UN in Armenia:
UN AND ARMENIA - 25 YEARS

UN in Armenia:

Twenty-Five Years of Effort and Achievements

Twenty-five years ago, on January 29th 1992, the Republic of Armenia, which had recently become an independent nation, was admitted to the United Nations by the UN General Assembly. Several months later, in September 1992, an agreement was signed between the Government of Armenia and the UN, on the establishment of a UN office in Armenia. In December 1992, the first temporary UN office opened at the Yerevan hotel “Hrazdan”, which at the time was the center of most diplomatic missions to the newly independent republic. Since then, the UN has been working in Armenia, implementing a wide variety of projects around the country.
In fact, the UN had started working in Armenia prior to independence: after the 1988 earthquake the UN was one of the organizations that were involved in the relief and reconstruction effort. After 1992, when the UN opened its representation office in independent Armenia, the main focus was on humanitarian activities. The first years of Armenia’s independence were turbulent, all post-Soviet countries were going through the aftermath of the break-up of the Soviet Union. However, the war in Nagorno-Karabakh and the 1988 earthquake exacerbated Armenia’s situation. By the mid-1990s the situation somewhat stabilized, the war was over and the economic breakdown was overcome. United Nation’s activities reflected this change and from 1996 the focus of the UN shifted to development programs. Since then, the UN has contributed to various fields of Armenia’s development.

Text : Mikayel Zolyan    Photo : UN in Armenia archive

 

Modern Border Crossing Points
It is enough to cross the border from Georgia into Armenia to see one of the outcomes of the UN’s work in Armenia. The biggest border crossing between the two countries, in Bagratashen, was recently modernized and opened in November 2016. It was UNDP and the Government of Armenia, in cooperation with the European Union and the European Investment Bank that implemented the program on modernizing border crossing points (BCPs) at Bagratashen, Bavra and Gogavan.
The Bagratashen and Gogavan borders opened on November 4 2016, and the remaining border in Bavra will become operational later this year. Simplified procedures and reduced waiting times, modern infrastructure and equipment, and improved security – these are some of the advantages that the new border crossing point in Bagratashen is providing to citizens travelling from Armenia to Georgia. Of course, on the day of the opening there was no shortage of VIPs, including the President of Armenia (Serzh Sargsyan) and the Prime Minister of Georgia (Giorgi Kvirikashvili).
As UN Resident Coordinator/UNDP Resident Representative in Armenia, Bradley Busetto said: “The opening of the new Bagratashen and Gogavan border crossing points sends a clear signal of Armenia’s openness to the world, its desire to engage with the global trading community, and its commitment to addressing international security challenges that threaten us all. The new facilities are one of the prerequisites for border agencies to do their work, to facilitate trade, and to enhance security. But facilities are only one part of the story. The BCPs should help to raise standards that effect the daily lives of all Armenian people: through improved facilities and professional border staff, Armenia can ensure that the foodstuffs we eat are safe, that the goods we buy are manufactured to a certain standard and free from dangerous faults, and that imported falsified goods and medicines are detected”.
The new BCPs are going to make life easier for travelers and businesses alike. It is expected that they will bring about a significant decrease in transit time. Individual travelers will the most fortunate: for them the waiting time will decrease by 80 per cent, to three minutes on average. But the decrease in transit time for passenger cars is also impressive: by 75 per cent to five minutes, and by 70 per cent to 25 minutes, for trucks.
Naturally, the potential gains from the new BCPs are not limited to businesses alone. The new border crossings are a boost to the local communities, as they increase their livelihoods, opportunities and access to services. Thus, according to estimates, in the neighboring communities of Gogavan BCP, 1,200 households could connect to the new gas network and 56,000 people could benefit from high-speed Internet. Of course, simply building new facilities is only a part of what the program is about: the EU and UNDP have worked together to ensure modern and streamlined procedures and trained 700 border officials to improve search techniques, profiling, dealing with refugees, and fight against drug trafficking.
The modernization of the border crossing points program is only one of the many ways UNDP has been contributing to Armenia’s development. Since 1993, when Armenia became one of 170 countries where UNDP operates, UNDP has supported the Government in meeting development priorities and the Sustainable Development Goals.


