By Atom Markarian
The government allocated on Thursday 507 million drams ($900,000) in “preliminary” urgent assistance to residents of the mainly rural areas across Armenia hit hard by last week’s spring floods which officials described as the worst in decades.
Nearly one third of the money is to be used for repairing schools and providing new housing to some 50 families left homeless by the disaster. The Agriculture Ministry will receive some 200 million drams to ease substantial damages suffered by largely low-income farmers in the areas flooded by swollen mountain rivers.
Their modest agricultural plots have reportedly borne the brunt of the floods that were coupled with high winds in some parts of the country. According to Hovik Abrahamian, the minister for local government, the floodwaters washed away summer wheat crops covering at least 2,500 hectares of land. He said the state will help farmers carry out the sowing anew or plant potatoes in lieu of wheat. They will also get government subsidies for the purchase of badly needed fertilizers, he added.
Armenia’s agricultural sector regularly and heavily suffers from natural calamities like drought, hail and cold snaps. Compensation provided by the government in such cases has been marginal for the vast majority of farmers.
Speaking to reporters, Abrahamian admitted that the total damage inflicted by the floods on Armenian agriculture is much higher than the initial government compensation. The government has not yet come up with any financial estimates of its scale.
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian told on Thursday Abrahamian and other relevant ministers to complete the ongoing damage assessment and suggest a more detailed plan of action within the next ten days. He also instructed the Foreign Ministry to inform the World Bank and other international aid agencies about the consequences of the flood and seek their material assistance.
The floods are widely blamed on a sudden surge in air temperatures that caused a massive thaw of snow on mountain slopes feeding the rivers. “There have probably been no such winds and floods in the republic in the last 20 or 30 years,” Abrahamian said.