“We have to focus on prevention and management of risk in Turkey, a country that is very prone to disasters. It is one thing to be able to engage in recovery immediately, but maybe even more important is preparedness -- being aware of the risks and working to prevent them,” she said.
Following floods in the Black Sea province of Samsun last week, government officials blamed each other as a new residential complex was inundated, causing 11 deaths, including six children. The opposition and civil society have been critical of the government for allowing the housing complex to be built too close to a river bank.
During her working visit to İstanbul, Sultanoğlu answered our questions on several other issues including the outcome of Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 20-22, which ended without a breakthrough. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has declared the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development a “success,” and the Rio+20 outcome document, entitled “The Future We Want,” provides a firm foundation to build on.
First of all, congratulations for your new post. Would you tell us about the challenges of your new position?
My position at the UNDP is to head the regional bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). We are in all the countries and territories of the Western Balkans, we are in Ukraine, Moldova, and we work in Turkey and the Caucuses and five Central Asian republics. As you can see it is a very diverse region, each sub-region has its own challenges. In the Western Balkans and Turkey, the agenda is a part of the EU integration agenda. We are mostly working on issues concerning the “unfinished agenda” -- what are the remaining gaps in the development priorities of countries that have already reached a certain status, have undergone certain transformations and have reached a middle income level. So the objectives are reducing regional disparities, reducing urban and rural gaps, looking at vulnerable groups, empowering women, social inclusion, energy and environment. Of course, much of this agenda also translates eastward, but as we move to Central Asia, the focus may shift to a more specific area. Certainly as the UNDP, our priorities are reduction of poverty, environmental protection and sustainable development for people.
You are in Turkey at a time when civil society groups and the opposition have harshly criticized the government for its role in the high death toll from flash floods in Samsun province, which inundated dozens of homes, including a new residential complex constructed by the government-run housing development administration. Of course the issue raises a lot of questions in regards to economic growth and sustainable development and how you balance these…
I think your question touches at the heart of what we mean by sustainable human development because sustainable human development is development that puts people at the center of development, and we are saying that you cannot just have economic growth without looking at social equity, without environmental protection. Sometimes these three pillars may be said to be competing with one another, but we say that you cannot have one without the others. We want development that will ensure development of future generations. In the UNDP, we work in Turkey on issues of environmental protection, preservation of forests, water management, etc. Unfortunately, when disasters happen, we engage with humanitarian support. But more than that, we have to focus on prevention and management of risk in Turkey, a country that is very prone to disasters. It is one thing to be able to engage in recovery immediately, but maybe even more important is preparedness -- being aware of the risks and working to prevent them. We have to engage the community, raise awareness in civil society. Of course Turkey is very advanced in disaster risk issues. It is one area where we want to use Turkey’s experience in other countries. Whenever there is human loss, this is very sad, and we have to indeed look at why such tragedies happen and learn lessons from them and make sure they don’t happen again.
‘Many people were lifted out of poverty’
This year’s report on the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs] shows that three important targets on poverty, slums and water have been met three years ahead of 2015. But UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says that they are not a reason to relax. He goes on: “Projections indicate that in 2015 more than 600 million people worldwide will still lack access to safe drinking water, almost one billion will be living on an income of less than $1.25 per day, mothers will continue to die needlessly in childbirth, and children will suffer and die from preventable diseases. Hunger remains a global challenge, and ensuring that all children are able to complete primary education remains a fundamental but unfulfilled target that has an impact on all the other goals. Lack of safe sanitation is hampering progress in health and nutrition … and greenhouse gas emissions continue to pose a major threat to people and ecosystems.”
Millenium Development Goals were embraced by world leaders at the Millenium summit in 2000, and indeed a lot of achievements have been made. But for the so-called MDGs to be achieved, first of all, you also need political will, and you need resources, and those two will need to come together. The MDGs have benefitted a lot from the last decade’s high economic growth, and I think that has been one of the major reasons why many people were lifted out of poverty. These are significant achievements, and especially in the poorest countries of the world there has been quite a lifting of people out of poverty. We see this in China, India. But of course as the secretary-general has pointed out, we are here in 2012, and we don’t have much time to meet the goals as we have been suffering for the last two years because of the economic crisis.
Could you talk specifically about the region that you cover now?
In the region that I cover, when it comes to the MDGs, we have quite a good baseline. Education levels have been quite high, literacy rates have been quite high, but when it comes to certain things that are not adequately defined in the MDGs, such as democratic transitioning, etc., there is certainly work to be done. I am indeed very hopeful that there is good commitment in the region, but I don’t think anybody can claim that we will achieve MDGs between now and two years from now. The Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development meeting took place a couple of weeks ago [in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil]; one of the good outcomes concerns the acceptance of sustainable development goals. So we are not going to stop in 2015, but look at what has been achieved by the MDGs and what we can do beyond that, building on the MDGs. The sustainable development goals actually will help us to have an even broader view of what development means and integrate them with the international agenda. The MDGs have received great support in Turkey on the part of the government. What we do in each country is find a match between what the international goals are and what the national priorities are. In Turkey, especially in the past years, there has also been a very strong emphasis on energy efficiency and environmental concerns. And interestingly enough, Turkey also has made huge strides in helping other countries with their development goals. Turkey is also very interested in green economy, and this was one of the focuses Turkey took at Rio+20.
‘No big bang outcome document from Rio+20’
What is your evaluation of the outcome of the Rio+20?
