A French-run company managing Yerevan’s water distribution network has abandoned attempts to slightly raise the price of its drinking water following a much sharper rise in energy tariffs that sparked angry protests in the Armenian capital.
Earlier this year, the Yerevan Jur operator asked Armenia’s Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC) to approve a 1.4 percent rise in the cost of water supplied to households. It cited consumer price inflation and a sizable depreciation late last year of the Armenian dram.
A PSRC spokeswoman, Mariam Stepanian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Wednesday that the company withdrew the request two days ago. She said its director, Gor Grigorian, informed the regulators in a letter that the Yerevan Jur has increased the efficiency of its operations by significantly cutting back on the use of electricity in water distribution.
Therefore, Grigorian wrote, the company now thinks that the water tariff can remain unchanged at 170.3 drams (36 U.S. cents) per cubic meter.
“They also took into account the need to ease the burden on their consumers amid increases in the prices of public services,” Stepanian added in an apparent reference to the PSRC’s controversial decision on June 17 to raise the electricity prices by over 17 percent.
The decision prompted thousands of Armenians to take to the streets and demand its annulment. Scores of mostly protesters have been camped out on Yerevan’s Marshal Bagramian avenue for the past ten days. President Serzh Sarkisian failed to placate them with his weekend announcement that the Armenian government will subsidize the energy tariffs and thus ensure that they remain unchanged for households for now.
No To Plunder, an Armenian youth movement which launched the protests, linked Yerevan Jur’s decision with the ongoing campaign against the electricity price hike. “I’m sure that they would have made water more expensive had there been no processes going on in the city,” one of its leaders, Maxim Sargsian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Yerevan Jur is controlled by the French company Veolia Water in accordance with a 10-year management contract signed with the Armenian government in 2006. Veolia has since significantly improved water supplies in the city by upgrading its obsolete water distribution and sewerage networks, including with loans provided by the World Bank and the French government.
Veolia’s chief executive, Antoine Frerot, visited Armenia and met with President Serzh Sarkisian as recently as on June 1. According to Sarkisian’s office, Frerot said his company wants to not only continue managing water supplies in Yerevan but also extend its operations to other parts of Armenia.