A number of 'Ws' remain unanswered concerning
water problems resulting from a ruptured pipe
some three weeks ago. Who will take responsibility
for the inconvenience of hundreds of thousands
of citizens and the hospitalization of more than
200? And, when?
The "Why" is being investigated by
the General Prosecutor's Office, while one explanation
has to do with old pipes and the old problem of
no money to fix them.
But for average citizens, the most aggravating
element of it all is that no elected or appointed
official has apologized for the fact that their
constituents' drinking water got mixed with sewage.
It does not mean that officials do not care at
all, they simply are not well brought up. One
of the recent parliamentary discussions of the
issue clearly showed that the water accident could
be viewed from different points.
The most important is an economic aspect: it's
clear that the whole water supply system needs
to be renovated. According to press secretary
of Yerevan Water Canal Murad Sarkisyan, 30 percent
of city pipes can be compared with a rusty sieve.
Another 30 percent aren't expected to last another
decade. The remaining 40 percent, should work
"Yerevan was developing faster than its
water supply system," Sarkisyan says. "The
first pipe line appeared on December 23, 1911.
There was only one water reservoir for 150 cubic
meters then, which was filled by Katnakhpiur spring
(20km north from Yerevan) and nine places where
water was being sold.
"The city was growing up, new pipes were
built but again the construction was not enough
to serve citizens' needs. For instance, new buildings
were being connected to the pipes by temporary
schemes and stayed that way. The Soviet government
never had a proper water policy, nor proper management.
As a result Yerevan suffered (still is) from a
lack of water, though the springs around could
supply at least two cities like it."
In the recent calamity, some are blaming the
Italian company "A. Utility", which
in 1999 won an international tender for water
management rights in Yerevan. But the company's
director Richard Wolkling says mishaps are common
for the Armenian water system and it's up to investigators
to find out the cause of the recent one.
"To manage the system first of all meant
to be aware of the amount of water both in pipes
and in people's apartments," water expert
Sarkisyan says. "We had to know how many
liters are being used, and what is the percentage
of loses to estimate the condition of pipes, the
needs of the city and draft our further plans.
It's unbelievable, but we did not have water meters
even at the main pipes."
According to Sarkisyan, almost $12 million was
spent on construction of pumps, laboratories,
water meters, cars, field offices, staff, etc.
The remaining 15 million (from a World Bank and
Government of Armenia allotment of $27 million)
is to be spent on buying new pipes (imported from
Germany, with a 50-year guarantee), for partial
renovation and for creating separate supply zones
for each city district.
Yerevan Water Canal promises round-the-clock
water supply to 80 percent of Yerevan by the end
of 2004 (presently about 35 percent get 24-hour
water). But it doesn't promise that water will
not be contaminated again.
"Water is coming to Yerevan from locations
we are not in charge of," Sarkisyan says.
"And please do not forget that the sewage
system also needs reconstruction. To get rid of
all the problems related to water it is necessary
to implement a general project, which will cost
approximately $450 million. The sum is so huge
that there is no sense even to dream about it."
Yerevan is fed by 13,000 liters of pure spring
water every second. What is happening to this
purest water on its way to the Armenian capital?
"People have a right to know what they drink",
says pensioner Armenui Shiladjyan.
In this rare case, members of the National Assembly
in the past several days are agreeing with the
pensioner. In Parliament these days, politics
are being mixed into the water debate (as if it
weren't polluted enough from sewage).
Addressing Prime Minister Andranik Margaryan,
Constitutional Right Union leader Hrant Khachatryan
said: "You treat people like cattle. You
even do not know that there are people who can
not afford to buy bottled water for 200 drams
(30 cents). And you want them to pay for the sewage
Margaryan dismissed the charge, claiming that
the Government never treated people that way,
and promised that all guilty of water contamination
will be punished.
Another PM, Gurgen Arsenyan, a successful businessman
and United Labor party member who lives in the
district most affected by the contamination said:
"As a citizen I hoped that I would be warned
that water in my apartment was damaging for my
health. Only 30 hours after the accident we learned
about that. I want to ask people who have profits
from water business, whose salaries are paid from
our taxes why they neglect their duties and who
is going to be responsible for risking the health
of 300,000 people?"(The population of affected
Members of the opposition Justice Bloc say they've
already found the guilty party.
"We can't rely on government officials,
neither on investigators. The main guilty one
is the President," Justice faction member
Aram Sarkisyan said.
According to him and his Bloc colleagues, water
contamination is a valid reason for the president
Meanwhile Dashnak PM Hrayr Karapetyan joined
other deputies in encouraging their colleagues
to not politicize the issue.
"The issue is complicated enough and it's
better to find solutions rather than speculate,"
The political majority share his opinion though
there is a little belief that answers will exhaust
"Some politicians are happy to exploit the
incident and all are eager to find out and punish
the guilty. I am afraid that the easiest way out
is to punish Yerevan Water Canal even if we had
nothing to do with water contamination,"
"As for accusations that we had to inform
the population earlier, we were rejected from
TV access on Oct.26, Sunday night. TV companies
who now are criticizing us harshly did not provide
us time to warn citizens. And honestly, earlier
(while water was being sampled) we could not even
imagine that the accident was so serious."