Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Armenia Mission Highlights Environmental Fears

IWPR reporting mission and follow-up discussions draw attention to danger posed by waste from mining industry.

Officials and activists have said that a series of IWPR reports and round tables on the problems associated with mining industry waste pits have improved their understanding of a serious environmental issue.

IWPR’s Armenia office arranged for six journalists to visit the Lori region on August 23 to report on ecological problems that activists fear may threaten the health of the local population.

The journalists visited a waste pit from an ore processing factory, took pictures and recorded videos, as well as meeting local officials and villagers. Environmental experts say that as the mining industry expands in the region, chemicals from some waste pits are leaking into the food chain and risk harming the health of the local population.

Following the trip, the participating journalists produced eight articles which were published in their respective media outlets, and round-table discussions were held in one of the regional centres, Alaverdi, and in the Armenian capital Yerevan.

“The topic was very important,” said Anush Evoyan, from the Alaverdi branch of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. “It worries us all very much. The topic which was chosen for the round table is very important. Let us raise the issue and find ways of solving it.”

Anush Yeritsyan, from the Alaverdi branch of the Armenian Red Cross, agreed.

“We have gained a lot of information. Many of us living in the region of Lori have no idea how dangerous [pollution] can be for our lives and the coming generations. I hope the government addresses the issue,” Yeritsyan said.

“We still have a lot of things to do,” added Inna Yesayan, an activist from the Alaverdi Youth Centre. “I hope this discussion and our concerns reach the authorities and the people who can do something to change the situation.

“A clever discussion guarantees security and information for people living in this region. Such discussions are rarely organised in Alaverdi, and I would also like to see representatives from ministries here.”

The head of environmental NGO Ecolur Informational, Inga Zarafyan, said she believed the IWPR reporting mission was the best way to raise awareness of the environmental threat posed by some of the waste pits, especially as locals were so poorly informed of the risks they were facing.

“It was noteworthy that residents are still unaware of the danger threatening them,” Zarafyan said. “If the local population is not informed about such things, then [some of the mining] companies and the government are to blame, particularly the ministries for the protection of nature and of health.”

In Yerevan, ecologists, experts and representatives from the ministry of the environment and media took part in the discussion.

“We have examined water, soil and crop in the region and our findings have shown that crops are polluted and contain chemicals. People are unaware of this, they continue to graze cattle and harvest crops,” Lilit Sahakyan, head of the laboratory of the Union of Ecological Organisations of Armenia, said, adding that the Soviet-era standards for permissible concentrations of toxic substances in water and soil were out of date.

Seyran Minasyan, a representative of the ministry of environment, felt that the IWPR reporting mission could make a real difference to safety issues.

The journalists who participated in the assignment told IWPR that it had provided them with a vital opportunity to cover a serious issue.

“It is very difficult for our media outlets to send their reporters to such places as there is usually a lack of finances,” Gayane Mkrtchyan, a reporter from ArmeniaNow, said. “It was very important that we had the opportunity to visit and meet villagers and village authorities.” 

Naira Bulghadaryan, correspondent for Radio Liberty of Armenia, said the IWPR trip raised environmental issues “about which the officials seem to have forgotten. 

“The mission was also useful because it involved a group of journalists reporting on one particular issue, since this increases the responsibility of the authorities to take steps to solve the problem. I think these kinds of missions should be organised on a regular basis and cover other issues as well.”