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ZHARAS TAKENOV: «…all our projects pursuing specific, purely environmental objectives are like a locomotive engine pulling the solution of tasks on improvement of socio-economic situation …»

It would not be enough to say that Zharas Takenov, UNDP International Environment Officer spearheaded the UNDP Environment Programme in Kyrgyzstan. To be more accurate, he had specially been invited from Kazakhstan to raise the UNDP Environment Office in Kyrgyzstan from zero and make the environmental area fully operating in Kyrgyzstan building on his Kazakh colleagues experience. Therefore, the first interview in “One Program Story” will be with Zharas Takenov.

CARNet: Zharas, what was the situation like in the country when the environment office was just forming in Kyrgyzstan. What were the prerequisites for and what kind of difficulties were encountered during this process?

Zharas Takenov (ZT): At that time (2004) we had a rather odd situation: UNDP office in Kyrgyzstan during the planning process (within UNDAF) of further prospective areas has somehow overlooked the environment. It did not appear anywhere and existed mainly in the form of indicators (reducing, increasing) and the outcome itself was not specified in the main documents. This area until then had not been implemented in Kyrgyzstan although the country was already working in this area (Kyrgyzstan signed the main environmental conventions) on the one hand, and on the other hand, UNDP had enough available resources (GEF resources) for that. As the analysis revealed the real opportunities have not been used to meet the existing demands at different levels. Of course, there had been some environmental activity but it was disorganized: there was no common vision and only a few small projects were implemented. Its weakness was lack of a coordination mechanism, and subsequently, a common platform for mobilization of human and financial resources, as well as for developing a common focus area.

Besides that, we had to work with the civil society, which at that moment was disorganized and more focused on seeking grants, lacked information and content base for working together. It is also worth to note that there was a lack of capacity within the country for rising foreign funds. Moreover, interesting things were hidden in the system itself: for example, huge foreign debts of the country gave an opportunity for using the innovative technologies, such as exchange of foreign debt for sustainable development.

And in such a context the UNDP Country Office has decided to use Kazakhstan's experience in Kyrgyzstan. This was a successful and timely decision as our countries have many things in common and UNDP Kazakhstan by that time had accumulated a lot of experience in the environment area. Moreover, this period was marked with the revision of the UNDP Country Programme (September-December 2004) and therefore a quality situation analysis was carried out and requisitions formed. It also gave a good opportunity for considering the wishes of our national partners and combine them with the existing UNDP capacity. To this end, we took efforts to establish good relationships with the State Agency on Environment Protection and Forestry and environmental NGO. Following this, during discussion of CPAP there have been formulated 4 areas that were essential for improving environmental management to form a basis of the UNDP Environment Programme Document.

These are the following areas as:

• coordination of efforts and establishment of a single coordination body;
• engagement of civil society in decision-making process;
• promoting implementation of commitments of the Kyrgyz Republic under the main environmental conventions;
•mobilization of external resources and attracting the internal resources.

Thus, we implemented our strive to create an umbrella programme and to attract funds from different sources for the mentioned areas and launch various projects, which through accomplishing their targets would lead to the achievement of goals of the Environment Programme. This activity would overall work for achievement of UNDAF goals formulated as: “The poor and vulnerable groups have better environment for living”.

We had an opportunity to link the environmental issues with socio-economic problems. Therefore all our projects having their specific purely environmental goals like a locomotive engine pull the solutions on improvement of socio-economic situation, leading thus to more work places and better living conditions for people.

The most difficult, at the same time the most important was to mobilize national potential, which existed in the country, however not demanded. Having established the Programme we have carried out a serious assessment and selection of internal resources as it was understood that was a guarantee of success for the whole activity.

CARNet: Zharas, were there any risks when the environmental program was starting and what were they?

When establishing the Environment Programme we analyzed the situation and assessed the possible risks: what positive/negative impacts might it have. For the end of 2004 and beginning of 2005 we identified the risks of bureaucratic delays in approval by government bodies, possible changes in the government structure and shortage of qualified specialists. But we, of course, did not suppose such dramatic changes would happen in the political life of the country. In March 2005 we signed the first contracts with the core staff of the Programme and on 24 March the new government came to power. But the internal problems of the country did not have any impact on our activity. Moreover, due to a number of reasons we secured additional resources and had an opportunity to launch new projects. So we started the projects on solid domestic wastes, promotion of micro HPS. There were new ideas and a huge desire to implement these ideas on the ground. I want to specially note that our environmental activity is non-political, because as we know in any, even crisis situations people have the need for provision of heat in winter, food security, conservation and maintenance of wildlife, i.e. the priority of our problems remain the same in any situation. But the problem is that the priority is not always seen and understood by, first of all, our decision-makers, which increases demand for us for more work with the government, deputies to provide that longer term prospective were not forgotten in the context of vital but momentary problems.