Combatting Sex-Selective Abortions

Several years ago, Armenia found itself making headlines all over the world, but for the wrong reason. Statistics showed that Armenia was one of the countries with top prenatal selection rates in the world. Many parents opted for abortion, when they learned the gender of their future child: abortions took place in cases when the future child was expected to be a girl.
In 2011, one of the UN agencies, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, were the to raise the alarm: Armenia’s sex-at-birth ratio of 114 boys for every 100 girls stood as the third highest in the world, after neighboring Azerbaijan at 116, and China at 118. The norm, as the UNFPA explained in its study, stands at 102-106 males for every 100 females. In a recent interview, given to AFP news agency and quoted by Newsweek, Garik Hayrapetyan, UNFPA Armenia’s Assistant Representative explained the dangers of this situation: “In 10 to 20 years, we will face a shortage of women and – combined with a dramatic decline in fertility rates – that will lead to a serious demographic crisis… By 2060, some 100,000 potential mothers will not have been born in Armenia. We will become a society of single men.”

Here is what UNFPA wrote in their 2012 study, which attracted worldwide attention to the issue: “In Armenian society, preference toward a son is traditional: daughters are also desirable in families, but only after there are already sons. It is noteworthy that, given the fact that males are biogenetically weaker than females, there has been an observable pattern of a certain predominance of boys in births, i.e. slightly more boys are born than girls, in order to maintain a demographic balance (102-106 boys are born per 100 girls, i.e. the ratio is 1.02-1.06). However, owing to a higher mortality rate of males, the gender composition of the population becomes almost balanced in the generational cohorts from the time of reaching majority through mature years, while women predominate numerically in the cohorts of 65 years of age and above. According to the official statistical data on civic status registration in the Republic of Armenia, from 1993 on, the sex ratio at birth has been significantly higher (110-120 boys per 100 girls) than the average that is seen as a biological norm.”
UNFPA helped to identify the main causes for sex-selective abortion, raise awareness about its detrimental effects, work out strategies to reduce the number of sex-selective abortions, and create a large alliance to tackle it. Its wide scale advocacy campaign against prenatal sex selection in Armenia led to the adoption of a national program to combat prenatal sex selection, as well as amendments in legislation, thus, banning prenatal sex selection. Since the time of intervention, the sex-at-birth ratio has dropped from 114 boys/100 girls to 112 boys/100 girls in just five years. For a practice that has been deeply rooted in society, this is a great success. However, it is too soon to dismiss the issue, as the saying goes, “bad habits die hard”, and a lot needs to be done to keep this positive trend on course. Nonetheless, with the help of the UN, Armenia has demonstrated to the world that prenatal sex selection is an issue that can be dealt with in such a short period.

Helping Refugees from Syria (and elsewhere)
Azniv Kouyumjian left Aleppo and came to Armenia in 2012 when she was 27 years old. A successful travel agent back in Syria, she struggled to find work in Armenia due to the harsh economic climate, as well as the cultural barriers (even though the majority of Syrian refugees in Armenia are ethnic Armenians, there are various differences between them and the local Armenians, such as the spoken dialect, traditions, etc.). But she and her friend, another refugee from Syria, Sevan Tekkelian, came up with an innovative business idea: they would bake cupcakes and sell them online. Azniv and Sevan joined a UN-funded income-generation project for Syrians. Their proposal was accepted, so they received a small loan and equipment for baking, as well as some basic training on running a business and started their own bakery, “Sweatheart Cupcakes”. To cut expenses, instead of opening a shop, they were advertising and selling via Facebook. “Sweatheart Cupcakes” did not turn into a major international corporation, but Azniv and Sevan were able to make a living and support their families. In March 2014, they even received the Prime Minister’s Award in recognition of their successful start-up business model.
When it comes to accepting refugees, Armenia has been punching well above its weight, and the UN has helped Armenia to welcome refugees. The numbers of refugees, asylum-seekers, and persons in a refugee-like situation is around 20,000. For a country with a small territory and population (itself involved in a protracted conflict), helping out 20,000 people requires significant effort, and the UN, particularly its refugee agency, UNHCR, has been there to help Armenia share the burden. The majority of the “people of concern” (as UNHCR refers to refugees, asylum-seekers and persons in a refugee-like situation), are from the Syrian Arab Republic. There are also refugees from other conflicts of the present and of the past – the conflict in the East of Ukraine, the war in Iraq, refugees from Azerbaijan, who were forced to leave their homes decades ago, as well as refugees, asylum-seekers, stateless persons from various other countries. Of course, today the situation in Armenia is calmer than it was in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Armenia experienced a mass influx of refugees from Azerbaijan, during the Karabakh conflict. It was then, in December 1992, that the UN refugee agency started working in Armenia, offering humanitarian assistance. Today the number of refugees is lower, but the help they receive from the UN is still vital.
There are various ways, in which the UN is helping refugees and helping Armenia to accommodate people in need. One of them is helping to set the legal framework. Armenia is a State party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, its 1967 Protocol, as well as to the 1954 and 1961 Statelessness Conventions. The UN has helped Armenia advance in the field of legislative reforms, such as the establishment of asylum procedures, and humanitarian response network. Currently, the UN cooperates with the Armenian government to develop the Armenian asylum system. The UN has promoted legislative reform process, including work on a new Law on Refugees and Asylum, as well as amendments to citizenship legislation and bringing into operation statelessness determination procedures.

