Interview of Report News Agency with UN Resident Coordinator in Azerbaijan Vladanka Andreeva
What are your first impressions of Azerbaijan after your arrival?
I arrived in Azerbaijan couple of months ago, and from the very first moment I felt like home. These last few weeks I spent meeting partners and discovering my new adopted city - Baku. The Seaside Boulevard is where I usually start my day with a walk, enjoying the view of the bay, the fresh breeze and awakening of the city. People are warm and welcoming, and the food is just delicious. I am looking forward to my field trips, the first one in few days from now, to discover this beautiful country, and learn from its people.
What will be the priorities of your activity as the UN Resident Coordinator in Azerbaijan?
Earlier this year, on March 1, the UN Country Team and the Azerbaijani government signed the UN-Azerbaijan Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework for 2021-2025. This framework identified four main priorities for the UN-Azerbaijan partnership: promotion of inclusive growth that reduces vulnerability and builds resilience; stronger institutions for better public and social services; protection of the environment and addressing climate change; and empowerment of women and girls in every life sphere. This guiding document was also designed with a view to building back better and recovering from COVID-19 and the recent conflict. This is the UN family and mine compass for supporting the sustainable development efforts in Azerbaijan.
We have set a very ambitious targets, and to reach them we need accelerated actions and mobilization of all levels of society. As Resident Coordinator, I will lead the UN Family and work closely with the Azerbaijani partners on the design and implementation of a combination of solutions that will translate these targets into measurable progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
Next year the 30th anniversary of Azerbaijan's accession to the UN will be marked. What is the UN office plans for this year? Are there any events planned?
Indeed, this is a major milestone and great opportunity to reflect on the many achievements of our Azerbaijan – UN partnership and prospects for future cooperation.
The first UN Office in Azerbaijan was opened in November 1992, and since then UN has been a trusted partner that accompanied Azerbaijan’s impressive progress from a transition economy into an upper middle-income economy with a high human development index.
To mark this milestone, we are planning a series of events for 2022, together with the government, civil society, academia, private sector, the media, and other partners. Stay tuned for more information soon.
How does the UN assist Azerbaijan in the process of demining the liberated territories?
Mines pose a grave risk to local communities living in the conflict affected areas. De-mining is a priority both for the Government and the UN. A safe and secure environment is a prerequisite for people in those areas to rebuild their lives and for Internally displaced people to plan a safe return. It is also a precondition for reconstruction of affected areas, including rebuilding of infrastructure and rehabilitation of agricultural activities.
Immediately after the 9 November 2020 statement was signed, a joint assessment mission was undertaken by UNDP and the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) to help the Azerbaijani National Agency for Mine Action (ANAMA) assess the presence of mines and unexploded ordinances. UNDP, UNMAS and UNICEF continue working with the government on mine awareness among the population, and to support the Government’s demining strategy, including strengthening ANAMA’s technical capacity. The de-mining and capacity building efforts are being supported with over $1 million from UNDP and UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund, funding from the UK and other donors.
UNICEF on the other hand is working closely with ANAMA and the Ministry of Education on mine awareness efforts tailored to the needs of people, teachers and students in conflict-affected districts. These includes development of Explosive Ordnance Risk Education (EORE) messages and update of teachers’ manuals and students’ textbooks. So far, 208,000 people (with more than half of them being children) living in former line of contact districts were reached with EORE educational materials and information sessions.
How is the UN ready to assist Azerbaijan in efforts to safely return internally displaced persons to the liberated territories? How long can this process take?
Within the UN family, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has the mandate to assist people displaced by conflict. UNHCR has been in contact with national authorities to further discuss how best to support efforts, as per the 9 November 2020 statement signed by the leaders of Azerbaijan, Russia, and Armenia. While is difficult to define a timeline for this process, as it involves a number of other activities including demining, and rehabilitation of infrastructure, what I can say is that UNHCR and the UN family will work in close coordination with the national authorities and all concerned to ensure safe and dignified return.
How do you asses Azerbaijan’s response to the COVID pandemic? How has the UN supported and will continue to support Azerbaijan in the fight against the pandemic?
Azerbaijan has quickly introduced evidence based public health measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 and minimize the socio-economic impact of the crisis on its citizens. The UN was a key partner on both fronts. We supported Azerbaijan with the design of the Country COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan, including technical advice on healthcare, risk communication, continuation of education services, provision of social welfare to vulnerable groups, and procurement of vital medical supplies and vaccines.
Azerbaijan has also contributed to the regional and global efforts to combat this pandemic. As the Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, they organized a Summit to discuss the pandemic, and initiated a Special Session of the UN General Assembly in response to COVID-19. In line with Azerbaijan’s commitment to multilateralism and shared responsibility, the country financially supported the global COVID-19 efforts, through a donation of $10 million to the WHO global Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan.
These early efforts are paying off, with transmission and death rates remaining broadly under control in the country. The focus now is on the roll out of COVID-19 vaccines. So far, more than 35 percent of the population in Azerbaijan received two doses of vaccine, which is a good result. I hope this number will continue to grow in the coming months and would urge everyone who is eligible for vaccination to register and get the vaccine.
Vaccines offer us the clearest path back to normal. Along with other measures like mask-wearing and physical distancing, equitably protecting people with safe and effective vaccines will help end the pandemic and bring us closer again. The UN system will continue strong partnership with the Government to ensure vaccines are available through COVAX modality, and to advocate for wide and equitable access to vaccines.