COVID-19: new challenges have arisen in the ecologically vulnerable Martuni community. Environmental Problems in Martuni Community
Martuni Community in Gegharkunik Region, Armenia, is significantly affected by "Martuni" SHPP operated by "MCSHG ENERGY" LLC. This problem is also common in other littoral communities of Sevan, which are affected by small hydropower plants built on the rivers flowing into Lake Sevan. "Martuni" SHPP received a water use permit for a period of 06.05.2019-02.03.2026.
The significant part of the locals surveyed by EcoLur believe that Martuni SHPP affects the income from their agricultural activities, as the area of irrigated land area has been reduced, the crop dries up in the summer due to the lack of irrigation water, and the pastures have reduced. Those surveyed whose economic activities are not related to the SHPP activities didn’t complain of SHPP operation.
Based on the contract signed between the company and Martuni community in 2018, the SHPP provides 2 million AMD to Martuni community every year. According to Martuni Community Head Armen Avetisyan, the money is spent on leveling the roads and paying the electricity bills of the people living in the area.
In her conversation with EcoLur, Anahit Gorgyan, President of “Martuni Women's Community Council” NGO, said that Lusadzor residents had not received compensation for the installation of SHPP stanchions on their land areas. Environmental problems have not been solved. The Martuni River from the head of the SHPP to the station is dry, the environmental flow is not preserved, there are no conditions for the movement of fish, the SHPP does not have a water meter.
"It takes all the water, the river is dry from the dam to the station. Do you know how many springs have dried up in that area? That river used to be that large that our parents were holding our hands to cross it, now there is no water in that river in summer. Before, our whole community used to rely on the irrigation water," Anahit Gevorgyan said.
"People cultivate very little land because there is no agricultural machinery, no labor force, because fertilizers, seeds and irrigation water are expensive, there is no planning, there is no support for the villagers. People say they will buy 2 sacks of potatoes, eat them, why should they plough their land areas. The villager has changed from a producer to a consumer. There is no policy.” She offered to develop tourism in Lusadzor with the funds provided by the SHPP.
The sewage goes straight to the brooklets, then to Sevan. In Soviet times, chlorine was used as a disinfectant at Martuni treatment plant, which caused the death of fish spawning on the riverbed. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the plant ceased its operation. In 2013, Martuni mechanical treatment plant was put into operation, which does not provide dry cleaning. Sewage from settlements not connected to the sewage lines flows into Lake Sevan. They also flow into a public beach area belonging to the community.
The issue of connecting the 100-meter-long sewage pipeline required for the connection of Geghhovit community and Martuni sewage lines has not been resolved.
The sewage of Geghhovit village, in its turn, flows into the Martuni river, the water of which people use for irrigation. During the days of river water scarcity, the accumulated sewage immediately flows into the residents' yards. To resolve the issue, it was decided that a mini-cleaning station would be built on the Geghhovit line, but the issue was not resolved due to technical problems with the pipes. We need a global program to change all the pipes.
"We have suggested that Geghhovit should have a sewage system, besides that, garbage should be removed from the landfill and the village so that the Martuni River is not polluted," Anahit Gevorgyan said. EcoLur’s survey of the local residents showed that the COVID 19 epidemic caused a new, dangerous way of polluting the environment, in particular, used masks and gloves pollute public beaches and the community area.
Only 25.0% of the respondents mentioned that in the conditions of the epidemic the relevant bodies responded appropriately, solved the social-ecological problems they had raised, whereas 25.0% answered that the questions raised by them did not receive a response, the rest 50.0% did not raise an issue, as there were none.
The possibility of expressing public opinion on community issues has decreased, as they cannot hold a public hearing under these conditions to find out the opinion of the people. The community head assured that they are aware of the general opinion of the residents.
The majority of the respondents believe that their family income has decreased due to COVID-19, because either the volume of services in their workplace has been reduced, or family members have not left for work abroad.
Several people mentioned inadequate salaries for the work done, low wages, and difficulties in selling the harvested agricultural products.
More than half of the respondents mentioned that their family members went abroad for work, but this year, due to the epidemic, they did not leave, as a result of which their family incomes decreased, where people having remained here are either jobless or have slight involvement in family affairs.
According to the resolution of Martuni Community Council, about 900 thousand AMD were allocated from the community budget to support those infected with coronavirus to a certain extent, in the amount of about 20,000 AMD for each family taking into account the number of members. Those who are isolated and socially vulnerable, maintaining social distance, were provided with food (14 lonely elderly and 10 infected isolated families) /They have received a proposal from the Regional Municipality to reimburse those expenses/.
In terms of the description of the support received from state, local government and private institutions, the residents surveyed to make use the COVID-19 mitigation social programs implemented by the Government of the Republic of Armenia stated that they did not face any difficulties, but some mentioned that there were unnecessary delays.
The majority of the respondents answered that they did not benefit from the assistance provided by the RA Government's coronavirus social impact neutralization programs, except for the natural gas and electricity assistance, and one-time financial assistance to families having children aged 0-18.
The challenges posed by COVID-19 in Martuni community of RA Gegharkunik Region are as follows: significant passiveness is recorded in the community due to the uncertainty of the state of emergency and COVID-19 epidemic. The situation is exacerbated as migrant workers, who have made significant contributions to their families' social security, have remained jobless.
The areas where people could be involved are related to agriculture and tourism. However, the poor ecological condition of the infrastructure, in particular, the lack of treatment equipment, the pressure from the Martuni SHPP, the high cost of agricultural machinery, seeds, fertilizers and irrigation water, due to which people are unable to circulate new lands, results in the destruction of rich flora and fauna, which can serve as a basis for the development of attractive local tourism, such as the pollution of Lake Sevan, do not contribute to the creation of new jobs.
In the fight against COVID 19, the public resources of local governments were neglected. There are separate programs, but in a broad sense, the public and the local population are not involved in them, the programs are not discussed, although they could have been aimed at solving specific problems of the community.
SUGGESTIONS TO RA GOVERNMENT
The respondents think that mass testing of the population and effective measures taken by the state to prevent the spread of the epidemic will help to get out of the current situation.
To draft and adopt social programs for the development of various types of tourism: agricultural, gastronomic, ecological, scientific tourism, taking into account the tourism attractiveness of the Lake Sevan area.
To involve Martuni region in tourist routes through proper awareness, development of tourist routes, work with travel agencies. Taking into account the strategic importance of Lake Sevan for the republic, it is necessary to find sources of funding for the re-profiling of Martuni sewage treatment plant into a biological cleaning plant.
To solve the problem of the negative impact of small hydropower plants built on the rivers flowing into Lake Sevan. A special regime should be established for SHPPs constructed on the rivers flowing into Lake Sevan, due to the need to protect the fish world and the conditions for fish breeding and artificial replenishment of the population.
September 11, 2020 at 11:34