In addition to promoting legislative change, the UN has also focused on capacity building and training programs for Armenian government bodies dealing with refugees. Thus, the UN has been offering training and technical assistance to the staff of the State Migration Service, helping to build its capacity in dealing with refugee issues. Another institution, which often has to deal with the refugee issues, is the court system and UNHCR has engaged with the judicial system. It has implemented systematic training of judges and lawyers on how to deal with cases involving refugees and asylum-seekers. In certain cases, UNHCR has also provided legal counseling services and strategic litigation.
Although working with various government institutions is important, in many cases the UN steps in to assist refugees directly. Often refugees and persons in a refugee-like situation, especially those who have come from war zones, are in severe need of psychological support. This is where the UN comes forward with offering psychological and social support, including to those people, who have been subjected to sexual and gender-based violence. Even those refugees, who have not been subjected to direct violence, are often arriving to the host countries with few resources to sustain themselves: people lose their homes, their property, their savings and their social capital. So, in some cases the UN has provided rental substances for the vulnerable persons. In other cases, they were provided with one-time relocation grants and other targeted assistance.
As they say, instead of giving someone a fish, it is better to teach them how to fish. Apart from financial help to pay rent and to assist with relocation, UNHCR and its partners have implemented income generation projects, by providing income generation grants and microcredits. It is important to educate people, to teach them skills required for integration and successfully working in a new environment. Thus, the UN and its partners have been providing language classes, training courses “how to do business in Armenia”, coaching programs and market access for displaced entrepreneurs.
One of the key issues in helping refugees is educating the host society. The UN has been organizing various events and activities, providing public information and raising awareness on the plight of a displaced population. One of the most interesting and innovative projects, implemented by UNHCR, was the “adopt-a-family” initiative, in which “host families” established relations with displaced families. Each “host” family helped their “adopted” family with practical advice, guidance and assistance, helping them to deal with various situations that arise for a family of refugees in a new environment. The families of “locals” and “newcomers” visited each other, the “locals” took the “newcomers” sightseeing, they went out together, participated in various social activities. This was a project that helped the displaced families find the things that are often the hardest to find in a new home – friendship and warmth.

Hovig Ashjian, who used to be a jeweler in Aleppo, before he and his family fled to Armenia in 2012, recalled during an interview to UNHCR: “I lost everything I had – my house, my work, my car… Everything I cherished disappeared in an instant. We were scared. We thought there was nowhere else we could go but to Armenia, the land of our ancestors…We were afraid to look back… We scarcely escaped the shelling… My daughter cherishes the hope that her Bible and DVDs have survived and they are kept somewhere safe in the corner of her room. She cannot accept that our house is completely ruined and that there is nothing left.” With the help of UNHCR and its partner organizations, Hovig and his family were able to start a new life in Armenia. Thanks to a rental subsidy scheme, they were able to afford a small apartment in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. Through participation in vocational training and income generation projects, Hovig used his skills to build a new jewelry business in Armenia. In spite of all the hardships that he recalled, Hovig’s conclusion of his story was optimistic: “Today, I am proud I can make my small but stable income… and raise my daughter in Armenia.”
Losing one’s home amid war is a wound that can probably never be healed completely. But at least, we can help people who have been forced to leave their old lives behind, to build a new life. And this is what the UN has been helping to do in Armenia for a quarter of a century.

