- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 November 14 , 2003 

Suing Over Sewage: Dashnaks encourage residents to file legal complaints over water problems

Encouraged by Armenia's most powerful political party, thousands of Yerevan residents are expected to sue the Yerevan Water and Sewage JSC, charging that the water company's negligence led to the breakdown of water lines on October 25.

The breakdown affected the routine of approximately 200,000 residents of Arabkir and Central district, where the contaminated water triggered an epidemic of dysentery and sent 260 people to hospital.

The citizens accuse both the water company and the authorities that they did not stop the circulation of the contaminated water into residents' homes. Instead officials appeared on TV the next day urging residents to boil water before drinking.

"We spent a lot of money these days buying bottled water, using electricity and gas to boil the piped water and buying medicines. Who will compensate our expenses?" questioned Arabkir resident Karine Meliksetyan.

The Armenian Dashnaktsutyun (Dashnaks) Party has initiated a special group of lawyers who assist citizens in preparing their suits. Meliksetyan is one of some 600 residents who have already applied to the Dashnaktsutyn representation of Arabkir district.

"We will estimate how much people spend on electricity and bottled water. We are going to take into court the residents' suits and demand both the compensation for financial expenses and moral damage," says lawyer Georgi Martirosyan.

Meanwhile officials continue offering vague explanations of who is charged for the water accident and say the problem is old pipes and a lack of money to repair them. Officials say that the water system in Armenia is worn out and in some districts the pipes and canals were not renovated for several decades.

Albert Hambartsumyan, head of the Communal Department of the Arabkir Municipality told ArmeniaNow that the main problem in the water system is that the drinking water and sewage lines go parallel and intersect in several points, which he says is absolutely unacceptable.

"If the pipes are not safe, only 24-hour water supply will help to reduce the risks of water pipeline breakdowns," Ambartsumyan says.

He explained: "When the pump does not operate, the water flows by its way in the pipe without pressure. It means if there is a hole in a pipe it absorbs whatever it is surrounded by, be it rain or sewage water. If there is a pressure in the pipe it pushes the water and makes it to flush and thus the pressure corks up the pores and prevents possibility of water contamination from the outside."

But the pumps in Armenia are not adapted for round-the-clock supply. Usually residents have pumped water four hours a day and each district has its pump system. The total length of water pipe is about one thousand kilometers. The drinking water is being accumulated from several springs throughout Armenia into nine water collectors from where water goes through lines to the residents' apartments.

Arzni, north of Yerevan, where the breakdown took place is one such collector. Officials say that the breakdown was caused by heavy rains and several lines of Arzni collector were damaged and mixed with sewage.

"Citizens complained that the water during the recent days was hyper chlorinated. But it is how we managed to prevent the spread of the infection," says Artavazd Vanyan, the head of the Yerevan Epidemic Station.

"Usually in Armenia water contains 0.3-0.4 percent of chlorine. After the accident it did not exceed 0.7 percent, the permissible standards of the World Health Organization," Vanyan says.

The specialists do not exclude the possibility of cases of typhoid and hepatitis, the incubation period of which last from 20-50 days

"There is a tiny probability that these diseases might appear, however no one can guarantee that it will not happen" says Ruslana Gevorkyan, Deputy Minister of Health.

"We managed to prevent the spread of dysentery and the water pipes were cleaned by chorine. Two hundred people have already been discharged from the hospital and I hope that there will be no more cases of infection," she says.

The first water pipes were constructed in Armenia as long ago as 1911. For many decades water in Armenia was being qualified as a national value. Armenians were proud of their water and were ready to argue with any foreigner who would say that it is not safe to drink the piped water.

Now people say they will not risk their health and health of their children by using the piped water and do not believe that the water will be pure and tasty as it was before.

So far no official has guaranteed that more breakdowns will not take place, saying instead that huge investments are needed to renovate the water system.

ArmeniaNow, together with the Armenian Consumer Union initiated an independent water examination to reveal if water serving central Yerevan contains any dangerous mixtures. Members of the Union took a sample of water from Arabkir and Center districts of Yerevan to the independent Laboratory of the National Institute of Health.

The results show that both samples correspond to all accepted levels of smell, color, taste, purity and chlorine.


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