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Modest Sum Raised For Armenian Hailstorm Relief


Armenia - Farmers in Armavir province block a major highway to demand government compensation for their crops destroyed by hail, 20May2013.

Armenia - Farmers in Armavir province block a major highway to demand government compensation for their crops destroyed by hail, 20May2013.

The Armenian government has attracted only 240 million drams ($600,000) in private donations to thousands of farmers whose crops were destroyed by a severe hailstorm in May, a senior official said on Tuesday.

The calamity affected 46 villages in Armenia’s southern Armavir province. In 22 of them, crops such as grapes, apricots and various vegetables were completely destroyed. The total damage caused to some 13,000 local farmers is estimated at 25 billion drams ($60 million).

The government approved later in May a set of measures designed to alleviate the damage. In particular, it fully or partly exempted the affected farmers from agricultural land tax and irrigation payments and had Armenian commercial banks reschedule repayment of their outstanding debts. It also allocated 50,000 drams in cash to each of over 1,600 local households deemed to have been hit hardest.

In addition, the government set up a special relief fund in June. Agriculture Minister Sergo Karapetian sent letters to some 100 large private firms asking them to donate money to the fund.

According to Ashot Ghahramanian, the Armavir governor, only 240 million drams have been raised since then. He said the contributors include not only businesspeople but also senior government officials and ordinary Armenians. Ghahramanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the government will begin distributing the aid later this week.

Not surprisingly, Armavir farmers scoffed at the modest sum. Many of them also criticized the broader government efforts to help the affected communities.

“What they gave us is less than what they spend on gasoline every day. Whatever they say, the government has done nothing to take care of the people,” one resident of Arevik village said, referring to provincial and central government officials.

Local residents were particularly unhappy with the terms of debt rescheduling. They said the government should have made sure that their debts to the banks are written off or at least frozen without additional interest payments.
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