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

Yerevan Hit by Water Crisis

Armenian water bosses are blaming catastrophic water shortages on poor management and a crumbling distribution system
By Margarita and

Severe water shortages have forced the authorities in Yerevan to make drastic cuts in domestic supplies - just as the city suffers the fiercest heat wave in recent memory.

With daytime temperatures topping 42 degrees in the shade, drinking water in city apartments is only available for 1-3 hours a day.

Countering claims that up to 60 per cent of supplies are simply evaporating into thin air, water industry chiefs blame the crisis on lax controls and poor infrastructure.

Karine Enfendzhian, who lives in Yerevan city centre, complains, "We have to get up at six in the morning in order to wash the dishes, have a bath and stock up on water. It's a real catastrophe."

Wealthier residents are paying up to $1,000 to have artesian wells dug for their personal use. "The main thing is that I've got rid of this humiliating dependence on the authorities," says Petros Stepanian. "The whole of our family breathed a sigh of relief."

The authorities are doing their best to play down the crisis. Ovik Grigorian, director of the state water company Vodokanal, claims, "Over 40% of Yerevan receives water round the clock."

But Richard Walkling, co-director of the Armenian Utility Company, which recently won a tender to manage Yerevan's water supply, comments, "If you estimate the population of Yerevan at one million, then every day we take enough water from the springs which feed the capital of Armenia to provide everyone with 1,000 litres a day."

Walkling claims that at least half of this amount disappears long before it reaches Yerevan - but even 500 litres a day should be enough to cater for the needs of a city twice its size.

Hence, the true cause of the water shortage is a matter of angry debate. Walkling says that there are no controls over consumption and water is being misappropriated by "a whole network of legal and illegal connections to the pipes which bring water into Yerevan."

Ovanes Agaronian, head of communal services in the Yerevan mayor's office, says the bulk of the supply is being sucked up by the towns and settlements around the capital.

These communities, claims Agaronian, are consuming four times the amount of water intended for them - 2,500 litres a second rather than the planned 600.

Vodokanal's Ovik Grigorian blames the poor condition of the irrigation system. "Go out into the street after five o'clock," he says. "Everyone's using the drinking supplies to water their lawns, their flowerbeds, their gardens. There's either no irrigation water or there's very little. In Yerevan, that's always been the case."

Grigorian also believes the poor condition of domestic piping lies at the heart of the problem. "Everything's privatised," he explains. "The apartment owners don't consider themselves to be responsible for the condition of the pipes. But they should look after their own property!"

Most experts agree that the pumping system used to bring water into Yerevan from 12 nearby springs is worn out and is in desperate need of replacement.

Richard Walkling, on the other hand, says there is little evidence to support Grigorian's claims. "The real problem is that no one really knows what's happening," he says. "No one is measuring the volume of lost water, so how can they establish how it's actually being lost?"

Vaagn Khachaturian, the former mayor of Yerevan, points the finger at poor management. "We have to learn to manage the water supply," he says. "It's a lucrative business, we just have to learn how to make a profit."

Richard Walkling agrees. "Management should include an agreement with local authorities on the use of water as well as an agreement with the police of the neighbouring oblasts on investigating and punishing those guilty of illegal use..." Yerevan car washes and restaurants are thought to be among the worst offenders.

Walkling explained that the existing payment system was shambolic with one third of debts simply being written off and another third misappropriated. Only $20 million a year actually gets into state coffers. "It's not a large sum," said Walkling. "It would take around $300 million to completely reconstruct the water system."

Mark Grigorian is IWPR's project editor in Yerevan.

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