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A train is rolling in a green valley, where sheeps and a river are flowing in the same wayMaramureş Natural Park, Romania

From the heart of Central Europe to the Silk Road in Central Asia, countries in Europe and the Commonwealth of Independence States (CIS) are distinguished by striking contrasts and common legacies.

For most of the 20th Century, state socialism characterized the region, enforcing state planning and limiting public voice. But from 1989 to 1991 the state systems collapsed, ushering in an unprecedented transition to democratic governance and free markets. 

While some states navigated the transition successfully – joining the European Union and contributing as international aid donors – others still face fundamental development challenges. Many people have come to enjoy relatively high levels of health, education and income; others still struggle to satisfy basic human needs.

The region faces a variety of specific challenges.

It is a high emitter of greenhouse gases, with countries that are among the world’s 20 most carbon-intensive economies; energy losses account for almost one-third of total domestic energy use. While the region produces only 5 percent of global GDP, it accounts for 10 percent of the world’s energy consumption.

Europe and Central Asia also suffer from the fastest growing HIV epidemic in the world, with 120,000-140,000 new cases being report every year. Recent years have also seen increasing legislative initiatives in some countries that directly affect key populations, including attempts to criminalize sex work and homosexual activity.

One-third of people in the region say they are excluded from economic life, social services and participation in society, with income inequality increasing faster here than anywhere else in the world. Middle-income countries in the region have experienced the highest increase in socio-economic inequality in the world over the last 20 years.

Many governments are not accountable and responsive to citizens. Women earn less and are often left out of political decision-making, leaving half the population without a voice. Some countries suffer the consequences of violence; others are caught in frozen conflicts, while yet others face the increasing risk of natural disasters.


Rural women are sitting in a conference room, listeningPhoto: UNDP.

UNDP is on the ground in 22 countries and territories in Europe and the CIS, working with national partners, connecting people to knowledge and addressing their development challenges.

We recognize that in order to build the future that we want we must pursue development that does not infringe on the well-being of future generations. In other words, development must be sustainable.

At UNDP, we work with our national partners to:

  • Create resilient societies by including people living on the margins into economic, social and political life;
  • Empower people by promoting better governance and human rights; and
  • Promote biodiversity and alternative energy, while assisting countries to reduce their carbon footprint.

In Europe and the CIS, we are moving from helping countries steer their ‘transition’ to supporting states in pursuing sustainable development – policy advice that has generated lessons for other regions.

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