"At the same time, major initiatives were put forward in the social sphere last year. More precisely, these programs were prepared in the second half of 2018 and began to be executed at the beginning of 2019. Large funds were provided for martyr families. In general, the social and material situation of 4.2 million people was improved because the huge social package reached out to 4.2 million people. The minimum wage has doubled and the minimum pension has grown by more than 70 percent," President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev said in his opening speech at the conference dedicated to the results of first-year implementation of "The State Program on socio-economic development of the regions of the Republic of Azerbaijan in 2019-2023" held on February 2020, ONA reports.
"Currently, Azerbaijan ranks first in the CIS in terms of the purchasing power of the minimum pension. Some benefits were increased by 50 percent, some were doubled, scholarships were raised, one-off financial assistance was provided to the families of martyrs. In addition, monthly benefits for families of martyrs and internally displaced persons were increased. So all these are issues requiring major funds and cost several billion manats. But we are doing that. First of all, because our policy is centered on the citizens of Azerbaijan. And secondly, we have opportunities to do this. If there was a desire but no opportunities, how could we have done this? By mobilizing our economic strength, we have secured today's reality, and this is why we can do it. I can say that there is no other country in our immediate surroundings that would take up such a social initiative. If there is, do let me know. There isn't! We are doing this and believe that it is right. The people of Azerbaijan should live better every year. Our growing economic power should first of all be aimed at improving the well-being of the people, and we are doing this. Therefore, the work done in the social sphere once again reflects our policy, demonstrates our strength, and this sphere will continue to be in the spotlight.
At the same time, important steps were taken last year to create social infrastructure – 84 schools and 60 medical facilities were built and renovated. This process is also ongoing. We have completed the repairs of most of the schools. But there are still schools in disrepair, and specific steps will be taken to repair them in the coming years.
We are seriously dealing with the implementation of infrastructure projects, in particular in the field of electricity. Serious progress has been made in this area as well. I can say that last year we managed to obtain an additional 800 megawatts of electricity. Of these, 400 megawatts are due to the new "Shimal-2" station and the other 400 megawatts are the result of the restoration of lost capacity. These capacities were once lost due to improper operation of the stations. But this work is now under way and a significant part of the 400 megawatts was obtained due to repairs and restoration at the Mingachevir thermal power plant. Of course, the lost power was also restored at other stations, which is how we received 400 megawatts. This process continues. This year, generating capacity will be restored approximately at the same level. Today we have become an electricity exporting country.
The process of gasification has been continued. Gas supply is available practically throughout the country. The level of gasification has reached 96 percent. This is one of the highest indicators on a global scale. A total of 1,300 kilometers of roads have been built with a plan of 1,000 kilometers. However, on the basis of the appeals I received during my visits to the districts over the year, as well as the letters people sent afterwards, we managed to build an additional 300 kilometers. In terms of the quality of roads, Azerbaijan today ranks 27th in the world, ahead of many developed countries. I am sure that we will go even further as a result of the forthcoming work.
Land reclamation measures also have an important place among infrastructure projects. Water is supplied to approximately 80,000 hectares. More than 300 sub-artesian wells have been drilled. This process will be continued this year.
These infrastructure projects were implemented through the state investment program. This once again shows that favorable grounds are being created for the sustainable development of our country. All this work, as well as the reforms carried out, have certainly given a powerful impetus to the development of agriculture. Agricultural production has reached a record high compared to recent years. That is, growth rate exceeds 7 percent, in particular, growth in crop production amounted to more than 10 percent. The exports of our agricultural produce are growing. Domestic needs are met by local products because all these issues are closely interrelated.
Major projects were also implemented in the transport sector last year. Among them, I want to specifically note the construction of a suburban railway line in Baku. We have restored the railway transport, which was once called the "electric train", at the most advanced level. We have delivered trains produced by the leading company. Railway stations have been built in suburban settlements, and this process will be continued. The main stage of construction of the suburban railway will be completed this year, i.e. the ring will close. Following this, there are plans to build railway to settlements where it is not available yet. At the same time, reconstruction work is under way on the railways connecting us with our neighbors in order to increase their speed. We have largely achieved this, in particular, in the western direction. Preparations are under way for work to be carried out in the northern and southern directions, and this process will go even faster this year," noted Azerbaijani President.