Teaming up to improve public services in Moldova

man tends to recycling
When local governments in Moldova team up with residents, proper garbage collection is one of many new services to improve community life.The two groups come together to define and act on pressing municipal priorities, a model now spreading across the country. (Photo: UNDP Moldova)

For 20 years, basic water, sewer and garbage services were a rare luxury for most people in Telenesti, Moldova. The town of 9,000 used to be one of the country’s poorest. Decaying infrastructure languished without repairs.

For residents like Mihai Druta, 76, that meant struggling to carry water over one kilometre to his home, where a rancid smell from uncollected garbage fouled the air.

But today, he speaks with pride about a community initiative that made sure the water flows, sewer connections run and garbage is regularly collected.

“It’s a change that makes our life easier,” he says. “The price is reasonable and the service is good.”

Highlights

  • 350,000 Moldovans involved in planning local development.
  • 100 villages have introduced biomass heating.
  • 10,000 local officials trained to better manage public services.

The transformation came about when UNDP encouraged Telenesti’s municipal government to team up with local residents to improve basic services. A longstanding problem in Moldova is that local governments have limited experience in guiding local development. Historically, under socialism, they depended on the distant central Government for direction.

Based on its experiences with decentralizing government functions in a range of countries, UNDP knew that local problems usually require local solutions. It introduced a model where community members and local officials began meeting to define their development concerns—like gaps in basic services. They then created a strategy with actions to resolve them, and successfully raised domestic and international donor resources to pay for changes.

Telenesti has gone on to renovate its water network, better light its streets and construct new roads. It became the first town in Moldova where all residents have access to the sewage system.

Seven neighbouring villages joined an effort to create an inter-municipal solid waste management system.

The participatory model has worked so well that 70 towns and communities have adopted it, with 350,000 Moldovans involved in improving local development.

“This is the only way to strengthen local autonomy,” says Victoria Cujba, the central government official in charge of decentralization.

In 2012, Parliament adopted the National Decentralization Strategy, the first public policy document based on widespread public consultations. It bolsters local government roles in managing public services, and promotes participation, including among marginalized groups. To implement the law, UNDP helped train over 10,000 local officials—80 percent of the national total—on how to engage with community members and better manage public services.

UNDP has encouraged Moldova to build on its successes in other ways. Many communities have ranked energy shortages as among their top concerns, for example, especially as imported fuel has become expensive. In response, the central Government has decided to scale up renewable energy, aiming for a future of energy independence.

More than 100 villages in 21 districts have introduced biomass heating systems in public buildings, using readily available agricultural wastes such as straw. Systems have begun operating in schools, health centres and other facilities, demonstrating a new option for low-cost heating. An added benefit is the creation of jobs, with entrepreneurs coming on board to supply the fuels. By 2012, within the first year of the project, the number of biomass fuel producers had soared more than 10 times.