Interview with Dr. Halil Yurdakul Yigitguden, Coordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities.
-How and why did OSCE start implementing disaster risk reduction projects? Was there an urgent issue in the region?
-First of all, we think disasters may threaten security. This is especially true when coupled with climate change. We expect more disasters, and this may cause dificulties to governments, because when people lose their daily life, earnings, and houses and so on, then you can not have a functioning society, a totally functioning society.
This is why we think disaster preparedness and risk managment need to be addressed to avoid these developments. In the Caucasus region, especially in Armenia, we are working through our Environment and Security (ENVSEC) Initiative, which is a partnership of OSCE, UNDP, UNECE, REC, and NATO as an associate partner. All these organizations use their expertise in this field.
This creates synergies, gives strengths, and we can implement projects with reduced costs, because all these organizations work together, and OSCE is the regional chair of the ENVSEC in the South Caucasus. So, we have the desk office of ENVSEC, so we do initiate new projects in this region. In this regard we have three projects in Armenia. The first is the ‘’Enhancing National Capacity in Fire Management and Wildfire Disaster Risk Reduction in South Caucasus’’. This project is aimed to strengthen the national capacities of the countries in the region through supporting the interagency cooperation through the trainings. And we wanted to support the national legislation through preparation of wildfire management policies. We are currently implementing phase three of the project. We have preparing a new phase of the project, and we hope that Armenia will continue the participation in and will strongly support the project.
The second project is ''Climate Change and Security in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and South Caucasus'', funded by the European Commission’s Instrument for Stability and the Austrian Development Agency. This is one of the biggest projects that the OSCE implements in the region, and, recently, the national consultations within this project took place in Yerevan. The national consultations identify the priority areas where the projects should be active in the future. The next steps include organization of the regional conferences on this regard.
The third project is very new, and we haven't started it yet. It will strengthen the capacity of Aarhus Centers in the area of disaster risk reduction. In this regard, Aarhus centers in Armenia are very active. So, these centers aim to implement Aarhus convention. The implementation of the convention allows participation of the state agencies, civil society and other stakeholders to participate in the environmental decision making processes. We would contribute in strengthening the community-based disaster risk reduction process in Armenia. This project is strongly supported by the Swiss Chairmanship in the OSCE. We want the countries to be well prepared against disasters not only on the governments but also on the community level.
Naturally, by implementing these projects we very much rely on our Office in Yerevan, they are our back board, and without their strong engagement, we couldn't implement these projects.
-When comparing the three countries in the region (Armenia, Georgia and Armenia), in which are disaster issues the most urgent?
-No country in the world is exempt from disasters. Some years ago I visited the United States. Two weeks after a tornado hit, and only 40 minutes away from the capital city, Washington D.C., a number of communities were still under the water. They didn't have electricity for two weeks. So, I think, no country is free from natural disasters, and all countries need to be ready to overcome the results of natural disasters and to be prepared against disasters.
-How can cross-border projects be implemented when ther are conflicting countries like Armenia and Azerbaijan, Georgia and Russia in the region?
- I think our engagement needs always if there is trans-boundary cooperation, the engagement of both sides. We can't implement a project without the common understanding of neighboring countries.
-Do you think the Armenian Government has enough political willingness to implement projects for solving environmental issues, if there are opposing political or economic interests?
-I can’t say anything specific about Armenia. But I am sure all countries and governments in the OSCE region want to do something good for their citizens and their future life. Sometimes there is a lack of resources, sometimes expertise is lacking, but we, as the OSCE, are trying to do whatever we can to bring together the national stakeholders in each country, to train them, to inform them, so they are prepared. They can urge their governments to take the necessary decisions.
-What are the future plans of the OSCE concerning environment projects in Armenia?
-In addition to the projects I have listed, we have a very successful programme called Civic Action for Security and Environment (CASE). The core element of the programme is the provision of small grants to the civil society organizations, with a purpose of implementing projects in the interrelated areas of environment and security. We are now moving into the second phase the programme, and we want to implement it in other regions based on the success and lessons learnt in the South Caucasus region.