Water scarcity is among the main problems faced by the World in the 21st century: the water demands are increasing, whereas the resources are decreasing. According to the UN, one third of the World's population (an estimated 2.2 billion people) lacks an access to the safely managed drinking water. In 2040 the global water demand may increase by more than 50%, and by 2050 - up to 5.7 billion people will be living in the territories with a fresh water scarcity at least one month a year. For Azerbaijan the fresh water issue is of great relevance, since about 70% of the country surface water resources are heavily dependent on the external inflow of waters from neighboring countries. However, neither Georgia nor Armenia - from where the majority of rivers flow into the territories of Azerbaijan - have yet joined the Helsinki Convention on Transboundary Watercourses. This international document adopted in 1992 in Helsinki (Finland) serves as a mechanism for strengthening the national measures and international cooperation aimed at achieving the environmentally sound management and protection of the transboundary surface and ground waters. It shall be noted that if the bilateral work on the ecological state of waters in the Kura River is being carried out between Azerbaijan and Georgia, then, with Armenia, due to the 30-year territorial conflict and occupation of the Azerbaijani lands, any regional cooperation on the management of the common water resources of the Araz River does not seem possible. The Araz River, the largest right tributary of the Kura River, is playing a crucial role in providing the water resources to irrigate the farming lands in Azerbaijan. However, the water quality of this river is far from perfect. The victory of Azerbaijan in the 44-day Patriotic War ending the previous occupation by Armenia of the Azerbaijani lands has given an access to the Azerbaijani ecologists to the local rivers flowing, in particular, through the territories of the Zangilan district. The results of the water test portions taken in the Okhchuchay River, flowing further into the Araz River, have revealed a high content of heavy metals. Specifically, copper, molybdenum, manganese, iron, zinc and chromium. «The level of pollution of this river is higher than that of some other border rivers. According to the monitoring carried out in January-March 2021, the content of nickel is 7 times, iron is 4 times, and copper-molybdenum compound is 2 times higher than the norm», - Mehman Nabiyev, a specialist from the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Azerbaijan told the reporters on April 8, 2021. According to him, in early March 2021, a pollution of the Okhchuchay River could be seen with the naked eye – back then it was reported that some valuable species of a trout were killed.
Photo: The monitoring of the Okhchuchay River - March 2021 The high content of heavy metals in the waters ruins not only the fluvial fauna, but is also extremely dangerous for the human health. Usage of the contaminated water can bring to detrimental consequences - from the disorders of gastrointestinal tracts, destructive processes in kidneys and bone tissue up to the disorders of cardiovascular, nervous and hematopoietic systems of the body. For instance, a high content of a manganese in the water is critical for kids, since it bears a risk of developing a disease of the kids’ musculoskeletal system called a «manganese rickets». The researches have also revealed a lead’s carcinogenic effect on the human body. The lead poisoning can affect children's mental development. It is a common fact that a major number of the salts of heavy metals enter the environment by the anthropogenic way – mainly as a result of emissions from the extractive and processing enterprises. This gives reason to believe that the Zangezur Copper Molybdenum Combine (operating the Kajaran mine), as well as the «Chaarat Kapan» Company (the former Kapan Mining and Processing Combine), are not complying with the environmental standards, dumping their production wastes directly into the Okhchuchay River, without any preliminary treatment. The Zangezur Copper Molybdenum Combine is one of the key industrial enterprises and the largest taxpayer in Armenia. The company operates the largest in the South Caucasus Kajaran Copper Molybdenum Combine – a producer of the metals’ concentrates, and is owned by the German «Cronimet Holding» company. The Kapan Mining and Processing Plant also belongs to the Armenian major taxpayers. The enterprise exploits the Shahumyan Gold-Polymetallic deposit and produces concentrates with gold and silver contents. After a number of resales since 2019, it has become a part of the British «Chaarat Gold International Limited» company with its headquarters in London and is now called the «Chaarat Kapan» CJSC. Both enterprises are located in the Syunik province of Armenia (which is the historical Azerbaijani territory of Zangezur), between the major part of Azerbaijan in the east and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan in the west. The acknowledgement of the fact that these