Karine Danielyan: “We will soon reach the point when half of Armenia will be an open mine and the other half - a tailing dump”


Interview with Karine Danielyan, Head of the Association for Sustainable Human Development NGO, Head of the National Committee of the UN Environment Program (UNEP)

 In your opinion, what are the most urgent environmental problems in Armenia that need immediate solutions?

There are many problems but, first of all, I will mention Sevan. We are very glad that the level of the lake is rising, but unfortunately the preparation of the lake shores was not conducted in the right way and the scrap remained under the water, especially the green mass. We see now that there is obvious swamping of offshore areas. I see great danger in it. The Ministry of Environment, Academy of Sciences think there is no great danger in it and the lake can easily solve the problem itself, but, in any case, the shores need to be cleaned. The trees that appeared under the water need to be taken out which is certainly a difficult task but it has to be done since the mass is a source of eutrophication (deterioration of water quality, increase of biological productivity of water objects due to accumulation of biogen elements - author). This is the most important problem now.

Actually there was a shore preparation scheme, the sums were allocated, everything was envisaged. I don't understand why it was not accomplished. There is some explanation, of course, that the lake raised faster than expected. This is some kind of explanation but the main reason is not serious attitude to the problem.      

Mining industry is the next fundamental problem. Mining is gradually expanding; today we have about 500 mines, mainly open mines, and another 300 are under development. We have about 15 big tailing dumps that poison the environment. If we go on like this, we will reach the point when half of Armenia will be open mines, and the other half - a tailing dump, and we will have to leave. In this respect, Teghut is the first precedent when an open mine was opened in areas covered with forests. Now residents of Kapan complain about an open mine on the territory of the town, which is unacceptable. Residents of Hrazdan revolt because of the plans to exploit a mine "above" the town. Hrazdan is suffering from dust as it is, and now this new mine will bring additional poisonous dust. Yerevan too has reasons to complain since 40% of its drinking water is formed at Hrazdan mountains.  

The last big thing is the uranium project to be implemented here. UN has a publication which explains in all details that despite the method uranium is extracted those areas are considered highly damaged.   

I think we have to stop expansion of mining industry, we have to try to use the raw materials in a more complex way and not simply export it. In that case, we'll have less waste. It is time to process tailing dumps as secondary raw materials using modern technologies.

What are the environmental achievements of recent years?

You know, they are not many: it is Shikahogh, the forest-park in Jrvezh, a section of Khosrov reserve. Suppose we managed to stop construction near the Opera house next to Arno Babajanyan monument. It was stopped from this side, but they do construction from the other side. We can't put so much effort to solve a small problem like that every time.

Development of Yerevan is a very serious problem, our parks suffered greatly. And this example spreads also to other towns. We were against the return of Narek Sargsyan as chief architect of Yerevan because when he was in office the development of Yerevan was absolutely anti-ecological, anti-social and anti-cultural because we have lost also the history of our city. Narek Sargsyan's return is a sign for us that the same policy will continue.  

Doesn't the Government do anything to meet ecological issues?

The Government announced three priorities - mining industry, tourism and clean agriculture. The mining industry is actively developing, the other two are suffering because of it. It is impossible to develop not only clean but generally agriculture in the areas that are next to metal mines and tailing dumps. Today the experience and the research of academic institutes show that both land resources and food in both south and north of Armenia are poisoned with heavy metals.

Development of tourism is also difficult to imagine: tourists will come to Yerevan, suffocate with the air we breathe, then go to Tatev, enjoy the dust from two neighboring mines and with great pleasure leave Armenia. I have to say that international structures carried out research among tourists who visited different countries, and Armenia turned out to be not very attractive for them. Why? We are at good positions with respect to natural landscapes, historical-cultural values, even service is assessed quite high, so why are our total ratings low? They say, it is because the country is polluted and they don't want to have their rest in such environment.  

We have to realize that we can lose all our country as a result of today's enrichment of a group of people. The state always have levers, there is no objective. It is a question of wish and political will.    

Interview by Aghavny Yeghiazaryan

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