The member States of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) are not readily associated with the need for development. When referring to this region, most people would tend to associate it with relative prosperity, economic advancement and social security. Such an attitude is quite natural as many countries of the region actually represent the richest and economically most powerful part of the world, including the United States and the European Union, or like the Russian Federation are routinely referred to as fast-growing emerging markets. But if we want a true and complete picture of the UNECE region there is a need to pay much more attention to the diversity of its countries in terms of their socio-economic development.
According to the UN classification, the UNECE region comprises seventeen countries that are still eligible for official development assistance (ODA) and some of them are at risk of failing to reach the indicators for the Millennium Developments Goals by 2015.
UNECE has a long and proven record of rendering technical assistance services to countries in need. The Russian Federation, as well as other member States, shares the approach of UNECE in this area based upon the principles laid down in the UNECE Technical Co-operation Strategy adopted by the sixty-second session of the Commission held on 25-27 April 2007. According to this document, the Commission focuses its technical co-operation activities on those areas where it has strong in-house expertise and a clear comparative advantage over other organizations, implements projects only at the request of governments or of the UNECE sectoral committees, and aims at involving beneficiary countries and ensuring national ownership.
The credibility and efficiency of UNECE technical co-operation projects has led to a steady increase in the provision of extra-budgetary resources — with member States taking the lead. In 2009 alone trust fund contributions amounted to US$15.1 million, reflecting a 32% increase over the previous year. The UNECE member States remain the largest providers of financial support, accounting for 77.2% of the total extra-budgetary funds in 2009. The Russian Federation not only joined this club of donors but also ranked fourth in 2009 by size of its annual contribution. Thus, Russia became the first UNECE significant long-term donor representing an emerging economy and a former transition country.
The Russian Federation has always been active in the field of international development assistance. Even at the time of extreme economic hardship in the early 1990s, Russia persistently made efforts to facilitate economic progress in developing countries, mostly by writing off debts under loans lent by the former Soviet Union or it carried out humanitarian operations regularly. These actions took place, for example, within the framework of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative. With the adoption of the national Concept of Participation in International Development Assistance, Russia has put its relevant activities on a strong systematic footing. Steady economic revival registered since the late 1990s has enabled Russia in recent times to significantly widen the scope and types of its assistance to international development. In line with this trend, since 2008 the Russian Government took a decision to make an annual contribution to UNECE of US$1.2 million to support its technical co-operation programme.
The Russia-UNECE Memo-randum, governing the use and disbursement of the Russian contribution, stipulates that technical co-operation projects funded from this source shall have a major geographical focus on the Commonwealth of Independent States, with particular emphasis on Central Asian republics. As to thematic areas of its application, the largest portion of the financial support or 45% was allocated to the programme of economic co-operation and integration, including competitiveness and innovative policies, commercialization of intellectual property and promotion of public/private partnerships. A sizeable amount was allocated to trade facilitation (23%), sustainable energy (14%) and environment, housing and land management projects (12%). It is worth noting that this spending pattern differs from the preferences of other so-called traditional donors, who accentuate environmental issues over other urgent and pressing needs of beneficiary countries.
The completion at the end of this year of a first three-year period of co-operation between Russia and UNECE is a good opportunity to draw evidence-backed lessons that have been learnt in order to further increase the efficiency as well as the effectiveness of the use of our contribution. A thorough review of the technical assistance activities sponsored by Russia will enable us to make the necessary adjustments and further improve the performance of implemented projects.
The analysis undertaken by the UNECE Secretariat at the request of the Russian Federation with a contribution by all the stakeholders, including government authorities in recipient countries, implementing partners and beneficiaries, clearly demonstrates that bringing a concrete project to success depends upon a combination of several inseparable factors. To make a positive impact a project must not only be demand-driven and address pressing needs, but also enjoy firm ownership inside a country as well as relying upon an established network of international experts.
The report clearly indicates that most of the projects have met these criteria as well as bringing tangible results on the ground. The work carried out under the projects made a valuable input to capacity-building at the national level and catalyzed international co-operation at sub-regional, regional and international levels.
It is worth noting that three of the projects provoked such a demand from the product end-users that could only have been satisfied by significantly increasing their respective budgets. In particular, additional funding went to support projects aimed at: (a) the development of sustainable biomass trade and export opportunities; (b) capacity-building for civil servants and business associations in the area of competitiveness and innovative policies, including commercialization of intellectual property and promotion of public/private partnerships; and (c) increasing the involvement of relevant bodies in the development of UNECE agricultural standards for commercial quality and assistance in their practical application by producers and exporters.
The biomass project took over from the previous activities to establish sustainable wood-pellet production and trade in the Russian Northwest Federal District. At present, the project has been expanded to include Krasnodarskiy Krai, Bryansk Oblast and the Republic of Tatarstan. It also introduced new business ideas, such as the conversion of boiler houses used for the heating of municipal districts to the use of biomass, co-firing of biomass in coal-fired power plants and — last but not least – algae biomass production.
A robust response was given to the rapidly growing demand in CIS countries for quality agricultural products. UNECE expertise in standardizing marketing quality for fruit, vegetables, meat and egg products has been shared with producers, traders and regulatory authorities at workshops, seminars and hands-on training courses.
Two projects actually spurred international co-operation on a global level on such topical issues as energy efficiency and the development of Euro-Asian transportation links.
Important work is being carried out in the area of trade contributing to the revitalization of the UNECE Committee on Trade and adding positively to the efforts of CIS countries to simplify and align their foreign trade handling procedures in accordance with the best available practices. The first in a series review of « Aid for Trade » needs assessment was successfully launched in Belarus evaluating existing regulatory and procedural trade environments in the country and identifying the necessary measures to reduce barriers to trade flows. Slow but steady progress is noticeable under the project designed to establish interagency co-operation for trade facilitation and to build the environment for a single window for export and import clearance in Russia. Its first findings and recommendations are already being used by several institutions and business operators in their related plans and strategies. There are certain indications that if the project continues to perform well it could be picked up by the Customs Union, thus possibly expanding its area of application to two more countries: Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Quite a number of closely interlinked projects have been realized in the area of energy, water management and environmental protection. The funds from the Russian contribution sustained functioning of the UNECE Working Group on Environmental Monitoring and Assessment (WGEMA). Its activities assisted CIS countries in raising awareness and introducing good practices for strengthening environmental monitoring and information management. Co-ordinated efforts have been undertaken to promote the ratification and implementation of the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Concrete improvements are also noted in projects related to the efficient use of energy and water resources in Central Asia. An information exchange network of experts was created from Russian-speaking countries that currently maintains a special web-page on water issues — A legal and technical document was produced to serve as the basis for a discussion in the region on dam safety regulations. A recent exchange of opinion and information on dam safety took place in Moscow, 16-23 August 2010, as part of a wider training course prepared by the UNECE Secretariat in partnership with the Russian ZAO NTZ Gidrotehbezopasnosti and partly co-financed by the Eurasian Development Bank.
Technical assistance has become an indispensable element of multi-faceted co-operation between Russia and the UNECE. Both partners believe that acute socio-economic problems in the Pan-European region that mar societal advancement and sustainable development must be efficiently tackled. International solidarity and co-operation is one of the most effective ways of doing it. Bearing this in mind, the Russian Federation stands ready to continue fruitful co-operation with UNECE with the aim of delivering rapid economic progress, social welfare as well as peace and prosperity to the nations of Europe.
By Marat Berdyev