are warm and welcoming. I was fortunate to visit different regions – Shaki, Shamakhi, Zagatala, as well as the Lahij settlement in Ismailli and the Shahdag mountains in Gusar – where I was impressed by the natural beauty and Azerbaijani hospitality.

Workwise, it has been very intense. I assumed my duty just three months after the UN and Azerbaijan signed the new cooperation framework. Thus, my key tasks included mobilizing the UN Country Team and ensuring that we deliver on the agreed priorities. I have already highlighted some of the 2021 achievements, and, this year, we also continued – hand in hand with the Government, civil society, academia, the private sector, and development partners – to make positive changes in the lives of the people of Azerbaijan. My arrival has also coincided with the initiation of the very ambitious post-conflict recovery and rehabilitation agenda of the government. Together with my UN country team, and in close collaboration with the government, we discussed how best to support the post-conflict efforts. The presence of mines and unexploded ordinances are a major impediment to the post-conflict rehabilitation and to the return of people who are living in protected displacement. Thus, mine actions, as well as mine risk education and public awareness are one of the priority actions on which we are focusing.

During these 17 months, I had a chance to meet with young people, women entrepreneurs, farmers, teachers, students, and artists and have been inspired by their passion and commitment to make a difference. My UN team and I will continue to accelerate efforts and leverage partnerships for a prosperous and sustainable Azerbaijan.