Neutral Turkmenistan Interview with UNDP Regional Director for Europe and the CIS, Ivana Živković

Ahead of the three-day official visit to Turkmenistan on December 10-12, 2023

December 18, 2023

The United Nations (UN) Assistant Secretary-General, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Assistant Administrator and UNDP Regional Director for Europe and the CIS, Ivana Živković

-With over 25 years of collaboration, UNDP stands as Turkmenistan's largest international development partner, encompassing various developmental facets, including environment and climate change. Could you provide insights into the primary domains of UNDP strategic directions in addressing climate change and how this aligns with the collaboration between UNDP and Turkmenistan in this area?

The year of 2023 is on track to become the hottest year in the recorded human history, affecting millions of lives and causing trillions of dollars in damage and destruction globally. Urgent climate action is essential, and UNDP is actively supporting 118 countries worldwide in strengthening their emission reduction efforts, implementing robust mitigation and adaptation measures, and preserving ecosystems through the Climate Promise initiative. 

In Turkmenistan, UNDP supports the Government in meeting and reporting on its international climate commitments. Guided by the country’s ambition to develop the energy systems of tomorrow, we are also supporting the development of Turkmenistan’s National Strategy on the Development of Renewable Energy until 2030 and the new Law of Turkmenistan “On Renewable Energy Resources.”  

Our focus extends beyond policy work. UNDP also supports the country’s efforts to introduce the innovative water-saving irrigation technologies in agricultural crop production and environmentally sustainable water supply in Dashoguz, Lebap and Mary velayats, and promotes an integrated approach to water management that is energy and water efficient. We are also helping local farmers adopt smart adaptation solutions fostering more efficient and environmentally friendly use of land resources to deliver greater agricultural productivity. 

As Turkmenistan undergoes rapid urban expansion, UNDP is at the forefront of aiding cities in adapting to shifting climate conditions. In Ashgabat and Awaza, we invest in promoting energy efficient street lighting and more sustainable transport, introduce solutions to reduce the volume of waste and increase recycling, and work with city planners and local authorities to bolster their capabilities for comprehensive, integrated and environmentally conscious urban development. 

-Considering the increasing partnership between UNDP and the Government of Turkmenistan in advancing public health, could you elaborate on UNDP's global and regional initiatives on improving public health systems? What are the strategic health priorities of UNDP in Turkmenistan?

Investments in health are essential for the acceleration of the 2030 Agenda, and we are very grateful to the Government of Turkmenistan for contributing its own resources to support this important component of UNDP’s programme. 

UNDP is dedicated to supporting Turkmenistan in achieving long-lasting systemic changes and building resilience to global challenges, ensuring Universal Health Coverage.

As part of this collaboration, UNDP procures laboratory reagents, medicines, and medical products necessary for the prevention and control of both communicable and non-communicable diseases.

Over 100 laboratories across the country, including in remote regions, are provided with reagents, consumables, and equipment, so that citizens can receive quality laboratory diagnostic services near their homes.

Quality medicines, including insulin and those for cancer, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, and neurological diseases, are consistently provided to support national programs for controlling non-communicable diseases. This ensures high-quality and free treatment of patients throughout the country.

Thanks to the financial and technical support of the Global Fund, in collaboration with UNDP, the epidemiological situation regarding tuberculosis has significantly improved. 

As part of ongoing initiatives to combat infectious diseases, UNDP is ready to launch a new project in collaboration with the Government of Turkmenistan. Its main goal is to ensure the continuity and expansion of the existing mechanisms to tackle infectious diseases, including strengthening diagnostic, treatment, and monitoring systems. The project emphasizes both reactive measures and proactive strategies to prevent the spread of tuberculosis, viral hepatitis, and other diseases. 

This initiative will be a significant step in enhancing collaboration in public health and sustainable healthcare systems within the country and showcase an impressive achievement in leveraging government investments in development projects, not only regionally but globally.

