Author: Sabira ALAKBAR
What happens if there is no water? The answer is obvious. This summer, during the pandemic, Azerbaijan faced a serious problem of shortage of drinking water. In the days of lockdown, residents of several villages of Baku experienced serious water supply problems. In Neftchala, Salyan and other lowland areas of the country the situation threatens to turn into a real catastrophe. Experts acknowledge that water scarcity is a serious environmental problem that requires immediate solutions and investment.
It is hardly worth waiting for a miracle. Environmentalists warned in April that Azerbaijan will face yet another drought. The experts of the Ministry of Environment measured the height, volume and density of the thin snow cover along river basins in the mountains and foothills of the Greater and Lesser Caucasus and concluded that in the current summer season, the water level in mountainous rivers of the Greater Caucasus will be 69-84% of the long-term norm.
In particular, in the Shamkir reservoir fed from the Kura River the water level is 55-67% of the norm. A similar situation is in the Mingachevir (52-79%) and Araz reservoirs (45-65%).
In the local rivers of the country in the northwest (Balaken-Sheki, Oguz-Gabala) and the northeast (Guba-Gusar-Khachmaz) areas of the country (the Greater Caucasus), the water level is slightly lower than the long-term norm (81-102%). In the rivers of the Lesser Caucasus (Dashkesan-Gadabay-Goygol), the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and the Lankaran-Astara region, the water level is 42-80%. Environmentalists say the current situation is similar to the one last year.
One of the reasons of water deficit is the increase in air temperature, which, accordingly, causes a large water consumption. The last 40 years are considered the hottest in Azerbaijan, says Academician Ramiz Mammadov, director of the Institute of Geography of the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences (ANAS). At the same time, the temperature increase for the entire territory of Azerbaijan is close to the world average (0.9°C), while the temperature increase is not evenly distributed, since Azerbaijan is a mountainous country, and also due to the presence of various climatic zones in the country.
According to the Scientific Secretary of the Institute of Geography of ANAS, Mirnukh Ismayilov, water reserves in Azerbaijan make up only 31 cubic kilometres (ckm), 70% of which is formed in neighbouring countries. This creates significant problems for the country. But annual consumption in Azerbaijan exceeds 13 ckm. It turns out that we consume more than water sources generated locally. The lion’s share of this volume is used for irrigation purposes. At the same time, most of the acreage in Azerbaijan is located in arid territories, and therefore, additional irrigation is required during hot summers.
Reserves are not replenished
The receipt of water from external sources in Azerbaijan is also problematic. We can observe decrease in the volume of water from transit rivers. This is also true for the Gabyrly River originating in Georgia. This is one of the five major rivers. Georgians have constructed several water reservoirs on the river. That’s why Azerbaijan receives less water from the river, which creates problems in villages located along the river channel. A special irrigation system from the Gabyrly River is currently constructed on the eastern side of the Jeyranchol Plains.
Azerbaijan’s water reserves are also affected by water reservoirs created in Iran along the rivers flow into the Araz River. In addition, the reservoirs on the Bolgarchay River (Azerbaijan), which originates in Iran, are not filled with water. “Our water supplies are not replenished, while the population is growing. To avoid a possible problem with water supply, we must take relevant measures today. It is necessary to develop less water-intensive areas of agriculture. It is also necessary to develop and implement various projects to provide Baku with enough water. There are enough water reserves around the Samur-Yalama zone that can be used to construct new water pipelines,” Mr. Mammadov said.
Muhammed Abduyev, Doctor of Geography, noted that the problems of water supply in Azerbaijan are associated with the drought. Due to climatic changes, the volume of precipitation in the country has decreased. The bulk of Azerbaijan’s water reserves is collected at the Mingachevir Reservoir. When the water level reaches 83 m, the volume of water is 16 ckm. Currently, the water level in the reservoir is only 67 m, which means that the volume has decreased by more than half and is 7.5-8 ckm.
The drying out of water reserves in the country is observed at the Araz and Lankaran rivers, as well as other water sources originating on the north-eastern slopes of the Greater Caucasus.
The total water supply in recent years has decreased to 19-20 ckm.
“The Kura River is the main waterway of Azerbaijan. The volume of water in the Kura has decreased by 30%,” Mr. Mammadov said. In addition, 80% of water resources are used for agriculture, and in the event of drought, water deficit will become even larger.
“The Kura-Araz lowlands is the main area of irrigated agriculture in Azerbaijan. Without water, productivity there will drop dramatically,” professor warned.
Absheron Peninsula does not have water sources. According to Mr. Abduyev, water from the Kura-Baku, Oguz-Gabala, Takhtakerpu reservoirs and Samur-Absheron canal is collected in the Jeyranbatan Reservoir, which provides water to all settlements on the Absheron Peninsula. And a decrease in the volume of water from these sources will ultimately affect consumers.
