RA Environment Minister’s Response to EcoLur’s Letter on Problems in Communities Related to COVID-19 Pandemic EcoLur

RA Environment Minister’s Response to EcoLur’s Letter on Problems in Communities Related to COVID-19 Pandemic EcoLur

RA Environment Ministry responded to EcoLur's letter to the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan regarding the problems caused by the COVID-19 epidemic. Secretary General of the Ministry G. Gulyan states in his letter N 5/07.2/809 dated on 09.02.2021:

"In response to your letter dated on January 15, 2021 and Prime Minister’s assignment N 02/11.9/1269 dated on 21 January, 2021, we would like to inform that the issues raised related to the pollution of Lake Sevan and the protection of the groundwater resources of the Ararat Valley within the frames of “COVID-19 - New Challenges in Ecologically Vulnerable Communities" project have always been and are currently in the focus of Environment Ministry.

On 29 September, 2020, "Development of design and estimate documents for construction of biological treatment and sludge treatment plants in Gavar, Martuni and Vardenis wastewater mechanical treatment plants, design of wastewater treatment plants for biological treatment" event was approved with Clause 2.11 of resolution N1603-N “On approving the annual program of measures for restoration, preservation, reproduction and use of Lake Sevan ecosystem”.

In 2019-2020, 10 wells were liquidated at the expense of the state budget and at the own expense of water users, 75 wells were conserved, in addition, 49 wells were shut down by the Ministry of Environment, as a result of which 4534 l/s of water were saved.

Enhanced state control over "Argitchi" SHPP by Hydro Corporation CJSC, as well as the problems submitted on the results of your research (those who did not go abroad for work) are partially related to the COVID-19 epidemic; they existed before the epidemic. Their control is vested on Nature Protection and Mining Inspection Body.”

The letter addressed to the Armenian PM particularly says,

“The studies were carried out in Martuni urban community, Verin and Nerqin Getashen rural communities in Gegharkounik Region, Armavir urban and Taronik rural communities in Armavir Region, Ararat urban and Ararat rural communities in Ararat Region, and Shnogh enlarged community in Lori Region, which were selected as ecologically vulnerable communities.

General Problems

1. Those residents who did not leave for abroad for work mostly remained unemployed; at best, they had temporary jobs on their farms or in construction. The temporary nature of the employment does not contribute to their full participation in the life of the community and remaining in the homeland.

2. Additional costs related to healthcare and education have increased for the population in parallel with the social burden.

3. The volume of work and salaries in different spheres in the communities has reduced.

4. There are insufficient technical means for distance learning in the communities, the distance learning system does not provide sufficient educational quality, psychological difficulties have arisen, the lack of sufficient computer skills is a problem.

5. Environmental problems have become more acute due to the weakening of the activities of the competent bodies.

6. The opportunity to express public opinion on community issues has decreased, as in the current situation it has become impossible to organize a public hearing to find out the opinion of the residents. Moreover, in some communities (Ararat), council meetings have not been held for several months, and important decisions for the community have been postponed.

7. The problem of COVID-19 has been compounded by the socio-economic and demographic consequences of hostilities. Anti-epidemic measures in the communities have significantly weakened. 

Community-specific problems

8. Armavir urban and Taronik rural communities, Armavir Region, being in the immediate area of 5-10 km away from the Armenian Nuclear Power Plant, do not have the status of an "affected community", do not have certain privileges that could help solve the new challenges facing the local population. The communities have a water problem due to the decrease in the level of the Ararat artesian basin, which leads to sanitary-epidemiological risks.

9. The enlarged community of Shnogh, Lori Region, being an affected community of Teghut copper and molybdenum mine, is not a beneficiary under soil management contract  PV-376 dated 20.02.2013, so Teghut CJSC has not undertaken any commitments aimed at the socio-economic development of the affected community under the contract. In 2020, 'Teghut Mining' CJSC signed a partnership agreement with Shnogh community municipality worth 140 million AMD. However, problems with chemical pollution in the community area remain unresolved as environmental issues are not included in the target expenditure.

10. The cyanide tailing dump of Ararat Gold Mining Plant is located in the territory of Ararat village, Ararat Region. However, the village is not considered an affected community.

11. Martuni community wastewater treatment plant in Martuni Community, Gegharkounik Region, needs to reprofiling into a biological treatment plant.

13. Verin Getashen and Nerqin Getashen communities, Gegharkunik Region are experiencing a problem with irrigation water, which is connected to "Argitchi" SHPP on the Argitchi River. SHPPs impede the reproduction of endemic species in Lake Sevan.

Taking into account the features of the ecological vulnerability of each community, as well as the generality of the problems that have arisen, we present the following suggestions as a solution, according to the sectors.

Social problems:

1. To establish a program to use the potential of migrant workers returning to Armenia, to bring them out of forced unemployment, to fully involve them in the development of the community.

2. To resume the public discussions on the social-environmental issues in the affected communities as stated in the law, to provide mechanisms for dialogue at the level of people, business and state.

3. To give 25 communities located within 5-10 km radius of the ANPP the status of "ANPP-affected community" with the definition of the privileges arising from it; ensure the constructive cooperation between the ANPP and the communities in the affected area.

4. To ensure the fulfillment of the environmental obligations undertaken by 'Teghut Mining' CJSC under PV-376 soil management contract of Teghut copper and molybdenum mine on 20.02.2013, as well as revise that agreement by investing in socio-economic development commitments, taking into account the findings of the public hearings held in the affected community.

5. To review Annex 3 of PV-376 soil management contract of "GeoProMining Gold" LLC dated on October 22, 2014, to stipulate the obligations of undertaking socio-economic assistance Ararat town and Ararat village. To give Ararat rural community the status of an "affected" community by Ararat Gold Mining Plant.

 Healthcare problems

6. To strengthen the capacity of medical facilities in vulnerable communities by equipping them with new equipment in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic with highly qualified medical staff.

7. Continue to provide information on COVID-19, increase social self-awareness among the population, contributing to the formation of a subculture of social responsibility.

8. Increase the involvement of local self-government bodies and non-governmental organizations in the fight against the epidemic.

Environmental problems

9. Taking into account the strategic importance of Lake Sevan for the Republic, to reprofile profile Martuni physical wastewater treatment plant into a biological treatment plant. To provide coastal settlements with sewerage system and mini biological treatment plants.

10. Carry out the connection works of 100-meter-long sewer pipeline required for the connection of Martuni sewerage pipelines of Geghovit Community, Gegharkunik Region.

11. Taking into account the strategic importance of Ararat artesian waters for the country, to limit the issuance of water use permits for the purpose of fish breeding, to be strictly supervise over the rational use of the quantities issued by water use permits, to conserve unused wells, to build Metsamor wastewater treatment plant.

12. To establish strict control over the implementation of all measures laid down in RA legislation aimed at the prevention of atmospheric air pollution in the process of organizing the production of "Araratcement" CJSC, compliance of the riles and norms stipulated in the permit for emission of harmful substances into the atmospheric air.

13. To strengthen state control over the activities of "Hydrocorporation" CJSC for the spawning of endemic fish species from Lake Sevan in the upper reaches of Argitchi River and for the provision of irrigation water to the agricultural lands in the neighboring communities. To ensure compliance with all restrictions on the rational use of environmental and water resources during the operation of "Aghchichi SHPP".

February 11, 2021 at 17:25