Managing Droughts and Floods in Azerbaijan

water-floods

Mehemmed Veliyev, a 45-year-old farmer living in Abrikh Village in Azerbaijan, had a good life. He had hectares of land to grow fruits and hazelnut. However, the environment he depended upon turned on him one day in 2008, when a flash flood came from the mountains and destroyed his land. For Veliyev now, life is a struggle.

Extreme weather patterns are common in the Great Caucasus Region, but are increasing due to the climate change. It is estimated that average annual flood damages in the region amounts to $18-25 million for infrastructure alone. On the other hand, Azerbaijan just came out of a prolonged drought, which scientists believe would affect agriculture in the coming years. Crops have been damaged beyond recovery in some parts of the country, and vegetation of the summer pastures died out, impacting tens of thousands of livestock.

Improving community resilience to flood and water stress requires proactive adaptation to the impacts of climate change. Azerbaijan’s current water management policies are not flexible enough and institutional capacity is insufficient to address increasing climate-related damages and hazards. A lack of pertinent information and data precludes a comprehensive estimation and analysis of influence and consequences of flooding. On the other hand, local communities have not been able to actively participate in water and flood management decision-making.

Some other victims of natural disasters - Samedov Niftali, 58 and Allahyarov Israil, 67, confirmed that houses are damaged and cattle lost during flood times. They are anxious to have a place of refuge where they can escape from the damaging effects of the floods as there is no high ground in the vicinity of the village. Time flies and prompt actions must be taken on this serious issue!

Given the importance of existing problem, a project on “Integrating Climate Change Risks into Water and Flood Management by Vulnerable Mountainous Communities in the Greater Caucasus Region” was signed between UNDP, GEF-managed Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF) and Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Emergencies. The project included climate change adaptation at the legislative and policy level while addressing the risks of flash floods, mudflows and landslides which affect the already vulnerable mountain communities.

The general region selected for this study encompasses southern slopes of Greater Caucasus region of Azerbaijan and covers 7 administrative districts with a total population of almost 645,000. For the purpose of this project, 3 pilot basins were selected for study and analysis: Turyanchay, Kishchay and Talachay, located in the northern region of the country - Gabala, Shaki and Zaqatala districts respectively.

Highlights

  • Climate change-related droughts will likely reduce water supply by 23% during the next 3 decades in Azerbaijan.
  • Funded by GEF, UNDP core funds and the Government, the project improves institutional capacity and empowers communities to actively participate in water and flood management.
  • The pilot project focuses on 3 vulnerable areas where 650.000 people live, and will be replicated across the Greater Caucasus.

The project aims to reduce vulnerability of the mountain communities of the Greater Caucasus region of Azerbaijan to climate change induced water stress and flood hazards by improved water and flood management through a three-pronged approach: by addressing the management framework at the legislative and policy level; strengthening institutional capacity by introducing new non- structural methods; providing training and empowering communities to actively participate in water and flood management.

Right now, technical staff in the Ministry of Emergency Situations is being trained on how to use different risk assessment methods and planning tools for flood hazard mapping and water resources assessment and allocation. “In the past, we had to use old-fashioned and not always reliable methodology. Now, we are trained with the up-to-date tools and we feel much more confident with our estimates. The results are often fast and effective,” says Samir Abbasov, Senior Advisor of State Water Resources Agency.

The project also focuses on upgrading and modernizing meteorological stations for early flood warning. Critical stations will be equipped with automatic alarm systems to alert the central station once a pre-defined critical water level is reached. Data will be collected and analyzed to forecast seasonal floods in the future.

To further help mountain residents effectively avoid disaster, the project will provide training and empower communities to actively participate in water and flood management. In the vulnerable northetn regions of the country where 650.000 people live and are mostly self-sufficient farmers and nomads, water user associations and local stakeholder committees have been established to test and introduce participatory land use and watershed planning.

Community participation is the central theme of early warning and flood forecasting component of the project. Locally tailored public information campaigns target flood-prone communities and make them aware of the risks and the means to manage them. This approach is essential as a part of Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM). Working with the affected community members will improve lives of the people in this area and promote better awareness of the potential impacts of climate change. The project will prepare flood maps of affected and potentially affected areas. These maps will then be used by the communities to help them in the risky areas.

Drought resilience of the communities will be enhanced with the introduction of such system that will assist in improving water use efficiency in irrigated agriculture and water supply. At a later stage, this pilot project will be replicated across 9 provinces in the region, covering some 11.000 sq.km with a total potentially affected population of some 645.000.

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