-Given the transformative potential of digital technologies for sustainable development, could you elaborate on UNDP’s position on this and provide some information on specific initiatives UNDP implements in Europe and CIS to accelerate digital transformation? How does UNDP support Turkmenistan in creating a new digital landscape in the country?

At UNDP, we recognize the central role of digitalization in addressing the urgent challenges facing our world. A well-designed digital public infrastructure can make government services more accessible to citizens, reduce administrative costs, improve transparency and accountability, and create an environment conducive to innovation and economic growth.

In Turkmenistan, UNDP offers global knowledge and expertise, and technical assistance, to help build a robust and efficient digital public infrastructure.

In our commitment to help the Government accelerate digital transformation in Turkmenistan, UNDP was actively involved in the development of the Asycuda online customs clearance system and is currently supporting the Single Window for import-export operations system in collaboration with the Customs Service of Turkmenistan. These initiatives have effectively streamlined trade procedures, and will reduce bureaucratic hurdles and foster a business environment contributing to economic growth and social well-being. 

Additionally, our collaboration with the State Bank for Foreign Economic Affairs of Turkmenistan focuses on digitalizing banking services, aiming to provide a foundation for gaining competitive advantages through increased flexibility, speed, and efficiency in banking processes. 

We also partner with the Academy of Civil Service under the President of Turkmenistan to enhance professional qualifications, retrain civil servants, and facilitate the rise of young national specialists to leadership positions.

We currently support Turkmenistan in developing its own Electronic Data Interchange system, to enhance data sharing, interoperability, and service delivery across government agencies, fostering more efficient and transparent public administration and acting as the backbone for future E-Governance of the country. 

- The empowerment of women and girls lies at the core of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As one of the key partners in advancing gender equality, what are the UNDP's strategic priorities for promoting women’s empowerment in the region, including Turkmenistan?

At UNDP, we strive to promote equal opportunities for every woman and girl, and to eliminate legal, social, and economic barriers to their empowerment.

Our Gender Equality Strategy for 2022-2025 serves as the pivotal framework to fulfill these commitments, accelerating progress towards equal rights and opportunities for women and men. 

In 2020, the United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA) and UNDP supported the women leaders of Central Asia to launch the Dialogue of Women in Central Asian countries. The goal of this Dialogue is to boost the visibility of women's political, economic, and social contributions to society. It aims to empower women, enabling them to actively participate in decision-making processes related to peace and sustainable development.

UNDP advocates for the advancement of education and employment opportunities for women and girls as a crucial aspect of achieving gender equality and fostering inclusive economic growth. Our Country Office in Turkmenistan organizes learning and networking events on various topics, including STEM, climate-smart agriculture, entrepreneurship, innovation and digitalization.  

I am delighted to share that Ogulshirin Tacheva, a fifth-year biotechnology and ecology student at the Oguz Han Engineering and Technology University, participated in the international Youth4Climate: Sparking Solutions competition with UNDP’s support. Ogulshirin's remarkable achievement includes winning the Youth4Climate Call for Solution in the Urban Development category. 

-As Turkmenistan commemorates the International Day of Neutrality on December 12th and celebrates the 28th anniversary of its neutrality status, what do you wish for Turkmenistan on its path to sustainable development?

On behalf of the United Nations Development Programme, I would like to congratulate the Government and people of Turkmenistan on the 28th anniversary of the country’s Neutrality status, which allows the country to contribute to forging friendly and mutually beneficial relations between the countries of the region and beyond. 

In the face of unprecedented global challenges and a period of profound uncertainty that imperils the future of humanity and our planet, Turkmenistan's status of permanent neutrality assumes even greater significance in safeguarding peace, stability, and prosperity for the entire world. 

In this regard, I would like to welcome the timely convening of the International Forum 'Dialogue as a Guarantee of Peace' in Ashgabat, where I had the honor to be invited to deliver a keynote address. 

I extend my sincere appreciation to the Government of Turkmenistan for their consistent trust and confidence in UNDP, leading to the significant growth of our partnership and the successful realization of our joint development objectives in Turkmenistan, and wish all people of Turkmenistan prosperity, sound health, and happiness.

Thank you.