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L’environnement , un sujet majeur partout dans le monde

Le 04/07/2020 | Par | Catégorie: BIEN-ÊTRE & SANTE



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Certain Environmental Issues in Armenia
June 2020
Environmental pollution in Armenia has been of concern and issues have been publicly aired for
decades. The fate of Lake Sevan, for example, was a popular topic in the late 1960s due to the drastic
drop of the water level and pollutants flowing into the Lake.
It is widely acknowledged that the environmental movement in Soviet Armenia was a significant force
in bringing about political change during the glasnost and perestroika periods of the late 1980s. Since
becoming independent, many of the environmental organizations lost their significance.
Prior to independence, Armenia was a leader in the former USSR in raising public awareness of
environmental problems. In 1987, an unprecedented demonstration in the Opera Square brought out
about 3,000 people demanding the closure of chemical industries and the Medzamor Nuclear Plant.
The following year, the Spitak earthquake caused residents to further focus on the environment and
construction technology issues.
Despite the role of environmental awareness in creating a collective consciousness in Armenia at that
time, the abrupt collapse of the Soviet Union left Armenia struggling on several fronts. A number of
environmental problems in Armenia became worse during the early years of independence when there
were severe energy shortages, poor quality gasoline, mass deforestation, and inadequate wastewater
treatment.
After the independence, Armenia experienced a huge economic downturn, then underwent major
changes during its transition to a market economy, and consequently faced environmental issues that
required immediate attention. But as a result of the emergence of national security issues at the time
of independence, the environmental issues were not considered as a priority for the public. In addition,
environmental issues took a back seat during the rapid economic development, driven by construction,
a partial restoration of the chemical industry, and expansion in mining operations. Moment-oriented
thinking, lack of capacity, and corruption have hampered responsible political action that would have
benefited the country and its people in the long run.
Recently, the environmental movement in Armenia has gained momentum, but this movement is still
not considered significant for the majority of the population, and this movement is not strong enough
to have a major impact on policy and development. The movement unites a number of non-
governmental organizations (NGOs), but they have limited capabilities and influence. In recent years,
some of these organizations have successfully combined their efforts to solve specific environmental
problems, leading to the improvement of certain projects that could had harmed the environment.
Armenia has ratified many international conventions on issues such as biodiversity, climate change,
desertification, and the preservation of cultural and natural heritage. In addition, the Constitution of
Armenia clearly addresses the protection of nature, the damage to the environment, and the right to
live a healthy life.
Many environmental issues related to water resources, mining, forests, and protected areas are
closely linked to corruption. Often, natural resources are exploited without proper justification.
Moreover, the decisions are made with benefits of certain well-connected groups in mind and are
made without due attention to the long-term sustainable development goals announced by the
government.
Armenia being a country that intends its development to be based on the principles of sustainability,
environmental protection should constitute an integral part of the development process. Thus, almost
three decades after Armenia's independence, the environmental situation in the country remains a
matter of concern.
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The following sections address specific and sensitive environmental issues in Armenia:
Water
As a result of a multitude of acute and complex socio-economic problems as well as a lack of
monitoring and enforcement, freshwater ecosystems (lakes, rivers, and reservoirs) had been severely
impacted. Due to unsustainable use of hydroecosystems for production of energy and economic
development, deep morphometric, hydrophysical, and hydrobiological changes occurred.
The most important players in this field are fish farming in the Ararat Valley and small hydroelectric
power plants on different rivers.
Fish farms use a huge amount of water without having a recycling system. Due to this, the level of
groundwater in the Ararat Valley has dropped by
about 15 meters, and as a result, a large number of
rural wells have dried up. In 2017, the Ministry of
Nature Protection installed SCADA measuring
instrument at a fish farm, which was sending
electronic data to the ministry related to the amount of
water used. The intend was to control that the amount
of water is used is in accordance to the allowed limit.
The main goal was to install the SCADA device on the
wells of all the fish farms, but that project was not
implemented. During that year, a large number of
artesian wells that were no longer in use were capped.
The issue of maintaining clean water in Armenia remains a matter of concern. Water
distribution systems are in urgent need of attention. Aging and corroded infrastructure poses a serious
threat to human health. Water supplies are regularly contaminated by decaying infrastructure that
allows for cross contamination between sewage and freshwater drinking water pipes. Losses from the
water distribution network are as high as 60 percent
in Yerevan, 70 percent in Gyumri, and 75 percent in
Vanadzor.