two enterprises operating in the Syunik province of Armenia do ignore the world eco-standards has been highlighted in the reports by the government agencies of Armenia, as well as in the messages from the Armenian environmental activists published in the Armenian media. In October 2019 the Press Service of the Ministry of Emergency Situations of Armenia reported that the toxic wastes from the Kajaran Copper Molybdenum Combine, due to a damage of the «tailings» dump, had leaked into the Voghji River (the Armenian name for the Okhchuchay River). «This morning at 08:40 a.m., our «911» service have received a signal that the Voghji River (The Editor Comment – the Okhchuchay River) in the Syunik area changed its color to a white one. The Emergencies Ministry officials have revealed that it occurred as a result of the river pollution caused by a damage of the plant's waste storage located near the village of Nerkin Giratah, Syunik province», - the ministry informed. Pan-Armenian Environmental Front member Levon Galstyan noted that it was a gross failure, which resulted in a leakage of a huge amount of emissions from the combine into the environment. He added that such severe accidents had occurred before. «In the last 6-7 years alone, a score of such cases have been recorded, and each time either the accident or its consequences have been concealed», - the environmental activist said. Levon Galstyan announced this accident an «ecological crime» and called for bringing to justice both the relevant risk assessors and the risk controllers.
Photo: The monitoring of the Okhchuchay River - March 2021 Another environmental activist from the Syunik province, Boris Sargsyan, has noted that the Voghji River (The Editor Comment – the Okhchuchay River) was polluted along its entire length - at least along 50 km. The waters of the Voghji River flow all the way to the Araz River. «Notwithstanding the fact that it is not for the first time such an accident has happened here, this one is an unprecedented huge catastrophe with enormous pollutions. The bad smells are spreading all around the neighborhood territories» - he said. Six months before this accident the combine was fined for violating the terms of the agreement signed with the Government, as well as for the combine’s non-compliance with the environmental standards. In 2017 the combine reportedly mined 27.2 million tons of ore, while, in accordance with a licensing agreement signed with the Government, the combine was to extract and process only up to 22 million tons of ore per year. In addition, the company mined more ore than was agreed, however, it processed less ore at the end. The processing plant received only 19.65 million tons of ore, the remaining several million tons were stored on the territory of the open pit. An excess of the maximum permissible emissions into the environment was also detected. As for the Kapan mine, it is known that as a result of the accident at the tailing pipe in 2017 the surrounding territories of around 1,800 sq. m. got contaminated. The fact of a harm caused to the environment was officially recognized and the respective company was fined. In March 2018, the three employees working at the mine were hospitalized with an acute exogenous poisoning diagnosis. One of them, a loader driver (born in 1994) died at the hospital. To the fact of the death there was initiated a criminal case under the Article related to the violation of safety rules during the mining, construction or other works resulting in the wrongful death. The government agencies of Armenia also recognize a pollution of the Okhchuchay River. In particular, L. Margaryan, a member of the Ecology and Nature Protection Safety Center at the Yerevan State University, confirmed a deterioration of the water quality in the river due to a high content of molybdenum, iron, copper, zinc, chromium and other heavy metals. In October 2019 the «Azatutyun» Armenian media outlet wrote: «The Voghji River (The Editor Comment – the Okhchuchay River), the second largest one in the Zangezur district, has become unsuitable for irrigation due to the surrounding industrial areas’ activities. All fish have gone extinct». It is now obvious, that the mining industry of Armenia, which plays a key role in this country's economy, has been destroying the ecosystems not only of Armenia itself, but also the ecosystems of the neighboring states. Here Azerbaijan is trapped in an assailable position, since the Azerbaijani territories are located downstream of these rivers. Thus, the polluted Okhchuchay River, running into the Araz River, finally enters the Kura River - the main watercourse for Azerbaijan. As a result, the Caspian endorheic basin is under a serious threat. Our next publication will reveal those who stand behind the mine exploitation in the Zangezur district and will discuss how the ruling circles of Armenia, with an assistance of the western companies, are irresponsibly destroying the ecology of the entire South Caucasus for the sake of their own enrichment.
Author: Elena Ostapenko
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