Providing Hot Meals for Children in School
The Sustainable School Meals Program is an example of a successful joint effort, where the UN cooperated with the Armenian Government and other stakeholders to help Armenian children receive nutritious daily meals and improve their education, health and nutritional status.  It was in 2010 that the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) initiated a large-scale School Meals Program in Armenia. Classified as a lower-middle-income country, Armenia had been severely affected by the global economic crisis, with the national GDP declining by 15 per cent in 2010. Poverty, food insecurity and social vulnerability increased drastically from 2008 to 2010.
The School Meals program, which is funded by the Russian Federation, has been providing nutritious meals to pre-school and primary school children throughout all ten provinces in Armenia. By 2016, the total number of children benefiting from everyday meals under the national school meals program was 81,500 children, out of which 60,000 were directly assisted by WFP with food values amounting to USD 3 million annually. In addition to this, the project provides  take-home food parcels worth around USD 500,000 annually to 8,500 community members (mostly women of vulnerable households) involved in the preparation of food in schools.
The WFP has been focusing on various aspects of the program, including education, nutrition, social protection and local agricultural development. It has also sought to increase the national ownership of the program through cooperating and providing technical support to the Government of Armenia. As a result of WFP’s advocacy activities, the government managed to secure a national budget line to fund the program in three provinces since 2014. WFP’s partnership led to a decision to secure additional funds for the Government to take over all schools in the province of Tavush in September 2017. Moreover, the Government recently established a State School Meals Foundation, which will institutionalize the administration of the program by the Government. This decision marks an essential milestone in the transition process to national ownership of the program. The School Meals Program in Armenia has been a major success, so it is not a coincidence that Armenia was selected in 2016 to host the 18th edition of the Global Child Nutrition Forum, which is the largest world-wide forum on school meals strengthening South-South cooperation.

Apart from its obvious development values related to contribution to food security and improvement of educational results, the School Meals Program has multiple effects, which might not be entirely apparent to the wider public, but are equally important. For example, it draws a hungry child to school, improving class attendance and reducing social inequalities. Since it is an incentive to both boys and girls, it also helps to overcome the challenge of gender discrimination by promoting the same opportunities to both sexes. Simultaneously, it helps local communities and smallholder farmers by creating a predictable regular demand of local production, and improve food systems. Research shows that when adequate education programs are combined with school meals, children on average move up between 7-12 percentiles in student rankings.
Apart from the aforementioned impacts of the program, the school meals are a major contribution to the feeding of the vulnerable children. As the Executive Director of WFP, Ertharin Cousin, highlighted at the Global Child Nutrition Forum: “School meals are often the only meals a hungry child receives… By providing the poorest children with a catalyst to attend school, we open up a range of other possibilities for them”.
However, school meals are more than humanitarian assistance: the school meals program is a long-term investment in the well-being of Armenia. The analysis of the national school meals program showed that each one dollar invested in the school meals of Armenia today has an economic return of USD 7.1 million over the lifetime of a single beneficiary. Here are some numbers that will help to realize the scale of the effort:
• The overall budget of the program from 2010 to the end of 2017 is USD 25 million;

• USD 3.9 million is allocated by the Government to fund program in three provinces from 2016-2018;

• USD 0,7 million is secured by the Government for funding program in Tavush from September 2017

• 88% of children receive hot meals, comprised of nutritionally diverse and healthy food;

• 262 schools were provided with kitchen equipment worth USD 404,000 in 2016;   

• WFP will provide kitchen equipment and school rehabilitation materials worth USD 850,000 between 2017 and 2018.

Learning Together: Promoting Inclusive Education
More countries around the world are working towards establishing an inclusive education system. Armenia inherited an exclusive education system from the Soviet Union, in which children with disabilities were often educated in segregated environments, such as specialist schools. In June 2005, the Government of Armenia started to move towards establishing an inclusive education system. The Law on Education of Persons with Special Education Needs was passed and inclusive education was included in the draft Education Development National Program for 2008-2015. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has been assisting Armenia in transitioning towards an inclusive education system and as of 2017, there are 200 inclusive schools in Armenia.
The process of reforming the education system began in 2001, when the UN started working with the Armenian government. The UN worked with the Government to develop strategies and legislative frameworks for advancing inclusive education. Furthermore, the assessment tools for children with special needs were brought to meet the classification principles established by the World Health Organization. With assistance from UNICEF, training was organized for the principals and teachers of the inclusive schools, as well as for the parents of the pupils. UNICEF was also instrumental in raising awareness. In 2010, the Armenian Government ratified the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the convention itself was drafted in 2006). The ratification of the convention became the basis for changing Armenia’s legal framework in accordance with the convention.
One of the main driving forces behind the reforms is to replace the concept of “integration” with the concept of “inclusion”. While integration means that people with disabilities are present and part of society and are provided with specifically designed services and resources, inclusion goes beyond this. Inclusion means creating an environment, where people with disabilities have equal opportunities and can participate in community life, just like everybody else.

