Severe Flooding Creating New IDPs in Azerbaijan
When the sun finally came out recently, women at a temporary camp in Shirvan, in central Azerbaijan, tried to tidy the tents they now call home, and restore a semblance of normalcy to their lives.
"The Kura River made us Internally Displaced Persons, not the Karabakh conflict," recounted Parvana, a 42-year-old woman from the village of Polad Togay, as tears rolled down her face. "The water suddenly caught us. . . .It was strong and no house could withstand it.”
Heavy rains during the month of May have caused flooding in 20 villages surrounding the Kura River, Azerbaijan's main waterway, which enters the country from Georgia, where it is called the Mtkvari. The river is rising at the fastest rate in a century, according to officials.
Some 20,000 people – or more than 4,300 families – in 20 villages near the Kura River have been affected by the flooding so far, the Ministry of Health reports.
The hardest hit area is Sabirabad District southwest of Baku, near the confluence of the Kura and Araz rivers. Thousands of houses remain under water and thousands more – constructed from a mixture of loam and hay – have been destroyed. About 50,000 hectares of farmland have been inundated. The Ministry of Agriculture estimates the damage done so far at some 50 million manats, or about $62.5 million.
Roughly 2,000 Ministry of the Interior troops and police officers are involved in the disaster relief effort in Sabirabad, as well as the nearby regions of Imishli, Saatli and Hajigabul. Gas supplies to and train traffic in the regions were halted on May 25, the Azerbaijan Business Center reported.
About 1,200 soldiers are assisting the Ministry of Emergency Situations with strengthening dams on the Kura and Araz River, but the flooding shows little sign of abating.
Another eight villages near Sarisu Lake, which receives water from the Kura near where the Sabirabad, Saatli and Imishli districts converge, have now been flooded, the APA news agency reported on May 25. Twenty-two villagers from the area have been rescued, the Ministry for Emergency Situations announced on May 25.
Officials have reported that the water level at a dam upstream on the Kura River is already at its capacity. To relieve pressure on the dam, water needs to be released from the Mingachevir Reservoir, northwest of Sabirabad region, but this could add to the floodwaters downstream.
Etibar Pirverdiyev, the president of the Azerenergy State Company, which manages the Mingachevir Reservoir for hydropower generation, told reporters on May 24 that the reservoir situation is “stable,” but is being closely monitored. A third of the reservoir’s water has already been released, he said.
In an effort to reduce the threat of flooding in the future, the government plans to divert the Araz River, in effect creating a new, 130-kilometer-long branch of the waterway, the APA agency quoted State Committee for Land and Cartography Chairman Garib Mammadov as saying on May 24. No completion date for the project was specified.
Ecology and Natural Resources Minister Huseyn Bagirov has said that he does not see any environmental problem if the Kura and Araz rivers are separated – a statement that will likely generate considerable debate among environmentalists.
Right now, the more than 1,300 people from Sabirabad living at the Shirvan tent camp have more immediate concerns. In addition to the tent camp, some 250 to 300 IDPs from Sabirabad region are temporarily living in a technical college and roughly 150 persons in a high school in Shirvan.
Most of those interviewed by EurasiaNet.org expressed gratitude for the government’s efforts, which included basic medical care. Many, however, are clearly reeling in shock from the loss of their homes. “Thank goodness! The government has created good conditions," said 48-year-old Vasilya Chakhalova, who fled with her husband and four children from the village of Alambayli on the night of May 10.
Camp residents receive milk, eggs, butter, rice, buckwheat, meat and water three times a day, but some complain that they have not yet received fresh clothes. The sun is creating a different challenge. The camp is located on an open plain with no trees. Residents make do by spraying themselves with water, one 70-year-old IDP said.
As of May 25, officials said no request had been made for international assistance to help with flood relief efforts.
Mina Muradova is a freelance reporter based in Baku.
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