By Shakeh Avoyan
The government announced on Friday the launch of a seven-year plan designed to upgrade Armenia's aging irrigation network with funds provided by the World Bank. A low-interest loan worth $66 million will be spent on the construction and repair of water mains and sweeping structural reforms in what is now a hugely loss-making sector.
The first $31 million loan tranche has already been released by the bank. It will be used, among other things, for refurbishing a water pumping station on Arax river marking the Armenian-Turkish border. In February 2001 the governments of the two neighboring states, which have no diplomatic relations, prolonged a 1983 Soviet-Turkish agreement providing for equal use of the river's waters.
About $14 million will go to pay for the construction of water-pipes in the Vayots Dzor, Armavir and Tavush provinces. The government says the new facilities will boost local agricultures and significantly reduce the use of electricity for water distribution.
The head of the State Committee on Water Resources, Gagik Martirosian, said another key objective of the project is the re-structuring of state-run water enterprises and the improvement of bill collection. He said his agency will impose tougher sanctions on farmers refusing to pay their fees. "This will apply to everyone: the rich and the poor alike," Martirosian told a news conference.
Irrigation is vital for the Armenian agricultural sector. The Soviet-era network of 17,000 kilometers of pipelines covering 250,000 hectares of arable land has not seen substantial investments in the past ten years and The World Bank project implementation unit estimates that as much as $800 million is needed to get it into shape.
The irrigation project is part of a $200 million loan package promised by Western donors for Armenia's entire water infrastructure.