The practice of inclusive education reflects this philosophy. At school, ideally every child with special needs receives an individual education plan, created by a specialist and designed to suit a child’s abilities and needs. During classes, teachers are aided by an assistant in order to provide additional support. The school receives extra funding from the state budget, which is put towards providing the necessary conditions for children with disabilities. The extra funding also goes towards the cost of acquiring special training materials, ensuring a physically accessible environment and other needs. If delivered correctly, inclusive education brings benefits to all of the children involved. It helps to raise self-confidence, improve interpersonal communication skills and social skills, in regards to making friends. Inclusive education helps to form a worldview based on a positive approach to life and others, free of negative clichés and stereotypes. Moreover, this also aids in fostering mutual respect.
Armenia’s inclusive schools already have graduates that they can be proud of. Tigran Hakobyan began studying at a special school, but later moved to a general education school. Tigran then successfully graduated from the Mkhitar Sebastatsi school. Tigran is a sportsman and a successful swimmer. He represented Armenia three times at the Special Olympics. First in China during 2007, Greece in 2011 and most recently, the USA in 2015. Although winning is not the primary objective of the Olympics, a large emphasis is placed on participation. However, Tigran certainly went above and beyond, becoming champion of the freestyle swimming competition twice. He has also had acting experience and was a cast member of a television production, broadcasted on one of Armenia’s most popular channels, “Shant”.
While there have been some success stories pertaining to inclusive education, there is still more to be done in Armenia, especially in regards to changing society’s attitudes and challenging stereotypes. A 2012 study conducted by UNICEF found that one in five children with disabilities were not attending school, while in Armenia’s regions, one in four children with disabilities were not attending school. According to the study, respondents cited children’s inability to study at mainstream schools as a reason behind their exclusion. This study helped to reveal the existing perceptions around disability and inclusion as well as the extent of stigma and inequity that children face. In 2013, UNICEF conducted a nationally representative survey to understand attitudes towards children with disabilities. The study highlighted that there was a significant difference in attitudes between children with physical disabilities and children with intellectual disabilities. Ninety-five per cent of respondents supported the inclusion of children with physical disabilities, but 30 per cent of respondents were against the inclusion of children with intellectual disabilities. However, a follow up UNICEF survey conducted in 2015 found that attitudes towards inclusion of children with intellectual disabilities changed, as only 19 per cent of respondents said they were against their integration in the society. The results showed that 96 per cent supported inclusive education for children with physical disabilities, with 19 per cent against including children with intellectual disabilities. Slowly but surely Armenia is becoming more inclusive and this is a field the UN continues to support.

Helping to Make Our Food Safe
Since 2009 the UN has been helping to raise the food production safety standards, particularly when it comes to meat. One of UN agencies, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has been focusing on providing safe meat and meat products for the country’s population. With the assistance of the Greek Government, five slaughterhouses with up-to-date equipment have been built in the country. This project was launched in 2009 with a budget of USD 1.6 million aiming to raise the food production safety standards. Five new pilot slaughter houses have also been set up and became operational through partnerships with the private sector. At present, Armenia does not have a detailed regulation on abattoir registration or licensing. At FAO’s recommendation, the Ministry of Agriculture is considering a national abattoir licensing system that promotes a gradual but progressive improvement in meat safety. The project also aimed to increase institutional ability to ensure the safe development of the meat sector including improved meat inspection techniques and procedures, and disease reporting in line with international requirements.
Over the past 25 years, the UN has played an active role in supporting Armenia’s national development contributing to increasing agricultural productivity, improving the country’s food security and also rural livelihoods. In this respect, a particular milestone is Armenia’s accession to UN’s agency that leads the efforts to defeat hunger globally, the Food and Agriculture Organization, which Armenia joined in November 1993. When it comes to agriculture development, the UN has contributed in various ways: it has provided technical assistance through policy support and specific capacity development including various direction such as fighting transboundary animal diseases, natural resources management, land administration and forestry and fisheries interventions at both the grassroots and national level. Current cooperation includes sustainable use of natural resources, disaster risk reduction and management; animal health, plant protection and food safety; food and nutrition security and poverty reduction.
In food safety sector, another intervention has focused on enabling the country to control the quality of pesticide products on the market in line with international standards and to carry out pesticide residue surveillance monitoring programmes in order to improve the quality of agricultural products. The project contributed to the sustainable development of the agricultural sector through less hazardous agricultural inputs leading to improved agricultural practices, safer food and a cleaner environment as well as to the reduction of risks associated with the use of pesticides. The project established a National Pesticide Quality Control laboratory equipped to analyze pesticide products in accordance with international specifications and standards. It also supported the Pesticide Residue Monitoring Laboratory to strengthen the national institutional capacities to undertake pesticide residue surveillance monitoring programmes for food and feed. The UN also introduced internationally recognized laboratory management systems for both laboratories leading to accreditation to international standards (specifically the ISO/IEC 17025); increased awareness on pesticiderelated problems and improve Good Agricultural Practices.