It has been very successful in the sense that it brought together many stakeholders. It was not only about governments, it was about civil society, academia, think tanks; it was a coming together of many stakeholders. When we look at the outcome document, it fell short of expectations. It did not come up with global resolutions with which to go forward. I think there is still the need to have a global vision on what we want to do about the sustainable issues of our world, of our future. There is an understanding about sustainable development goals that is very good because it will be building on the MDGs. The secretary-general said we should look at Rio+20 not as the end of the road but as the beginning of the journey. I think this is a positive approach we should take.
Some civil society organizations have been harshly critical of the outcome. One civil society leader even said: “Rio+20 has turned into an epic failure. It has failed on equity, failed on ecology and failed on economy.” Do you think this is too harsh?
This is a bit too harsh, but of course we expect civil society to be critical and harsh so that they take decision-makers to task. So I think it’s good that it actually created this kind of opportunity for civil society to put forward what they want. We also have to look at Rio in today’s context: Now there are many actors when it comes to decisions, there are many international groupings. So it’s really very hard to find one single forum where all the big decisions can be taken at the same time. That is why I think the secretary-general characterized it as the beginning of a journey. And Rio also succeeded in the creation of many bilateral, multilateral agreements, and governments also made some commitments, so I really think in that sense it energized our thinking towards what we need to do. If we’re talking about one big bang outcome document, certainly we didn’t have that. But in other areas there have been parts of it that were really very good. The secretary-general advocates sustainable development for all and that growth has to be equitable; growth has to be inclusive if we want it to be sustainable. We see time and again that it is not just about economic power, but how countries are able to create inclusive societies, how equitable their development has been. But development is not an exact science. Decisions have to be contextualized and a solution that may work best in one place, may not necessarily work in another. But at the same time, in today’s connected environment, we all have the opportunity to learn from each other. One thing that we pride ourselves on in the UNDP is also to be the global knowledge network. So we try to pilot methods and test them; you have policies that are developed at the central level, but you also have to test them at the local level -- how they are producing results, are they actually making a transformational change on the ground, and if they are not you have to be able to take lessons from that and modify your policies. It is not one-size-fits-all.
‘International commitment, political will required to implement goals’
There has been a growing resistance by local communities against many of the energy projects of the Turkish government, especially in relation to the building of dams on rivers. It seems like there is a conflict between the needs of urban and rural people, and the government seems not to take into consideration the needs and desires of local people.
Those are actually very, very big challenges. We see, even in the wealthiest nations, big disparities between urban and rural, so you have to make sure that you are providing balanced growth. In our programs, we are very much working with local communities; in many cases we work with mayors, local authorities, regional development agencies, but we also work with women’s groups, with youth groups; we try also to provide that balance but all our projects are also projects of the government, so we are in fact bringing that approach to development in our work. Our work is also about raising awareness and trying to influence policies of countries alongside international objectives.
Do you think there is a long way to go?
I don’t think you can do these things all at once. Certain things will require certain adjustments. As you introduce clean energy, you have to clean out other systems. Long term vision is required. Unfortunately, it seems as though there is a long way to go, but at the end of the day it is about international commitment and political will.
There was the Global Human Development Forum in March this year in İstanbul prior to Rio+20, and the outcome was the İstanbul Declaration, calling on the world community to take bold action against global social inequities and environmental deterioration Do you think the İstanbul Declaration can form a bridge between sustainability and equity?
The İstanbul Declaration has a strong affirmation of sustainability and the importance of integration of these three pillars of development. Turkey, together with the UNDP, hosted a side event on the same subject [Sustainable Development -- Human Dimension] in Rio. Turkey is very keen on the [issues of] energy efficiency and climate change. That is a good indication of the ownership of the concept. The event in Rio was very well attended with the presence of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark. It shows that we take the issues to our hearts; those issues have to be advocated at the highest level. And of course implementation is very important.
‘Violence against women cannot be tolerated’
Talking about this year’s report on the Millennium Development Goals, the secretary-general pointed out: “Gender inequality persists and women continue to face discrimination in access to education, work and economic assets and participation in government. Violence against women continues to undermine efforts to reach all goals.” Your assessment?
Women’s empowerment is one of the most important success factors of any development effort. Women’s empowerment has many pillars; it’s about access to financial markets, it’s about education, health, etc. Violence against women is against human rights. It cannot be tolerated in any society. We have a lot of activities integrating women. The UN established a new organization called UN Women, and its director is Michelle Bachelet, who was formerly Chile’s president.
Is there a gender parity policy in the UN?
The secretary-general makes sure that we have gender parity at the UN. It is quite interesting what we have in the UN. We have a quite good representation of women at lower levels, and then we have not so bad representation at the top level, but the mid-level is the hardest. It also means that we don’t have much of a problem attracting women, but we have a problem with retaining women and maybe even nurturing women in their professional careers.
Sultanoğlu she was appointed in February, 2012, to be UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Previously, she served as the director of human resources in the UNDP Bureau of Management. Before that, she served as deputy assistant administrator and deputy regional director of the Regional Bureau for Europe and CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), (2007-2010); UN resident coordinator and UNDP resident representative in Belarus (2004-2007); UN resident coordinator and UNDP resident representative in Lithuania (2000-2005); deputy resident representative in Morocco (1995-2000); deputy to the director of the office of the administrator (1993-1995); recruitment officer and later staffing specialist for junior professional officers (1988-1993). She holds a Master’s Degree in international affairs from the School of International Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University as well as a BA in economics from Barnard College at Columbia University, New York.