What concerns other risks – we often have to face them. This, first of all, is the deficit of professionals. While we have in the country the people which could be engaged and engage them in the work in narrow specific areas, the choice, I would say, is rather limited. Therefore search and recruitment of highly qualified specialists is one of the important problems standing in front of the program, and in my opinion, this risk has significantly increased recently. Among other important risks was a lack of coordination between the government institutions in environmental governance and therefore one of the priority tasks of the Programme was to form a single coordination body, which would address sustainable development and environmental issues towards which many strides have already been made.

Here we can search for different ways to achievement of the goal. For example, to build a platform for communication at the level of government institutions, public platform for discussions, where the opinions and ideas would be shared and further promoted.

Due to the frequent changes of officials and, as a consequence, the loss of institutional memory, the capacity of government institutions, in terms of implementation of environmental conventions, leaves much to be desired. It is important to find such a mechanism, which would help us to save the developments and transfer experience in the environment area. As an example I can say about the practice of the Environment Programme on interaction with the Parliament: a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the Jogorku Kenesh and even when changes occurred in its composition the interest of deputies to cooperate with us on environmental issues still remained high and this activity did not stop. Under this activity a broad discussion of the draft Environmental Code of KR took place with the support of the Environment Programme, the Law on Renewable Energy Sources and other regulatory acts had successfully been promoted and adopted.

CARNet: Can the Programme work be evaluated in financial terms? How do the results of a 5 year activity look in figures?

Z.T.: I will briefly tell about the financial results: during the period of the Programme activity (from 2005 to 2010) we mobilized GEF funds alone for the implementation of projects in the amount of 12 mln. USD and around 4 mln. USD from other sources. Most important fact, I think, is that GEF allocates funds in cycles. For the GEF-4 period we had managed to get the funding for our national mid-term projects. Within the new GEF-5 cycle as one of the criteria for receiving grants it sets successfully implemented projects that will be the confirmation of the country’s capacity. Thus, we have also an indirect effect from our previous work and a real opportunity to get funding in the amount of 6,5 mln. USD within the following GEF-5 cycle.

CARNet: Any successful activity starts with the right choice of a partner. With whom you have managed to establish successful relations during the Programme activity?

Z.T.: First, the Environment Program has established continuous cooperation with the government bodies ( State Agency on Environment Protection and Forestry under the Government of the KR, Ministry of Agriculture) and people, who are responsible for implementation of environmental conventions. For example, within implementation of the Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCCD) there has been launched a project on improvement of pastures in Suusamyr Valley, a significant project for such an agricultural country as Kyrgyzstan, where the problems of pasture degradation stand acute. In this work today we see a big prospective: implementation of a recently adopted Law on Pastures is underway, pasture committees are now being established, experience is being accumulated which we intend to further transfer. For this purpose we started working not only with the government institutions but also with local self-governance bodies (LSG).

Take any other project, for example, on conservation of ichtiofauna of the Issyk-Kul Lake , in implementing of which we cooperate not only with the SAEP&F, but also with the State Biosphere Territory, inspectors and local fishermen. A very interesting and close cooperation we have established with the civil society representatives, and in my opinion, it is the environmental NGO, most of which have long been working actively with the environmental problems, which help maintain the institutional memory in this area. In some of our projects we have successful partnership at the highest political level. Take, for example, our project on uranium tailings , which was supported by all Prime Ministers, who took office in Kyrgyzstan during its implementation period. This means that problems that the project addresses were identified appropriately and have a high priority for the country, which on the other hand, minimized the possible risks for us: change of power did not impact our work and the recent meeting with Almazbek Atambaev demonstrated that the Interim Government of the Kyrgyz Republic considers these problem as a priority.

We are promoting cooperation both in vertical and horizontal directions, and in my opinion, our success builds on that we have from the very beginning been closely working with our partners discussing our problems and targeted our activity at the results in which they were directly interested . Another example: within the project on municipal solid waste management there has been carried out an analysis of the morphological composition of municipal waste polygons, which became a kind of an indicator for business – how effective/ineffective is processing of SDW in Kyrgyzstan? And through this project we tried to work closely with the private business, it is another question that in this activity we had limiting factors such as corruption and weak interest of government institutions.

