By Karine Kalantarian
A state-owned utility firm on Thursday effectively admitted its failure to fulfill the Armenian government’s pledge to ensure around-the-clock supplies of drinking water to at least 80 percent of Yerevan households by the end of last year.
Garnik Aleksanian, a senior executive from the Yerevan Water and Sewerage Company, told RFE/RL that only 72.4 percent of city residents currently have running water for 24 hours a day.
However, anecdotal evidence suggests that the real figure is much lower. Most people randomly polled on the streets of Yerevan said water supplies to their apartments remain restricted to a few hours a day.
“I am very unhappy with the situation,” said a woman from the city’s Malatia-Sebastia district. “They supply water for three hours in the morning and for a couple of hours later in the day.”
“We don’t have it most of the time,” confirmed a resident of the northern Zeytun district.
“Our building has running water all the time,” said another woman. “It always did. But many of my relatives and acquaintances say they have water only a few hours a day. Even those who live in the city center don’t have it [around the clock].”
“Of course there are such cases,” admitted Aleksanian. “There are even cases where we had to stop around-the-clock supplies temporarily.” But he insisted that “the situation has improved in quite a few places,” adding that the 80 percent target will be met by the end of this year.
A pledge to improve water supplies was a major theme of President Robert Kocharian’s campaign speeches in the run-up to the February-March 2003 presidential elections. The then head of the State Committee on Water Resources, Gagik Martirosian, repeatedly assured journalists that the water rationing, which dates back to the Soviet era, will be phased out in almost all Yerevan neighborhoods by the end of 2004. That target was subsequently revised to 80 percent.
The improvement was supposed to be the result of the ongoing restructuring and repair of the Armenian capital’s decaying water network that began in 2000 with a $30 million loan provided by the World Bank. The network was placed under the management of an Italian utility firm as part of the effort.
Martirosian’s successor, Andranik Andreasian, stunned many observer late last year when he said that as much as 80 percent of drinking water still gets lost before reaching households across the country. Government officials were previously painting a rosier picture.
Citing the need to reduce its huge losses, the network operator asked this month a government commission regulating public services to allow it to double the existing water tariffs. The commission is now considering that request.