Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Empowering municipalities in Azerbaijan - Part two

CI’s Rosa Vercoe writes about the European Commission (EC)-funded project, Empowering municipalities to better serve their constituents in relation to social and environmental rights that have started in Azerbaijan.

Part two
'My second trip to Azerbaijan at the beginning of March 2009 was a real eye opener in terms of exploring the daily lives of ordinary people living in the Mugan area of the country - the region where our project is focussing its main activities.

The contrast between the capital of Baku and the little villages in the Mugan area was shocking. Baku, especially its centre, is an amazing cosmopolitan city combining a diverse cultural and historical heritage in terms of architecture with state of the art modern buildings made of marble and granite.

It was pretty obvious that moneyed people in Baku are not short of choices if they want to buy world famous designer stuff or flashy cars. In the city centre of Baku you can see boutiques of the same level as that of Knightsbridge in London.

But what sort of choices do the ordinary people of Mugan have?

Well, that is a big question and our project is addressing some of these issues. Let’s look at just a few of them.

The project stretches over five sub-regions, with the following distances from the country’s capital:
  • Salyan - 130 km
  • Sabirabad- 170 km
  • Saatli - 185 km
  • Neftchala - 180 km
  • Haciqabul - 120 km
These sub-regions have a population of 483 514 in total. Surprisingly despite having an abundance of gas supplies in the country, this particular region suffer from a Cinderella effect – it is semi-steppe (the soil is high in salt, there are no forests and no local sources of potable water), where agricultural production is only possible with good irrigation systems in place. Potentially fertile soil is turning into a salted steppe terrain, without the necessary maintenance and development of the irrigation channels already in place.

There are no gas and water pipelines in this area… and in order to provide themselves with the potable water, people have to store water from a local river Kura in huge tankers, wait until it settles, and then boil it to make it drinkable.

As for gas, they have to buy regular supplies of gas in cisterns, which cost a lot for an ordinary family with children.

Getting supplies of potable water and gas for heating and cooking is a daily struggle for people living in the villages. Not only that… the electric grid equipment in the villages is out of date and electric power supplies is an on-off issue.

The state of the roads, or putting it bluntly- absence of the proper roads and local infrastructure, is another issue. Getting out and about requires having a strong enough car, petrol (of course!) and physical stamina. In the rainy seasons the roads are fully submerged in mud.

While looking at these villages, it makes you question that if the country has seven oil and gas pipelines that are able to move the country’s hydrocarbons in any direction in and out, why not install one mini-satellite pipeline to this particular area of Mugan to make local people’s lives more comfortable rather than the daily struggles they face? The daily struggle for access to potable water, energy, telecommunications, roads infrastructure, well-maintained schools and medical facilities…

The story about problems experienced by ordinary citizens, consumers in Mugan, can be so much longer. We want to ensure that our project will start bringing some positive changes into daily lives of Mugan people, that it will help to empower local municipalities with knowledge, expertise and technical support.

Five new municipal offices have already been set up and equipped with computers, printers and new furniture thanks to the EU assistance as part of our project. People whom I met and spoke to during the trip to the villages are truly enthusiastic about changing conditions, they are eager to support the project.

The local authorities have also expressed their support. If our project is able to bring some cardinal positive changes to the local municipalities’ functioning in two years’ time, which would result in improving living conditions of the people in Mugan that would give us a great sense of achievement.'

Part one again just in case you've missed it.

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