What is positive, in my opinion, is that private sector sees the partnership prospective in working with us. For example, under the Memorandum of Cooperation and on the initiative of the Micro-credit company “Mol-Bulak Finance” we have held a series of training in different cities of Chui, Issyk-Kul, Naryn, Osh and Jalal-Abad oblasts with participation of more than 250 specialists who acquired new skills on using strategic environmental assessment as an additional instrument in giving out credits.

So far there has been a successful experience of cooperation with the Ayil Bank within the Community-Based Pasture Management in Temir Ayil Okmotu Project, when we allocated certain amount of funds and agreed with them that credits will be allocated to local people from this amount only for the activity concerning the environmental problems. Now we are using this work experience with the banking sector in the project on conservation of pastures in Suusamyr Valley .

Our project in Issyk-Kul also to a great extent depends on the partnership with the private sector both in development of pond farms and mapping of the local area, as well as in disseminating of the best practice gained by our specialists in Hungary, and the overall conservation of Issyk-Kul Lake depends on private fishermen.

I would like to stress that we always remembered that we must awaken the national initiatives, but in no case replace them and therefore we identified our own, concrete niche , where in our opinion, we could be useful. And this, first of all, is about attracting expert potential – both national and international, and second - preparation, launching and technical support of new projects and third - monitoring.

CARNet: Zharas, do you have your own indicators looking at which you can say with confidence that the activity of the UNDP environmental block in Kyrgyzstan headed by you was successful?

When there are lots of projects and major work is underway, you always create informal indicators for yourself, which show that everything is going all right as we planned. One of such indicators for me in the given case is a political one: that the current President of the Kyrgyz Republic, Roza Otunbaeva, in past as a deputy of the Jogorku Kenesh promoted the Law on RES , organized parliamentary hearings and actively supported it following which it was finally adopted. In my opinion, if a person who is now heading the country has the knowledge of environmental problems then in the proper moment she will definitely recall this and when the problem on the prospective of sustainable development arises and some new initiative in environment area will certainly get her support. As for the non-political indicator for me it is building of a serious team of professionals, who are currently working in the UNDP Environment Programme and projects. Even if they work in other places, I am sure they will also be useful and demanded.

At one of the meetings we talked about the indicators of sustainable development, argued much, what is unsurprising, because the term “sustainable development” itself has more than 100 explanations. But today when I think about the success of our work I know for sure that somewhere in the depth of Issyk-Kul there is a Naked Osman (endangered fish species) - - not long ago our people from the project on ichtiofauna, for the first time in 20 years, have found one specimen, have taken its photo and showed a real evidence to the world. When you see such a “live result”, you realize that there is still whom you can save and for the sake of which to work.

CARNet: The last question is about future prospective: what are the plans of UNDP environmental block in Kyrgyzstan?

Z.T.: Most importantly – I always repeat it – is that the Programme has accumulated huge human potential, which should be maintained. Already now, taking into account development of the country and the need for natural resources is constantly rising, the need to link socio-economic development and environmental protection is discussed as one of the most priority problems. This problem needs to be solved involving in the process of partners, both at the nationwide and local self-governance levels as the consumption of natural resources takes place at the local level.

Besides that I will note the main priority areas for our future activity. First, it is climate change – consequences, mitigation and adaptation and within its framework energy – RES , transparency of the sector, energy efficiency. The next area is the chemical security, these are persistent organic pollutants and uranium tailings. For all these areas the Programme has a good basis and resources. Moreover, there are certain projects already funded by donors, which will be implemented until 2012-2013 and this is a good financial groundwork now.

However, there also are the questions related to real risks, for example, how responsive will be a new government of the country to these problems? Another question – establishing in the country of a transparent mechanism on the use of external funds, when for a limited number of -donor funds allocated for certain projects, there are a number of applications but the SAEP&F upon its personal discretion gives preference to some or another application. And this happens at the last stage, when a great amount of funding has been spent for preparation of the project – in my opinion, it is hard to call this a transparent scheme and such procedures fair ones. I think it is unacceptable to prepare applications on such unwritten rules in the next GEF-5 cycle. It is also important to build a coordinated platform under the management of the GEF Focal Point in Kyrgyzstan for training of people in order to provide that projects so needed now in the country were prepared and written in a quality manner.

CARNet: Dear Zharas, thank you for your detailed answers! CARNet wishes You personal and professional success for the the environmental and socio-economic well-being of Central Asian region!
Last updated: 2010-09-07 16:57:06

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