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

Springs of Hope for Azeri Villagers

New project enables frontline villagers to get water closer to home.
The north-west of Azerbaijan is an area rich area with spring water that experienced heavy rainfall and flooding during the summer.

Yet despite its abundant natural resources, the civilian population there, many of them victims of the Nagorny Karabakh conflict with Armenia, continue to face problems getting access to the good drinking water that is all around them.

The Gadabay region, with its beautiful alpine scenery, is home to a large quantity of high-quality mineral water, but suffers from the tensions of weekly shooting across the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.

Fourteen years after the ceasefire agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan that halted the Nagorny Karabakh conflict, many springs are situated either along the frontline or behind military positions that make it impossible for local people to use them.

There are 108 villages in the region, half of which are close to the border with Armenia.

The village of Ayridara is one such settlement where getting hold of water has been difficult or dangerous over the past decade.

"The civilian population living in the border village of Ayridara has long been affected by continuing problems of access to drinking water due to the constant violations of the ceasefire agreement," said Juan-Carlos Carrera, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, office in Barda, which is responsible for the frontline regions of Azerbaijan.

The ICRC has been leading efforts to help villagers here get new safe drinking supplies in what it hopes will one of many such initiatives.

One morning in July this year, the village resounded to the joyful shouts of local women gathering with buckets in their hands. They were waiting for the opening ceremony for a water-supply system for twenty-five families from Ayridara.

The old water supply system, built in Soviet times, had fallen into disrepair, forcing villagers to bring water in buckets and by other means from elsewhere, said Bakir Guliyev, the ICRC engineer in charge of the programme.

The ICRC restored the village’s water-supply system. That meant repairing a 1.25 kilometre pipeline and installing new water reservoirs to collect spring water. Now, the water from several springs in the mountain falls naturally into the reservoirs inside the village.

In the past, local women have had to go up into the mountains several times a day just to supply their homes with water.

Govhar Gojayeva, 42, is very happy that she no longer has to do this. "Before, we had to walk along a difficult path from that forest to the mountain to fetch water,” she said. “In winter, the snow was up to our knees..and then we went down very carefully with buckets full of water, so as not to fall down and spill the water."

Carrera said that at first it was hard to persuade locals to work on the project. "At first they refused [to support it] because the villagers, mainly women with children, did not have time, while the men had left to earn money in other places," he said.

Community leader Mehman Hajiyev said that appalling weather made it very hard to work at the beginning. "There was heavy rainfalls most of the time,” he said. “Local people helped digging trenches for the pipes and sometimes they had to dig trenches two to three times because of flooding."

The ICRC provided all the necessary materials, and carried out the installation of pipes and construction of reservoirs, while the local authorities took care of transporting construction materials to the village.

When the water finally flowed, village representatives, members of the local branch of Azerbaijan Red Crescent Society and women’s groups all looked on as the first drops came out of the taps.

Zoya Pashayeva was among them. Every day for the past 40 years, she has had to walk at least one km with buckets in her hand to a spring in the mountains and bring home water.

"Today, it feels like I’ve been given a big present,” she said. “They rescued me from 40 years of suffering.”

Now the new water reservoir is not just a storage tank for the village, but is also a place where women gather and exchange news and gossip about their families.

Pleased by the success of the water project in Ayridara, Carrera said that his organisation was now carrying out assessments through all the border regions. “And whenever it is possible we will try to make a change and help the civilian population which is still suffering because of the unresolved Nagorny Karabakh conflict," he said.

Mina Muradova is a freelance journalist in Azerbaijan and a member of IWPR’s Cross Caucasus Journalism Network project.

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