Right approach and technology
Mr. Abduyev believes that to help solve the existing problem with water deficit, it is necessary to save water. It is also important that new technologies based on dripping are used in agriculture and irrigation. This method has been practiced in Azerbaijan but today the main method of irrigation is still surface non-mechanised irrigation, which means a large loss of water. “If we continue to use surface irrigation further, we can be left without water,” Abduyev said. In addition, population must use water thriftily. The reservoirs must be constructed in river valleys and places not used in farming. “It was planned to build 30 reservoirs in such places. About 15 of them are ready. Thanks to melting of snow in spring, the meltwater can be collected in these reservoirs. So far this is the only way out, there is no other way. Desalinated water of the Caspian Sea can be used in technical fields,” Abduyev said.
Under these conditions, it is very important to reconsider our attitude to water consumption. It is true that Azerbaijan has desalinate water from the Caspian. In this case, it can be used for technical purposes: in agriculture, in industrial production, as well as in service facilities such as car washes. Under present conditions, it is hard to see how pure drinking water is used in places where it would be possible to use technical water. Prudent methods of water consumption will allow us to preserve this valuable and irreplaceable resource to prevent the disruption of the water cycle. Subsequently, it is possible to develop a system for the use of industrial water in apartments, for example, in drain tanks. Improved education in kindergartens, schools, universities, among workers and employers can also help increase awareness of the issue of prudent water consumption. For example, it is of paramount importance to turn off the tap after washing hands, brushing teeth, seeing water flowing freely on the street, etc. Under existing conditions, a prudent attitude to water consumption should become part of Azerbaijan’s social policy.
Will there be water?
Anar Jabrailly, the head of Public Relations department of Azərsu OJSC, admits that there are indeed problems with water supply in Baku. However, this issue will be solved in the near future. “Recently, we achieved a certain stability by adjusting the water supply regimes. Currently, the department is engaged in eliminating local problems, such as in some streets of Masazir, in the fishing areas of the Binagadi district of Baku, as well as in some parts of the villages of Pirshaghy, Zabrat and Kurdakhany,” Jabrailly said.
According to the company representative, the population will receive drinking water same as before. Enough water has been collected in storage facilities. Compared to previous days, one more cubic meter of water flows from the Kura River per second. Water supply to the Jeyranbatan Reservoir has been increased. At the same time, the specialists of the company are taking serious measures to control communications and regulate supply regimes. All these measures will make it possible to fully ensure the necessary water supply.
Scientists are also involved in solving the problem. They explore the possibility of attracting additional volumes of water to Baku using the potentials of the Kura River, the Jeyranbatan Reservoir, and the Shollar spring. After exploring all these possibilities, experts will send the government a package of proposals to address the problem of water shortage.
President Ilham Aliyev also discussed the problem of water shortage in Azerbaijan during a recent video conference with the head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Suma Chakrabarti. President said that Azerbaijan suffered from a serious drought in 2019. “One of the industries that we are paying serious attention to is irrigation and water supply. I established a special government commission to create a roadmap for the future of water management systems. Unfortunately, the infrastructure has become out of date significantly. In some areas, water loss in Azerbaijan is 40-50%, given that the country has not enough water resources. Such a waste is unacceptable.” The President emphasised that the government intends to act in this direction in one or two months. He invited the World Bank to partner with Azerbaijan in terms of financing, monitoring and consultation, given the vast experience of WB in this area. Over the past months, the president has signed a number of orders to improve the provision of irrigated water to sown areas and water supply to the population in several regions of the country.
Specialists hope that it will possible to effectively use the underground reserves , which amount to 8 billion cubic meters. This water can be used in case of more serious problems with conventional reserves, Mutallim Abdulhasanov, head of department at the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, believes.
“We can use the volume of underground water resources in case of difficulties due to lack of water resources in the future, as our groundwater is clean and fully suitable for use. The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources is constantly searching for underground water sources,” says Mr. Abdulhasanov.
At the same time, Mr. Abdulhasanov noted that the waters of the Araz and Kura rivers flowing through Azerbaijan are polluted in the territories of neighbouring countries, which prevents their use as drinking water.
Therefore, the water supply to a number of settlements in Azerbaijan is ensured through underground sources. “It is important that the use of water for technical purposes is limited,” Rasim Sattarzade, head of department of the ministry added.
International experts claim that forests and green spaces play a huge role in maintaining water balance and combating drought. Therefore, a competent green policy should be pursued in Azerbaijan to recreate and restore forests. What do forests do? They reduce the risks associated with soil erosion, landslides, avalanches and irrational use of forest resources thereby significantly contributing to the functioning of systems responsible for maintaining clean water reserves on the planet, as well as a the balanced water cycle. In addition, forests are one of the main components of water management in catchment areas - an integrated approach to the use of natural resources in the geographic region of the catchment. Water management in the catchment area is an environmentally friendly way to protect and restore areas prone to soil degradation and erosion in high mountain regions. One of the key parameters taken into account when planning measures to regulate water runoff from the catchment is the characteristics of the forest and soil. In addition, the measures to restore and improve soil fertility (e. g. through reforestation) have many advantages and are an integral element of any water management plan in the catchment area and combating drought. The presence of large areas with green spaces reduces air temperature, which creates conditions for the water cycle in nature.