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Serious environmental crisis

Azerbaijan has called on the international community, including the EU, to put pressure on Armenia to prevent river pollution. It has warned that otherwise a “serious environmental crisis” may occur in the Zangilan region in the south west of the country. There is particular mounting concern about pollution levels in the Okhchuchay River, which has its source in Armenia.

Specialists from the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Azerbaijan recently conducted monitoring the 83km-long river for the first time in 27 years.

Test results from water samples taken from the river revealed a high content of heavy metals on the surface, in particular iron, copper, manganese, molybdenum, zinc, chromium and nickel. It was found that the concentration of hazardous substances in sediment samples is much higher than normal and the level of pollution of the river is critical.

Umaira  Taghiyeva, from the Ministry, said the source of the “serious” pollution in the river is in Armenia and, specifically, from one company, the Copper Molybdenum Combine.

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She said the situation was bad that the water in the river has changed colour and is now yellow.

She added, “We have seen mass extinction of fish in the river listed in the Red Book of Azerbaijan and ecological crisis is the cause of this species endangerment.”

“The river was used both for irrigation and drinking water but what we see now impacts adversely and directly on human health.The pollution causes cardiovascular disease, disease of the nervous system and other seriously illnesses.”

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According to official data, until 2019, most of the shares in Combine were owned by the German company, which later announced it was selling those shares. But it is claimed that no measures were taken to combat the discharge of untreated waste into the river in the period since its work started in 2004.

No one from the company was immediately available for comment.

Azerbaijan, however, has now called for pressure to be applied on Armenia to prevent river pollution.

It points out that the 1992 Helsinki convention is designed to prevent such environmental disasters.  

Armenia has not yet acceded to the Helsinki Convention on Transboundary Water Basins, an international document plays the role of a mechanism for the environmentally sound management of transboundary surface and groundwaters and the strengthening of international cooperation and national measures aimed at their protection.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Azerbaijan said, “We urge Armenia to adopt serious measures to stop polluting this river. Water discharge without prior treatment should be prohibited.”

It is said that wastewater is discharged directly into the river without any treatment. This has polluted the river and the concentration of heavy metal is between 5 and 7 times higher than the acceptable or allowable levels.

The monitoring revealed that pollution in the river is extremely high and at a dangerous level and this could leader to an ecological crisis. This, it says, has been caused by chemical pollutants.

There is also a human dimension to the crisis.

Ilgar Mammadov’s home in Jahangerbeyli was near the banks of the river and he has just returned there. The river was the main source of water for the villagers, he says.

He said, “I remember growing up here and playing near the river. I used to catch fish in the river, some very rare species. In  short the river means life for us

“I cannot believe people would knowingly do this knowing that people use the river for recreational use and for drinking.”

The pollution is extremely important, considering that the Okhchuchay fows into the Araz River – the second largest river in the South Caucasus.

The EU and others are now being asked to play their part to stop the irreversible destruction of this unique ecosystem of the region.

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