By Anush Dashtents
Armenia is facing its coldest winter in several years after a long period of warmer-than-usual weather, meteorologists said on Monday. Government officials, meanwhile, assured that chronic problems with heating will not force a temporary closure of secondary schools and other educational institutions.
According to the Armenian National Meteorological Service, freezing temperatures that struck the country last week are 5 to 6 Celsius degrees below the December average and are indicative of a broader trend. But its director, Gennady Kojoyan, told RFE/RL that the entire winter period will not be very cold by Armenian standards.
“It’s just that the past several winters were rather warm,” Kojoyan said, predicting that the temperatures will be somewhat higher in January.
The latest cold snap reached its peak at the weekend, with overnight temperatures falling to minus 17 degrees Celsius in Yerevan and 36 degrees in Armenia’s coldest Ashotsk region. It was accompanied by heavy snow, the first this season.
The cold weather was responsible for a chain of accidents on electricity transmission lines that caused power cuts across the country late last week. Electricity is one of the main sources of winter heating in Armenia, and the massive breakdowns raised fears of another energy crisis among the population.
Besides, Armenia’s recently privatized power grid is owed substantial sums by various government-run institutions, including schools, and has threatened to cut off their power supplies. But officials at the Ministry of Education and Yerevan municipality said the schools will not be closed because they now pay their bills on time and will continue to be heated.
“We have cut costs and no longer run up utility debts,” said Aleksandr Kubanian, deputy head of the city’s education department.
However, the overall situation with central heating in residential areas seems to be further deteriorating amid a growing backlog of unpaid bills totaling 4.4 billion drams ($7.6 million). The municipal authorities, which now demand advance payments from residents, have already stopped heating may neighborhoods.