Yerevan, a city of more than one million
people, is still without a fully functional wastewater
treatment plant. Partially treated waste discharges
directly into the Hrazdan River, the main water supply
for dozens of downstream villages.
Much of the water pollution in the Ararat Valley
occurs because of pesticide use. These pesticides
are flushed into the drainage water during the
irrigation process and flow into receiving rivers and shallow ground water or percolate into soils.
Lake Sevan
Lake Sevan is the largest water body in the Transcaucasus and is one of the largest high-mountain
freshwater lakes in the world. Its wetland ecosystem plays a significant role for migratory birds. Lake
Sevan possesses strategic economic, social, and historical importance along with cultural,
recreational, and spiritual values. Indeed, it is recognized as a national treasure.
Fish farming water usage
Old corroded water pipes of Yerevan
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After World War II seven hydropower stations were built along the Hrazdan River and Lake Sevan’s
water was used to generate electricity. However, due to the extensive and unmanaged use of water
resources for this purpose (and to a lesser degree for agricultural production) the water level of the
lake dropped more than 18 meters within 20 years.
Lowering the water level caused
increases in nitrogen content and
algae growth, decreased biomass of
high-grade water plants, and
destabilization of the ecological
balance of the lake. The situation was
worsened by the sewage from nearby
towns’ treatment plants and pesticide
runoff from the farmlands discharged
into the lake.
Following independence, the illegal
developments of new vacation
homes and hotels along shores of
Lake Sevan, the enjoyment of the
lake by the general population, and the tree cutting/deforestation that took place around the lake, have
been factors against regulating the water levels.
Adverse impacts on the ecosystem include the disappearance of the native lake trout (Ishkhan), as a
result of drying out of the breeding habitats, and increased poaching. Changes in the physical-
chemical characteristics of the water severely affected not only the fish community but also the
waterfowl habitats.
Decades ago, the government undertook steps toward the restoration of the lake’s water balance. The
Arpa-Sevan tunnel (a unique engineering and hydrologic accomplishment) was built in 1961 to direct
part of the Arpa River water into Lake Sevan. Tunnel provides approximately 250 million cubic meters
of water a year to Lake Sevan. Over the years, the government has decided to minimize the use of
lake water for electricity generation and use the water mainly for irrigation purposes. But often these
decisions have not been implemented or have been implemented with violations of the decision.
Although shores of Lake Sevan are part of the Sevan National Park where there are restrictions on
economic activity, hundreds of construction permits have been issued illegally. The government's
decision is that the level of the lake should rise by 6 meters (based on the level of 1996), as a result
of which the lake's environmental system will stabilize. Water level of the lake has risen by 3 meters,
but the government is not interested in further raising the water level. Perhaps one of the reasons is
the interests of the owners of these illegal constructions.
Air
Armenia's standards on air quality are largely in line with the standards of developed countries. Air
pollution laws require that every industrial source meet the pollution concentration standard; however,
these standards are often not enforced.
During the Soviet era, chemical production in Armenia was a major industry known for its high levels
of toxic gas emissions. Almost all of these plants no longer work, so these sources of air pollution no
longer exist.
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Air pollution is an environmental problem in many regions of
Armenia. In Yerevan, for example, the main landfill site,
Nubarashen, burns continuously, producing smoke plumes
that contain emissions from plastics, paints, heavy metals,
among other toxins that then enter the atmosphere. Although
only small amounts of toxic emissions are produced today,
Yerevan’s location in a geologic depression causes this
polluted air to stagnate over the city.
The air in the industrial city of Alaverdi remains polluted. The
content of sulfur dioxide in the air of Alaverdi exceeds the
allowable level. The Armenian Copper Program (ACP), which
is considered the main source of pollution, has moved the main emission stack to the top of the nearby
hill, as a means of mitigating emissions. This is an unacceptable step as a solution to the problem of
air pollution.
Solid Waste
Waste management is at the forefront of environmental concerns, both in Armenian cities and in rural
areas. Only one major landfill, Nubarashen, is serving Yerevan and the surrounding communities. This
landfill is located about 7 kilometers from Yerevan on approximately 40 hectares of land. The landfill
operations began in 1968 and soon it will reach to its capacity. Several housing complexes are located
within a few kilometers of the landfill and a cemetery is situated within a kilometer from the facility.
