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Caucasian rivers are also suffering

Azerbaijanian villagers were concerned this summer by the significant fall in the level of the Koura. This 1,515 km long river, whose source lies in north eastern Turkey, crosses Georgia and Azerbaijan before flowing into the Caspian Sea, is the main water reserve of the south Caucasus. The fall in the river’s discharge highlights the harmful effects of climate change on water resources, worsened by inadequate water management.


Prolonged water shortage  


During the summer period, the Koura reached a historically low level in several regions, leading in particular to the infiltration of salt water from the Caspian Sea. The water has become unfit for consumption by cattle and human beings. The farmers were obliged to have water delivered by truck. This is a time-consuming and expensive emergency solution that the inhabitants of the village of Banka, contacted by AFP, want to see come to an end. The problem of access to water is not new in Azerbaijan, as the situation of the village of Garakhanli near the Armenian border has shown. Indeed, the drying of the canal, formerly supplied by the Koura, more than 10 years ago, has obliged the government to install pumps in this area. However, these only supply water for two hours a day, making it necessary for the inhabitants to have water brought to them by truck, once again.

In 2008, the Koura and its largest tributary, the Araxe, supplied 70% of Azerbaijan’s drinking water. A report by USAID, published in 2017, showed that the reduction and variability of rainfall and the increase in temperatures, especially during summer, are leading to falls in the discharges of Azerbaijan’s streams and rivers that could reach 10 to 20%. This is without counting the recurrence of floods, potentially responsible for the destruction of small reservoir dams, and glacier melting, all phenomena that threaten access to water throughout the country.

Resource governance in question


The impact of climate change on water resources is real. Nonetheless the researchers questioned by AFP underlined that “poor” water management is another decisive factor of shortages

The increased number of terrestrial and fish farms along the Koura has led to higher consumption. Excessive irrigation prevents the balanced distribution of water use.

Another factor possibly contributing to the problem is the Mingäçevir reservoir, which supplies the country’s largest hydropower plant.

Lastly, since the Koura is a cross-border river, the actions of neighbouring countries impact the quality and quantity of the resource available in Azerbaijan, the country furthest downstream.

In July, the President of the Parliamentary Commission on Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment, Sadiq Qurbanov, emphasised the responsibility of the countries in the basin regarding water pollution. As early as 2015, the OECD published a report presenting the advantages of cooperation over the Koura between Azerbaijan and Georgia. Although the two countries have started discussions, nothing has yet been signed.

What is more, relations with neighbouring Armenia are particularly tense and its army controls a issued by the Council of Europe. It accused Armenia of deliberately holding back water to use it as a political weapon against Azerbaijan.

The president  Ilham Aliyev in videoconference with his government on the issue of water.

Nationally, alarms long sounded by scientists and the population about the level of the Koura and increasingly difficult access to water are now being heeded by the government. In July, the President, Ilham Aliyev, launched a programme to manage water resources more sustainably, with the adoption of an action plan for 2020-2022. In particular, it includes the excavation of ten new reservoirs.

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