Closely related to the issue of food safety is the task of improving the quality of veterinary services on the country. One of the gravest dangers that the veterinary services need to deal with is the disease called “brucellosis”. Brucellosis in small ruminants and cattle has been on the increase in Armenia since the late 1990s. The disease is dangerous not only for cattle, sheep, goats and other animals, but also poses a threat to humans. It can spread through non-pasteurized dairy products and direct contact with infected animals. Aimed at providing technical assistance and capacity building of the veterinary services at national level, the Government launched, with assistance from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) a major project worth more than USD 700,000. 40534 heifer calves and 154,568 sheep and goats have been vaccinated in the framework of the pilot project in 109 communities of the Syuniq region of Armenia. The result of coverage survey among the vaccinated small ruminants indicates that the vaccination campaign was thoroughly implemented and vaccinated animals have sufficient level of immune response. Implemented by FAO, the project has identified a more efficient system of controlling brucellosis in animals, which will lead to limitation of the infection risk in humans, in addition to serving as a useful model for a future sustainable National Brucellosis Control Programme.

 

OTHER ACHIEVEMENTS

Reducing Maternal Mortality
The UN, through UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, has contributed to reducing maternal mortality in Armenia by establishing “Traveling Gynecologist” and “Rapid Response System” in the country for hard-to-reach and poor areas, and introducing evidence-based guidelines on maternal care. These contributed to the decrease of maternal mortality ratio from 43.2 per 100,000 live births (1999-2001) to 19.6 (2013-2015). In addition, UNFPA has organized training of more of than 1000 obstetrician-gynecologists and midwives.

Humanitarian Food Assistance
The UN has been providing humanitarian food assistance to those in need since the early 1990s. United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) established its presence in Armenia in 1993 with an emergency operation in the aftermath of the devastating 1988 earthquake, the economic downturn following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the full-scale armed conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh (1988 to 1994). WFP supported General Food Distribution to 300,000 refugees and internally displaced people in 1994. Starting from 1999, WFP switched focus to prolonged relief and recovery operations. From 1993 to 2010, WFP assisted Armenia through six Emergency Operations (EMOP) and five Protracted Relief Recovery Operations (PRRO) that included food assistance to refugees and internally displaced people, elderly programs, as well as Food and Cash-for-Work to build resilience and invest in community development, Food-for-Training, and Winter Food Preservation projects. During this period, WFP implemented food assistance programs providing 140,000 metric tons of food commodities worth USD 110 million and covering an average of 180,000 beneficiaries annually. In 1995, WFP launched the Soup Kitchens initiative for widowed pensioners to help the vulnerable groups, in partnership with a national NGO – Mission Armenia. This project helped over a thousand beneficiaries annually.

Reducing Abortions through Advancing Modern Family Planning
UN, through UNFPA, has also helped to decrease the abortion rates by supporting healthy family counseling and providing access to modern methods of contraception. The establishment of 75 family planning units by UNFPA in the country helped to increase of the modern contraceptive prevalence rate from 22 per cent (2000) to 28 per cent (2015-2016). Accordingly, the number of abortions declined from 81 abortions per 1000 women aged 15-44 (2000) to 21 (2015-2016).

Helping Tackle Demographic Challenges
Since its independence, Armenia has been facing serious demographic challenges including low fertility, high migration, rapid ageing. The UN, through UNFPA, has been helping to tackle these challenges through numerous studies, support to development of legislation, strategies and policy instruments on the issues of demography. Those include, but are not limited to the Strategy of the Demographic Policy of the Republic of Armenia and its Action Plan (2009-2035); the Armenia population censuses and, as a result, creation of household address database; the Strategy on Combating the Consequences of Ageing and Social Protection of Elderly People, and many others.

