By Hovannes Shoghikian
The World Bank has approved the release of a fresh $5 million loan that will be used for upgrading Armenia’s battered irrigation networks.
In a statement issued after a Tuesday meeting in Washington of its governing board, the World Bank said the money will be disbursed as part of its Irrigation Development Project (IDP) for Armenia which was launched in 1994, at the height of the country’s post-Soviet economic slump. The bank has already provided about $100 million under scheme designed to improve Armenian farmers’ access to irrigation water.
“Armenia has achieved substantial progress in preventing deterioration of its irrigation and drainage infrastructure,” the statement said. It cited institutional and structural reforms implemented by the Armenian government in the management of water resources.
The World Bank said most of the loan will be spent on the rehabilitation of some 110 kilometers of canals supplying water to 37 communities across Armenia.
According to Adibek Ghazarian, chief of the IDP implementation unit in Yerevan, the canals cover about 10,000 hectares of agricultural land. He said they have fallen into disrepair since the Soviet collapse.
The same is true for much of the country’s entire irrigation system. Its poor condition means that most Armenian farmers are essentially at the mercy of weather conditions, regularly suffering losses as a result of drought.
Speaking to RFE/RL, Ghazarian estimated that at least half of water supplied through 15,000 kilometer-long networks of canals and irrigation pipes does not reach farmers. About 200 kilometers of leaky canals have already been repaired as a result of a previous World Bank loan provided within the IDP framework, he said.
The agricultural sector will receive a more massive boost if the United States presses ahead with the disbursement of $235 million in economic assistance to Armenia under the Millennium Challenge Account program. Most of the promised aid, $146 million, is due to be used for rebuilding and expanding the irrigation system. Officials say that would increase the total area of irrigated land by 40 percent.