The natural ground under the Nubarashen landfill is solid bedrock covered by a 1.5-meter deep layer
of clay. The depth of groundwater in the vicinity is below 50 meters. Therefore, it would be unlikely
that any pollutants from the landfill can reach the groundwater table. There are several dozen Soviet-
era barrels containing toxic substances in Nubarashen. The age of these barrels is worrying and can
cause toxic substances to leak out. These toxins need to be eliminated immediately.
Solid waste management is one of the most
problematic services, which is constantly suffering from
a lack of funding and is still being implemented with low
quality. Illegally dumping garbage is very common,
especially when dumping construction waste in
unauthorized places or burning garbage, which emits
toxic chemicals that cause adverse health
consequences. Of particular concern is the
neutralization of hazardous medical waste.
Even though recently the garbage collection process in
Yerevan has been improved, but in the summer of
2019, the state of garbage collection was terrible when
the new mayor wanted to get rid of Sanitek, the
garbage collection company, and organize that work through the municipality. In 2019, Yerevan
Municipality announced a tender for the construction of a new landfill. Surprisingly, there was no
mention in the terms of that tender about the recycling of garbage, which is extremely necessary.
Chemical industry
More than 70 percent of Armenia’s chemical industry was located in the metropolitan Yerevan area
and they were major pollution sources. The Nairit chemical plant, occupying about 200 hectares, first
Stack in Alaverdi
Construction waste in Hrazdan gorge
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started production of rubber and other polymers in 1936 and had a capacity of 58,000 tons per year.
Until 1989, when Nairit was operating at its full capacity it was discharging 15 million m3
of liquid waste
effluent per year into the Hrazdan River.
The Chemical Reagent Plant was another major chemical plant which started operating in 1959 and
it produced 916 different types of reagents. This plant produced high levels of waste due to the use of
outdated and hazardous production techniques used in the operation. Now these huge chemical
plants are no longer operating.
Environmental Studies
The Ministry of Nature Protection of the Republic of Armenia has a department, which is responsible
for reviewing and evaluating environmental impact assessment (EIA) and giving a positive or negative
conclusion. This department does not have the capacity to fully evaluate the EIA of complex projects.
As a result, EIAs prepared for different complex projects do not include all the negative impacts of the
projects in question or the cumulative impact of the projects. These shortcomings create an
unfavorable condition for the environmental impact management.
EIAs prepared for major projects are often just a formality with minimal information to show that it
complies with applicable law. A good example is the 100-page long EIA that was prepared for Teghut
mine. Similar studies in developed countries typically are several hundred pages in length.
It should be noted that the EIA prepared for the Amulsar gold mine can be considered the most
extensive and comprehensive study that has been done in Armenia so far. However, the operation of
this mine will have a great negative impact, especially on Lake Sevan, which is neglected in the EIA,
or these negative impacts are presented as allegedly manageable risks.
A well-prepared EIA should be considered as the basis of making decisions toward having an
environmentally sound project. The enforcement of monitoring plans and regulations are essential to
improvement of the EIA process in Armenia. EIAs prepared so far have not been comprehensive and
do not cover all environmental concerns of the project. Public participation and transparency of the
process are also critical to protect environmental health.
The improvement of the EIA process necessarily requires competent environmental specialists. In
Armenia, the availability of education and training for environmental engineers and scientists falls short
of the levels needed to cope with environmental problems that require urgent attention. Studies related
to environmental engineering and management are provided at Yerevan State University, American
University of Armenia, and the State Engineering University, but these programs are more academic
rather than practical, where the greater need is. In recent years, there have been some improvements
in quality of environmental education in Armenia; however, much more still needs to be done.
Another serious issue regarding the evaluation of possible environmental impacts and enforcing the
implementation of mitigation measures is regulatory structure. There are no clear guidelines about the
process of evaluating and enforcing the required mitigation measures. A strong and fully independent
government agency is needed to ensure that all the recommended mitigation measures are
implemented.
The blurry line between government and large investors is another common reason for not enforcing
the applicable regulations.
Deforestation
Deforestation continues to be a major environmental issue even though the energy crisis of the 1990s
is long over. It is a particularly dire concern for Armenia because only about 7-8 percent of the country
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is covered with forest (down from officially announced 11 percent in the last century), and much of this
forest is degraded.
