Kazakhstan is an active member of various regional security and economic organisations including Central Asian Co-operation Organisation (CACO), EurAsEC, CIS, Shanghai Co- operation Organisation (SCO) and the Single Economic Space. The effectiveness of these regional organisations in addressing regional economic issues has so far been limited. CACO members have agreed to merge this organisation with EurAsEC when Uzbekistan joined EurAsEC in 2006. 3.1.3 Social conditions Robust economy in recent years has improved overall social conditions of the country. Per capita income at current prices has increased from US$ 1,132 in 1999 to US$ 3,813 in 2006. The percentage of population living below the subsistence minimum income declined from 19.8 per cent in 2003 to 9.8 per cent in 2006. Life expectancy at birth increased from 64.4 years in 1999 to 66.7 years in 2005. School gross enrolment rate increased from 93.3 per cent in 2003 to 95.4 per cent in 2006. Labour market conditions are also improving with unemployment declining from 13.5 per cent and 8.8 per cent in 1999 and 2003, respectively to 8.1 per cent in 2006. The Gini co-efficient2 has declined from 0.315 in 2003 to 0.304 in 2006 indicating that there has been a slight decline in the extent of inequality during the period. Despite these positive developments, availability of qualified skilled labour, and of basic infrastructure (drinking water, sewage systems, health and education services) are a major problem for Kazakhstan. There are also important regional disparities. The degree of variation in terms of income, poverty incidence, unemployment, social sectors (health and education) and infrastructure. The extent of variation is measured by the coefficient of variation, a statistical measure of variance defined as standard deviation divided by the mean and the higher the coefficient, the higher the degree of regional variation. The largest degree of variation within Kazakhstan is found in poverty incidence, access to health service and several essential
74 infrastructure services such as sewerage, clean water and central heating. The lower variation is found in unemployment, gross school enrolment rate and access to electricity supply. It is difficult to explain the reasons for regional divergence, but it is clear that the effect of transition within Kazakhstan has been uneven. Bringing the benefits of strong economic growth to the regions has become an important transition challenge. 3.1.4 Environment Kazakhstan's national priorities and commitments are stated in its National Environmental Action Plan, National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan and Conception of Environmental Safety for 2004-2015, approved by Presidential Decree on 03 December 2003. The main areas of concern are the Aral Sea, the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Testing Area, desertification and land degradation, biodiversity protection, forestation in East Kazakhstan and in Pavlodar and Karaganda Oblasts.
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