Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Azerbaijan Flood Victims Press for Damage Money
Reporter Sabuhi Mammadli interviews flood victims. (Photo: IWPR)
Hundreds of people in central Azerbaijan who lost their homes in spring flooding last year say they have not received the compensation they were due, while those offered replacement accommodation say the new houses are in a poor state.
Officials agree there have been problems, but say they are working to rectify them as quickly as they can. However, this does not satisfy the flood victims, 400 of whom staged a protest outside the Sabirabad district administration on July 4, their ninth this year.
Mammad Nematov, one of the protesters, said the plan was to hold the demonstration in the Azerbaijani capital Baku, but police prevented this from going ahead.
When the river Kura burst its banks in May 2010, the floodwaters swamped around 30,000 houses as well as 110,000 hectares of farmland.
In July last year, the government assigned 300 million manats, around 375 million US dollars, to put things rights, but questions are now being asked about how that money has been spent.
“I was paid compensation of just 1,600 manats to build a new house and restore my plot of land. When I asked if this was a joke, a representative of the [local government] administration said that I shouldn’t worry, I should just start on the restoration work and I’d get paid later,” Aziza Ahmedova of the village of Murguzali in the Imishli district said.
Reassured by these promises, Ahmedova took out a bank loan of 2,200 manats to help pay for the work. She was planning to repay the money as soon as she got the compensation, but she has yet to receive it.
“How can I repay the debt? The bank will take our home, and our family will be left homeless again,” she said.
Others like Huseynbala Mustafayev of the village of Ulajali in Sabirabad district say they have not even been approved for compensation.
“A representative of the [district] administration has made several verbal promises that we’re to get a new home. Once my neighbours started being moved into new homes, I went to find out when we’d be able to get one as well,” Mustafayev said. “It turned out we weren’t even on the list of victims. Only after I complained was my family included on the list of people needing new houses – a year after the disaster. God only knows when we’ll get the house.”
Niyazi Zamanov, a spokesman for Azerbaijan’s emergencies ministry, confirmed that this kind of problem had arisen.
“There have been a few cases when people who lost their homes weren’t able to find their names on the lists of those needing new houses. But that isn’t our fault – we didn’t draw up the lists, we just got them from the [Sabirabad] administration,” he said.
The deputy local government chief in Sabirabad, Vafadar Bagirov, said officials were snowed under with requests.
“There’s only a few of us, and lots of victims from this disaster,” he said. “It appears that some people just didn’t make it onto the lists. But as soon as they get in touch with us, we correct any errors.”
Azer Ali, an economist from the Kura pressure group, which monitors the use of public funds, said just over 200 million manats was supposed to have gone towards building 3,200 homes to replace buildings that were totally wrecked.
“That works out at 63,000 manats for every house – the same price as a new three-room flat in central Baku, or a two-storey luxury home on the outskirts of the capital,” he said.
Ali said it was clear just from looking at the houses that had built that no more than 10,000 manats had been spent on each one.
Many of those assigned new houses say they are substandard and no substitutes for their old ones.
“I used to have a two-storey house with a floor area of 150 square metres. The new house we were moved into is just 57 square metres, and the internal finishing is just terrible,” Azizaga Gudratov from Meynaman in Hajigabul district said.
The emergencies ministry was supposed to complete compensation payments, reconstruction work and the building of new homes by October 15 last year. It says it has constructed 2,400 houses to date, but this figure is disputed by the Kura group, which conducted a survey of the work done, with the support from the Open Society Institute’s foundation in Azerbaijan.
Oqtay Gulaliyev, the group’s coordinator, said the true number of new homes was just 1,800, “so they’ve upped it by 600 houses. We’ve asked the emergencies ministry about these non-existent houses and about the cost of each one that was built, but we haven’t had an answer.”
Rufat Ismailov, an adviser with the emergencies ministry’s building safety department, insisted the higher figure was accurate.
“We haven’t added anything on. Precisely 2,400 houses have been built, and we have still to complete another 600. They should do a better count,” he said.
Ismailov admitted that the deadline had slipped, but said, “I think we’ll manage to get it all done by the end of the summer.”
Responding to concerns about the quality of the new houses, he said, “It’s hard to satisfy everyone at once.”
Meanwhile, broader questions remain about the funds assigned by the government. Rovshan Hajibayi, an investigative journalist who has been following the issue closely, said the accounts appeared to have a hole in them.
“There were 300 million manats divided among three organisations tasked with doing the restoration work, each according to its specialism – 252.1 million manats went to the emergencies ministry, 20 million to the transport ministry, and 15 million to the water company. So that comes to just 287 manats, and it isn’t clear what’s happened to the other 12.9 million manats,” he said.
When IWPR asked the government’s economics and credit department about the discrepancy, its head Shahin Sadigov said the body just distributes funds as it is instructed to do.
“The money is distributed to various organisations within the finance ministry, then those organisations and the ministry account to parliament,” he said.
Fazil Farajov, head of budgeting at the finance ministry, refused to answer IWPR’s questions about the 12.9 million manats that Hajibayi says is unaccounted for.
Meanwhile, the protesters in Sabirabad said they would give the government until July 13, and if new houses and compensation money were not forthcoming, they would then march to Baku and protest outside the offices of President Ilham Aliyev.
Sabuhi Mammadli is a freelance journalist in Azerbaijan.
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