- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
March 26, 2004

Money for Nothing: Town's residents pay for water, but hardly get it

With the spring sun and snow melting off rooftops, pans appear under gutters of houses in the town of Tchambarak . Residents take the water inside the four-storied apartment homes to do laundry or wash dishes.

They are not simply being frugal or eager to use natural resources. This is the delivery system for a town that has practically been without water for more than a decade.

Tchambarak's water system

“I've been carrying water to the fourth floor for twelve years,” says Dariko Chavleyashvili, who has filled two buckets under the gutter and is about to take it up to the fourth floor. “Now, it's ok, it's become a little bit better, we have water once a week, but our apartment is on the fourth floor, so it doesn't get there.”

Last year, services were partially restored, bringing water to Tchambarak once every three to 10 days. Still, many don't use it for drinking since the water that comes from the tap is muddy and looks even dirtier than what comes from the gutter. People bring drinking water from a neighboring village about one and a half kilometers away.

Tchambarak, (previously Karmir, meaning “red”) has about 8,000 residents on the north side of Lake Sevan , bordering Azerbajian. During the Karabakh war, it was a direct and frequent target and traces of war damage are still apparent.

The most universal and lasting war scar is the destroyed water system. Not since Soviet times have residents known daily water service.

“As soon as we started water supply (last year) there hasn't been a day without an accident. The pipes explode,” says the director of Water-pipe Line State CJSC Gagik Balyan. “Each time I ask my friends to bring a tractor and start digging to eliminate damage. But how many times can one ask? Even if the pipe does not explode it's rotten and water seeps through the soil. That's why we have muddy water.”

The water-supply components are also destroyed and so drinking water is chlorinated by hand.

“Luckily, nobody has been infected yet but it's very dangerous, as epidemic can break out at any time,” says Balyan.

In different parts of the city traces of breakdown still can be seen where holes have been filled. In other places, repairs have not been made and water seeps.

Melting snow turns gutters into springs

But in such conditions, residents are still required to pay 250 drams (about 45 cents) per month and are required to install water meters. Last month, the government collected about $275 in water fees from the town, where even weekly water is a luxury.

“My salary is 5000 drams (about $9), but every day they knock at my door 5000 times and say, ‘money for water, money for water.' Do they think we must thank the government for the fact that it snows and water gathers,” says one resident of the “gutter system”.

An estimated 250 million drams (about $440,000) would be necessary to return regular water service to Tchambarak. But there is no government financing programs for renewing the service. Officials of the town say that maybe when Yerevan and its nearby places are properly served, then Tchambarak's time will come.

“Residents of this place are very conscientious,” Balyan says. “About 95 percent of them pay electricity fees (in some regions, only about 60 percent pay). If they repair the system, people, despite they live in hard social conditions, will be paying water charges. But why must they pay now? What for?”

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