Report presents the Op-ed article by United Nations Resident Coordinator in Azerbaijan Ghulam M. Isaczai
My arrival in Azerbaijan as United Nations Resident Coordinator in April 2016 coincided with significant socio-economic and geopolitical challenges in the country, some triggered by global events of unprecedented magnitude. First came the declining oil prices resulting in two rounds of currency devaluation in 2015 and 2016 and a double-digit inflation affecting the poor. Then came the escalation of the conflict with Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh region culminating in a full-blown war in September 2020, which resulted in significant civilian and military casualties and served as a stark reminder to the international community that this conflict was not, contrary to accepted opinion, “frozen”. Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic was another severe shock that negatively affected all segments of the population, particularly the poorest and the most vulnerable. The Government responded well to mitigate these short-term effects, though the challenge of long-term recovery is yet to be tackled.
A common thread running through these events was the extraordinary resilience that Azerbaijani people displayed in the midst of severe challenges. Thousands of hardworking frontline workers, volunteers, and private businesses inspired hope as they took selfless actions to support their communities. Businesses and philanthropists donated millions, while young volunteers were mobilized in various ways, offering for instance medication and grocery shopping to older men and women and persons with disabilities who could not leave their homes.
Looking back at my five-year tenure, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the people of Azerbaijan for demonstrating incredible perseverance in the face of adversity. As we now look to the future, it is important to draw the needed lessons from these experiences and ensure the country is well-equipped to recover better and stronger.
As the country is preparing to tackle the above challenges, the UNCT is poised to leverage the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework signed this year to help Azerbaijan align its Vision-2030, national development and recovery strategies with the Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs provide a roadmap for inclusive and resilient recovery from COVID19 and the conflict.
With less than a decade left to fulfill the promise of leaving no one behind, aligning national development and recovery strategies with the SDGs is more critical than ever. Coherence between national policies and Azerbaijan’s commitment to global agreements, including Paris Agreement on Climate Change, is also critical to ensure socio-economic development is fully integrated with environmental objectives.
The recent launch of Azerbaijan 2030: National Priorities for socio-economic development Strategy document is a promising start to this ten-year project. The vision comprises ambitious goals and aspirations to turn Azerbaijan into an advanced economy with a high welfare society over the next decade. It is particularly encouraging that the Strategy makes an explicit reference to complementarities between national policy priorities and Azerbaijan’s commitments arising from the 2030 Agenda.
As the Government develops its five-year strategy for implementation of the plan over the next few months, a number of key considerations should guide its thinking to ensure the change on people and the planet is transformational.
First, actively engage and build durable partnerships with diverse stakeholders in the planning, implementation, and monitoring stages. The most successful visioning plans are founded on the inclusive participation of actors including representatives of civil society, private sector, academia, youth movements, social media influencers and other groups.
Second, harness the lessons learnt from the pandemic and the conflict to prioritize interventions that reduce likelihood of future shocks and improve resilience if they materialize. For instance, efforts need to be accelerated to ensure universal health access and reduce the digital divide in schools and universities. Recovery planning should also give impetus to climate action, recognizing and addressing long-term damage to the environment and natural resources.
Third, develop a solid financial framework which sets out the broad investment direction to finance the Strategy. Costing exercise should be complemented by the assessment of financial landscape and identification of resource mobilization requirements. Against a fiscally constrained environment, alternative financing sources, including innovative financing tools should be explored.
Lastly, integrating the SDG indicators as performance indicators for the strategy document, as well as performance budget evaluation system is another important avenue to consider. This, along with improving the efficiency of spending, would reflect Azerbaijan’s commitment to achieve the SDGs.
As Azerbaijan re-imagines its future, I would like to take this opportunity to reaffirm the UN’s commitment to supporting Azerbaijan on its path to sustainable development. A wide range of expertise across many UN agencies could be drawn upon to accompany Government efforts in putting this ambitious plan into practice, and to ensure adequate costing of the strategy document with complementary analysis of the financing landscape. Our organization can provide a platform for effective engagement of various stakeholders in the implementation of this Strategy at national and local levels. Moreover, the UN in close partnership with the European Union and the World Bank is ready to assist Azerbaijan in its conflict recovery and peace building efforts by undertaking a Recovery and Peace Building Assessment (RPBA) exercise that would enable the large number of internally displaced population to return to their homes in safety and dignity.
I hope to come back to a country that has reached new heights in its path to success. It will be a challenging journey, but a journey worth taking.