By Atom Markarian
The government may extend next month’s legal deadline for the mandatory installation of water meters by all Armenian households, a measure which officials say is necessary for improving supplies of drinking water.
The head of the government department of water resources, Gagik Martirosian, said on Thursday that thousands of people are rushing to purchase the devices and sign new agreements with Armenia’s Italian-run water distribution network.
The Armenian government decided in January 2002 to introduce water metering across the country by the end of 2003, arguing that the network can not improve its operations in the absence of effective bill enforcement mechanisms. A special law subsequently passed by the parliament offered individual consumers and legal entities the incentive of writing off their utility debts dating back to 2000 in exchange for their installing water meters by April 9, 2003.
Under the existing billing system, the state-owned utility run by the Italian A-Utility company charges consumers a fixed monthly fee of 420 drams ($0.70) per person. Only one third of them regularly pay their bills.
According to Martirosian, only a quarter of households in Yerevan have so far bought new meters and are currently charged under the new scheme. But he said the process is moving forward, with an average of 3,500 households signing new commercial agreements with A-Utility every day. He said his department and the water operator find it increasingly difficult to cope with the influx and may have to ask the government and the parliament to extend the deadline.
“The introduction of water meters will help us restore round-the-clock water supplies,” Martirosian told reporters.
The government has pledged to provide most Armenians with running water for 24 hours a day by the end of 2004. That was also one of President Robert Kocharian’s main campaign promises.
Much of the country’s Soviet-era water and sewerage infrastructure is outdated and in need of substantial investments. Government officials estimate that as much as 65 percent of drinking water is gets lost before reaching consumers.