"We must talk about these successes, promote them, but at the same time, we cannot be content with them. We must always step up our efforts around unresolved issues, and we are doing that. Therefore, the main goal of this traditional conference is to sum up the work done and give impetus to the work to be completed during the year. We have been following this path since 2004," President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev said in his opening speech at the conference dedicated to the results of the 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.
The Head of State emphasized that the first program adopted in 2004 was a historic event. "At that time, this program was an integral part of my election program. When I was first elected as president, I told citizens that if I was given confidence, I would seriously engage in regional development as well. Because I knew that the situation in the regions of Azerbaijan wasn't very good. There were, of course, natural reasons for that - the infrastructure was out of date, it was practically out of service, many enterprises had been shut down, agriculture was stagnant. Therefore, I believed that the regional development program would be a program that would give the main impulse. In addition, most of the population of Azerbaijan lives in the regions, districts, villages. It was necessary to improve their lives. Therefore, I want to say again: the adoption of this program was a historic event. Ever since that time, we have been annually discussing the implementation of this program. As I said, three programs have been adopted and implemented, and the fourth program is being implemented now.
I can say that from 2003 to the present, the economy of Azerbaijan has grown 3.4 times as a whole. This is a record high in the world. One can study the statistics, but I don't believe that there are similar growth rates elsewhere. Over these 16 years, industrial production has grown 2.7 times, agriculture has doubled, foreign trade turnover has increased 6.4 times, exports 7.6 times, including non-oil exports 5.2 times. Our foreign exchange reserves have grown 27 times. In 2003, foreign exchange reserves amounted to $1.8 billion, last year to $51 billion and now constitute $52 billion. This in itself is a high indicator. Poverty has declined from about 50 to 4.8 percent. This indicates that oil revenues were distributed reasonably and fairly. Using these revenues, we have resolved a significant part of the key infrastructure problems of our country, while also improving the well-being of our citizens. Over the past 16 years, the average wage has grown 11 times and the average pension eight times. More than 300,000 internally displaced people and 6,700 martyr families have received houses and apartments. In other words, these major social programs require a lot of money. Just imagine – we have built houses and apartments for 300,000 people. Over the years, we have built a city equal to Sumgayit or Ganja. This required political will, sound policies and opportunities.
As for infrastructure projects, 33 power plants with a generating capacity of 3,000 megawatts have been built over the years. If these stations hadn't been built, half of our country would be in darkness now. We would still be importing electricity and spending a lot of money on it. However, having built these stations and received 3,000 megawatts of generating capacity, we now export electricity. Last year, our country earned about $60-65 million from these exports.
In 2003, the level of gasification in Azerbaijan was 51 percent, while in the regions there was no gas at all. Currently, this figure has reached 96 percent. There is not a single district where there is no gas. There is no district where gas supply is below 70 percent. In the districts, it is at 100 and 95 percent. We have built 16,700 kilometers of roads. We have modern highways connecting us with all neighboring countries. Roads in hundreds and perhaps even in more than a thousand villages have been landscaped.
Land reclamation measures. Two large water reservoirs have been built – Takhtakorpu and Shamkirchay. If we didn't have them, there would be a shortage of water today in these districts. If the Takhtakorpu reservoir had not been built, it would hardly have been possible to provide the city of Baku with water last year because last year's drought may have never happened before. By ensuring the supply of water collected specifically from Takhtakorpu to Jeyranbatan, we achieved uninterrupted water supply to Baku. No-one in Baku even felt that there was such a severe drought.
We are doing all this for people to live better. Every major project is underpinned by a thought-out policy. To improve water supply in the villages, more than 1,500 artesian wells have been drilled over the years, and this process continues. Modular-type water treatment plants have been built in hundreds of villages. Therefore, infrastructure projects occupy a special place in the implementation of our program. By carrying out these projects in parallel with social initiatives, we have achieved today's realities," Azerbaijani President emphasized.