Educating Population on Domestic Violence and Gender Equality
Through cooperation between UNFPA and faith-based organizations, more than 19000 boys and men, girls and women, 3400 newly-weds and 4700 soldiers of army have been reached and sensitized on issues of gender stereotypes, gender norms, gender-based violence and family values.

Elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV infection
One of the most worrying aspects of AIDS is the issue of mother-to-child transmission. The UN supported to solve this issue in Armenia. On 7 June 2016, at the UN General Assembly on HIV/AIDS special session, WHO Global Validation Committee validated Armenia’s elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV infection as public health problem in Armenia, and Armenia’s Minister of Health officially received a validation certificate.

Helping to Manage Migration
The UN has assisted reforms of migration management, including introduction of the system of electronic passports and identification cards with biometric parameters. International Organization of Migration (IOM) has provided technical assistance to the Armenian Government in elaboration of policy and legislation to regulate the field of labour migration. IOM developed toolkit for dealing with challenges and for processing of readmission cases in Armenia. It also facilitated negotiations for bilateral labour agreements between Armenia and destination countries (including in Europe) with the aim of enabling an environment for circular migration of Armenian workers.

Supporting Agriculture and Rural Development
Within the framework of the European Neighbourhood Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development (ENPARD Armenia), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and UNDP work together to provide technical assistance to the project titled “Producer Group and Value Chain Development”. UNIDO and UNDP work towards establishing and strengthening producer groups, effectively engaging them in the value chain. The project is operational in six regions of Armenia – Shirak, Aragatsotn, Gegharkunik, Kotayk, Lori and Vayotz Dzor. The beneficiaries of the project are agricultural producers, members of producer groups, their employees and their families, as well as consumers themselves. Special priority is given to women, the youth and vulnerable groups. The project works with 53 cooperatives of primary production and processing across five value chains – high value field crops, non-conventional vegetables, fruits and berries, high value cheeses and dried fruits and herbs. The project also helped establish six demonstration farms on conservation agriculture and trained farmers on business-oriented cooperation in 122 communities.

Supporting buckwheat production in Armenia
As part of the EU-supported ENPARD project, the UN is helping start production of buckwheat in Armenia by establishing a cooperative of farmers in Gegharkunik region, known as the “Buckwheat of Tsovagyugh”. The cooperative has brought together over 100 farmers who made up their mind for innovative production of buckwheat instead of wheat, traditionally grown by farmers. The enterprise has also attracted the support of the leader of Tsovagyugh community. As the farmers’ group comprises 10 per cent of the population of Tsovagyugh, benefits are equally distributed among men, women and youth, and the impact of the project is significant at the community level. Since December 2016, the processed buckwheat can be found on the Armenian market with “Tsovhatik” brand, enriching the Armenian menu with a nutritious ingredient.

Protecting children’s right to grow up in a family environment
The UN has consistently worked to support the Armenian Government in protecting a child’s right to grow up in a family environment in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. During the past decade, Armenia has managed to reduce the number of children in residential care by 75 per cent and establish foster care services for children without parental care as an alternative family-based service. Today, child care reforms are underway, supported by UNICEF, aiming to provide a family environment for every child in the country.


Protecting children’s health

The UN has taken great steps to ensure the protection of children’s health in Armenia. With the help of UNICEF, the mortality rate for children under five years old was halved. The rate of immunization reached 90 per cent in Armenia, which is crucial in protecting children from preventable diseases. Thanks to such measures, dangerous diseases such as measles have been eliminated entirely. With the help of UNICEF, iodine deficiency has been eliminated through universal salt iodization

Helping Migrants Returning to Armenia
Since 1994 IOM have assisted more than 10,000 migrants who returned to Armenia, mainly from the European countries. Since 1997, the IOM helps individuals (including returnees, refugees and displaced persons) to become self-sufficient through micro-credit schemes, including micro-enterprise training as well as credit and employment opportunities. As of now, about 3,000 persons have already completed training in micro-business management and business planning. So far, over 10,000 loans, amounting to more than USD 9 million have been extended, impacting the lives of over 7000 direct beneficiaries, including loan recipients as well as persons employed and over 5,000 businesses were supported. IOM also established Migration Resource Centre which provides free consultations to potential migrants and inform returnees about existing reintegration programmes.

