DUSHANBE, 19 July (IRIN) - DATELINE: Dushanbe
Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan visited Tajikistan late last month in order to focus government and donor support on achieving the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Queen has also assumed an advocacy role in the international fight to ban anti-personnel mines. In an exclusive interview with IRIN, she said the Central Asian nation had been blighted by poverty and labour migration and needed continued international donor support.
QUESTION: What social and economic challenges did you come across during your short time in Tajikistan?
ANSWER: Given Tajikistan's status as one of the poorest countries in the world with a difficult geographical location, landlocked and surrounded by countries like Uzbekistan and Afghanistan and far away from major world markets, it faces a whole host of challenges.
Since the Soviet collapse and five years of devastating civil war, Tajikistan's infrastructure and economy have been decimated and the government budget has been reduced by 92 percent. The country faces ongoing problems including drug trafficking, primarily from Afghanistan, and increasing rates of drug use and HIV/AIDS, as well as unemployment so high that 10 percent of the workforce is forced to go abroad to seek work.
I had the opportunity to visit HIV/AIDS Trust Points, meet with local NGOs and spend time with Tajik men and women. Many Tajik families have been affected by the hardship of labour migration where workers often endure terrible workplace conditions overseas and women left behind face prejudice and discrimination. For the 80 percent of the population living in rural areas, there is also an urgent need for land reform to enable rural poor access to land for personal sustenance and economic development.
Unfortunately, over the past decade, Tajikistan has also witnessed a decline in education levels, women's social and economic status has deteriorated, and maternal and child mortality has risen. Furthermore, Tajikistan is one of the world's most water wealthy countries, yet only 59 percent of the population has access to safe drinking water.
Given all of these challenges, it is more important than ever that the international community support the government in its reform efforts and poverty eradication initiative.
Q: What are you doing to help developing countries like Tajikistan achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)?
A: My support for post conflict developing countries in stress - like Tajikistan, the Balkans, Colombia, Afghanistan, and Iraq - is part of my global peace-building work, which focuses specifically on poverty eradication, women's empowerment, landmine action, and environmental sustainability.
Usually I play a dual role as an advocate for government reform and increased support to specific populations, such as women and as an advocate within the international community for support and aid. Second, the King Hussein Foundation, which I chair, can provide NGOs with technical expertise and training in those areas, as well as mobilise crucial support from international organisations for grassroots initiatives.
If I can help bring greater visibility to the urgent needs facing these nations and encourage their own responsibility to reform internally, as well as the international community's need to support and assist infrastructure and poverty eradication efforts, potentially millions of lives can be saved and improved. Furthermore, success within Tajikistan can also serve to encourage other governments to take on greater reforms.
Q: Why do you feel the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are important?
A: The Millennium Development Goals, adopted by the UN General Assembly in
2000, provide a concrete framework by which the world can transform the lives of more than a billion-plus people still living in extreme poverty. As the Millennium Project highlights, if the world collectively works together to achieve the MDGs, more than 500 million people will be lifted out of poverty.
A further 250 million will no longer suffer from hunger. Thirty million children and two million mothers who might reasonably have been expected to die will be saved. These goals are a life and death issue and our generation has an historic opportunity to eradicate poverty and its consequences for our children and our children's children. Moreover, as we address the MDGs, we begin to build a lasting foundation for true global peace and human security for us all.
Q: You have assumed an advocacy role in the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). Did your visit in the country this time include any activities specifically directed at this question in Tajikistan, where hundreds of thousands of mines continue to kill, maim and threaten Tajiks?
A: While the purpose of my most recent visit to Tajikistan was to focus government and donor support on achieving the Millennium Development Goals, the landmine issue continues to be a source of concern in Tajikistan, particularly along the Uzbek mined Tajik/Uzbek border in the north.
I am heartened that the UNDP has been working with the Tajik government and NGOs to continue a number of projects though 2005, including raising community landmine awareness, installing warning signs in minefields and giving assistance and support to the activities of the orthopaedic centre in the capital.
Demining also continues to be of the utmost importance and I believe there are a number of new projects, pending support from donors, including the establishment of a mine detection dog centre, which can help significantly lower the cost of demining given that dogs can locate mines in areas in mere minutes, when it would take humans a day to clear the same space.
As the country continues its Poverty Eradication Initiative and seeks to encourage economic reforms, access to mine-free land for farming and animal husbandry will undoubtedly be an important priority to help ensure economic sustainability for vulnerable populations.
Q: The United Nations has come in for much criticism of late. You are a committed supporter of the world body. How come you have faith when so many others feel it falls far short of its goals?
A: What other deliberative body exists where nations from across the globe come together to build consensus and, regardless of size or economic status, have a say and stake in our increasingly globalised and interconnected world?
The UN has negotiated more than 172 peaceful settlements, helping to bring about an end to the Iran-Iraq war, civil war in El Salvador, and a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. It has given us the Millennium Development Goals, the Ottawa Treaty, and the ICC, to name just a few of its benefits.
The UN, while by no means a perfect entity and in need of reform, provides a critical forum for building global peace and security. This unique organisation compels countries to move beyond traditional notions of nationalism in order to recognise our shared interests, values and needs as one global family. A family where genuine peace and security will only be achieved when all members can share in the opportunities and benefits in our world.
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