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Armenia: protecting Lake Sevan’s waters

The EBRD is helping people living around Lake Sevan, Armenia’s major water basin, to preserve their environment and health with a much needed upgrade of wastewater services.

For mountainous, landlocked Armenia, Lake Sevan, one of the largest high-altitude lakes in the world, is part and parcel of the national consciousness, the country’s culture and of course its landscape; it is also a major source of people’s livelihood. Azat Karapetyan is one of many people who literally depend on the lake. “My son and I decided to build this small restaurant by the shores of the lake so that customers can enjoy its beauty and our food,” says Azat.

Their company, with the telling name Seashore, manages several businesses in the town of Sevan. All of them, including a bee farm that relies on the flora around the lake for its honey, and a grocery shop, are either directly or indirectly linked to the lake, the fate of which has been tested for decades.

Endangered environment

Since the Soviet era, profligate use of the lake’s water for irrigation and electricity generation had caused the level of the lake to drop by 20 meters, with dramatic consequences for the natural environment. Today, thanks to a rescue plan, the water level is rising again, giving hope that the lake can re-gain its original shape.

However, a major threat still looms over the delicate lake’s ecosystem and the people living in the dozens of lakeside villages. “In the past years, the lake has become very polluted,” explains Azat. “It’s a problem for our work; the number of clients has decreased.” The danger for public health is even greater; until recently, none of the towns and villages around the lake had any wastewater treatment or adequate sewage disposal. Outdated waste water collection systems, utilising damaged pipes and unsanitary cesspits, would discharge raw sewage into rivers and streams flowing directly into the lake.

Securing water sanitation

To help the Armenian government bear the high costs of a wastewater system upgrade in five municipalities around the lake, the EBRD has provided a €7 million loan and the European Union has contributed a €5 million capital expenditure grant. The project includes sewer pipe repairs in the Sevan and Jermuk area and construction of sewer networks and wastewater treatment plants to serve the towns of Gavar, Vardenis and Martuni. These are among the most destitute areas of Armenia, a country where 30 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line.

The government has on-lent the EBRD funds to the Armenian Water and Sewerage Company (AWSC). “We have already built 50 km of sewerage network and wastewater collectors,” announces Alexander Ohanyan, AWSC’s senior officer. “We are about to finish building the three wastewater treatment stations.”  The works are expected to be completed by the summer. “Thanks to this programme, the water will be treated and the environment will be spared further pollution”.

Skills transfer with donor support

To support the preparation and implementation of this first EBRD Municipal and Environmental Infrastructure operation in Armenia, the Early Transition Country’s Fund and the EU provided €1.1 million for technical cooperation (TC) projects. This will encourage the transfer of knowledge and skills to the AWSC and they in turn expose the company to best practices in design, engineering and high standards of transparency and governance in procurement.

“It will be delightful to see the lake clean again,” comments Azat strolling on the beach after a long day at work. “The neighbors and the guests are very happy that so much attention is being paid towards cleaning the water. It’s very important for our health and for our business”.

To secure a healthier environment and to improve people’s lives, the EBRD, recently signed another water project in Armenia which will see a further €20 million from the Bank, the EIB and the EU invested in water supply and wastewater system improvements in 17 other small municipalities across the country.