Armenia is known as one of the global biodiversity hotspots. Because of the country’s unique location
and volcanic origins, it contains a vast array of microclimates and unique habitats for many
endangered plant and animal species found nowhere else on the planet. Given this environmental
heritage, Armenia is in a unique position to provide global leadership in the areas of biodiversity
conservation and ecotourism development.
The impacts of deforestation include increased erosion and landslides, loss of topsoil and arable
farmland, changes in local weather and climate conditions, poor air quality, as well as loss of plant
and animal habitats.
Government action to proceed with the development of mining projects in ecologically sensitive areas
like Teghut demonstrates lack of recognition of the importance of natural forests as biodiversity
resources.
Some positive steps were taken in Armenia during
2017 to 2018 period to prevent the illegal logging in
the forests, but those efforts do not continue today
and the current steps are not sufficient by any
means. It was planned to use high-tech
technologies to stop the illegal logging. That
program was ready to be implemented, but
unfortunately it was not implemented. Instead of
preventing deforestation and preserving forests, an
unrealistic plan has been developed which calls for
planting 10 million trees in a day in Armenia.
In general, the main reason for deforestation in Armenia is the demand for firewood due to the lack of
alternative fuels. In order to solve the current problem, it is necessary to reduce the pressure on the
forests by installing renewable energy sources in the nearby villages, such as using solar energy. It is
also necessary to increase the thermal energy efficiency of houses near forests.
Illegal tree logging is a profitable business in Armenia. The prevailing mindset is that corruption in the
forest sector is linked to business, which is sponsored by high-level government officials. Government
action is insufficient to stop deforestation as a result of illegal logging.
Mining
Mining is a lucrative business for Armenia. Unfortunately, environmental restrictions do not apply to
most of the major mining operations, which damage the ecosystem of the surrounding areas.
Corruption often arises at the stage of granting right to use the mine and obtaining permits.
There are more than 500 mines in Armenia, but most of them are non-metallic, stone and sand mines,
which do not pose great dangers or negative environmental consequences. However, copper,
molybdenum, gold, lead and zinc mines are posing serious problems, and in the case of these mines,
the potential for negative environmental impacts is high. These mines have tailings reservoirs where
toxic substances accumulate, which are by products of the exploitation of mines. Often these toxins
liquids leak out of the tailing reservoirs or absorbed into the soil, creating serious hazards.
Metal mines are mainly sold to large foreign companies, of which the government of Armenia receives
a small percentage of profit as royalty.
Some of the cut trees in Teghut
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ARF's Approaches to the Environment and Natural Resources
ARF is a unique political force that has clear approaches to environmental protection policy. The
following are points from these polices:
● Reorganize environmental protection activities and utilization of natural resources based on
the reasonable and sustainable development principles,
● Water resources inventory, storage, and distribution policy,
● Development of general and special requirements for protection of soil from pollution, by
implementing restrictions on land use, environmental impacts, and development of remedial
measures,
● Management of air emissions from mobile and stationary sources,
● Inventory of natural resources,
● Sustainable forest management,
● Safe waste storage, recycling, utilization, and secondary use,
● Climate change problem solving systems, including adaptability and mitigation,
● Environmentally safe management of hazardous chemicals and their wastes that are
produced and used in Armenia,
● Conservation and sustainable utilization of the wildlife,
● Conservation and balanced utilization of the flora,
● Improve the state environmental impact evaluation system,
● Ensure a unified policy of environmental science, education, and awareness.
In general, the ARF's proposals on environmental policy stem from the imperative of inclusive
development and are built on the principle of implementing an economic model of transition from an
unmanageable consumer economic model to sustainable development. As a result, the exploitation
of non-renewable natural resources will be sharply reduced and the volumes of generated waste will
be limited.
 
Areg Gharabegian – Chairman of the Environmental Protection and Natural Resources Professional
Committee of the Supreme Body of the ARF in Armenia.
Acknowledgement: Parts of the text in this article are from a report intitled “State of Armenia’s
Environment”, published by PFA in 2010 where he was the main author
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ARF / FRA (Fédération Révolutionnaire Arménienne) est le principal parti de la diaspora arménienne, surtout puissant aux USA, avec ses écoles, ses églises , ses institutions. 


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