The five former Soviet Central Asian republics, with a population of nearly 60 million people, could as much as double their incomes over the next 10 years by strengthening regional economic cooperation, according to a United Nations report released today calling for a special UN envoy to help move the agenda forward.
“This Report clearly identifies the immense potential economic and human benefits of regional cooperation for Central Asia and its neighbours,” UN Development Programme (UNDP) regional director Kalman Mizsei said of the comprehensive analysis of many challenges, including high trade costs, environmental devastation, increased inequality, rising migration, the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS and poor governance.
“Improved trade, transport and transit, and better water and energy management on a region-wide basis would bring the biggest gains. But cooperation to deal with natural disasters, drug trafficking and epidemics, such as avian flu, is also essential,” he added of the five countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
The Report - Bringing Down Barriers: Regional Cooperation for Human Development and Human Security – presented at an event in Tokyo, contends that increased cooperation would produce substantial political and economic gains, including income increases of 50 per cent to 100 per cent over the next 10 years.
The cost of non-cooperation is continued deterioration in income distribution, social services and general living conditions, and possibly a descent into the vicious cycle of economic crisis and corrupt governance that often leads to social unrest, according to the report, which proposes the appointment of a special UN envoy for Central Asia to help advance regional cooperation.
Other key recommendations include upgrading transport links, harmonizing transit, customs and border management, joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), as well as establishing more efficient pricing and effective management of infrastructure at the national level.
It also calls for setting up a regional consortium to manage the region’s abundant water and energy resources, as well as cooperation in addressing potentially catastrophic environmental hot-spots, disaster preparedness, drug trafficking and health, education and culture issues.
One of the poorest regions of the world, Central Asia has been the focus of intense international attention because of its geopolitical importance and long-term economic potential, including large hydrocarbons reserves and other natural resources.
The Report calls on regional organizations and international donors to help the five countries reduce barriers between them and create “borders with a human face” so that people can travel, trade and invest across frontiers without undue delay, harassment and cost.
Donors are urged to strengthen support for region-wide initiatives, such as those aimed at dealing with transport and transit, HIV/AIDS, disaster preparedness and drug trafficking.