Apricot and Grape Collection Orchards
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has supported Armenia in establishing apricot and grape collection orchards on six ha of land pertaining to more than 80 varieties of apricots and 285 varieties of grapes (which include 16 wild and wildened forms and their clones, 10-imported varieties as well as selected or not yet described varieties) to conduct demonstration orchards in regions throughout the country. Besides collecting and conserving the genetic resources, the project fosters the sustainable basis of the fruit production in the country. The collection orchards will be open to all scientists and researchers as well as producers. The application of the new agricultural technology, which includes a drip irrigation system and hail prevention net, also increase farmers’ incomes and create a sustainable basis for the implementation of future selection activities. The project contributes to the sustainable development of agriculture in the country through establishing the basis for improvement and modernization of the grape and apricot production sector with possible future significant output to food security, employment opportunities and income generation.

Combatting Trafficking
Since 2007, UN’s migration agency, IOM provided medical, psychological, legal support and shelters to more than 125 victims of trafficking. The IOM has lobbied for inclusion of an article criminalizing human trafficking into the Criminal Code, for ratification of the UN Convention on Transnational Organized Crime and its protocols, and has contributed to the development of the National Plans of Action to Combat Human Trafficking. Thanks to IOM support, a counter trafficking course has been included into middle and high school, as well as university curricula. All teachers of the social science subject in Armenia were trained to teach counter trafficking course. The IOM has provided capacity building to more than 10,000 people (including government officials, police officers, border guards, teachers, students, pupils, journalists, doctors, migrants, refugees, victims of trafficking, etc.).

Research and Education on Migration Issues
The UN also facilitates research and education on migration issues. IOM conducted the first large-scale and representative nationwide household survey on migration among 7,890 households in Armenia. It also contributed to development and introduction of Master Program in Migration Studies in line with the Bologna requirements: migration Competence Center was established at Yerevan State University.
IOM put efforts to strengthen the role of the diaspora in Armenia’s development through the effective utilization of its intellectual potential, knowledge and skills to promote the country’s development and its transformation into a knowledge and innovation based economy. Adherence to this idea, thanks to IOM efforts more than 30 highly qualified professionals, including 8 full professors from leading European universities are invited to Armenia and contributed to the development of Armenian institutions.

Improving Energy Efficiency
In September 2014, in Avan community of Yerevan, the first energy efficient apartment building in Armenia was presented to the public: it is set to consume 60 per cent less energy than a conventional building. The Avan apartment block building was an outcome of the pilot project, carried out by UNDP, which aimed to show the potential for development of energy efficient measures in Armenia. UNDP also assisted in making buildings energy efficient elsewhere: in southern Armenian town of Goris, in “Cascade Hills” apartment complex in Yerevan, and in Avedissian School in Malatya-Sebastia administrative district of Yerevan. It also assisted in replacing old street lamps with new, more than 65 per cent energy efficient LED lamps, on the highway from Matenadaran to Zvartnots airport. Currently, the UN, with funding from the Green Climate Fund, is set to embark upon a major energy efficiency initiative in residential and public buildings.


Dealing with the Threat of Earthquakes

In September 2015 Armenia joined INSARAG, the International Search and Rescue Group, a network of disaster-prone and disaster-responding countries and organizations dedicated to urban search and rescue (USAR) and operational field coordination. This network aims to establish standards and classification for international USAR teams as well as methodology for international response coordination in the aftermath of earthquakes and collapsed structure disasters. The INSARAG Secretariat is located at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). Thus, with the help of the UN office in Armenia, our country became the first CIS country, whose USAR teams received the level of certification necessary to join the group.

Strengthening Forestry Sector
The UN has supported the Armenian Government through establishment of a centrally located professional forest nursery. It has also raised awareness regarding the importance of forests and forest management in order to increase both reforestation and afforestation (conversion of previously non-forested land to forested land). With FAO’s support, a Pilot nursery of Hrazdan Forest Enterprise for seedling production (bare-root and container seedlings) was rehabilitated and equipped with basic tools, machinery, gas pipe-line for heating the greenhouse and soil substrate. Eight pilot seed collection stands comprising in total 116.5 ha were identified, documented and mapped. FAO analyzed the institutional set-up of the nurseries, using Hrazdan Forest Enterprise as an example, and provided recommendations on how to strengthen the forestry sector in Armenia.

Enhancing Borders Protection and Airport Security
The UN has supported the Government’s border management reforms and organized the expansion of the Border Management Information System to all border crossing points of the Armenia. As per request of the Armenian Government, IOM has assisted in improving security standards at Zvartnots International Airport by conducting an assessment of security standards. IOM also facilitated the connection of central units at Police Headquarters and Yerevan Zvartnots Airport to Interpol’s telecommunications database system.