Thursday, 18 July

What the Candidates Have to Say About the Environment

In addition to other issues that the candidates for the presidency of the ROA have touched upon in their pre-election programs, the environment, to various degrees, has also been discussed. However, after studying these programs and what the candidates have stated in their public addresses, it appears that environmental issues run a distant second place in importance after political, social and economic problems.

The fact is that only some of the candidates mention the environment at all in their official programs and offer some type of corresponding solution. This comes at a time when the developed world is desperately seeking new avenues of approach to solve the pressing environmental problems of the day. While it’s true that Armenia cannot be classified as a developed country it nevertheless is confronted with a host of environmental issues as well. If the present anti-environmental and polluting trends continue to develop, Armenia’s ecological problems will rank with those facing developing nations.

Some of the nine presidential candidates don’t even mention a word about the environment in their platforms. One of them is Vahan Hovhannesyan, the candidate of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. The other is Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan, who mentions the country’s natural environment in only one paragraph thusly, “The historical and cultural legacy of the Armenian people, our natural richness and many of our traditional qualities will help transform Armenia into an attractive rest and relaxation destination.”

Aram Harutyunyan mentions the need to preserve the natural diversity of Armenia in passing. “From a national security point of view it’s very important to halt the exodus, insure the security of the national economy and the country’s intelligence resources, the national ideology and morality, the country’s natural richness, its military might...”

Levon Ter-Petrosyan, Armenia’s first president has referred on the issues of green spaces and natural resources in his public speeches, especially the one given at his December rally. He noted that in today’s post-Soviet nations, “It is food production and delivery, the construction industry and especially the mining industry that are more or less developing; the further intensification of which can lead to serious problems for the normal development of those nations.”

While accusing the present authorities in the widespread practice of privilege granting, Ter-Petrosyan cites several examples where natural resources and green spaces have been privatized, particularly, “Practically all the mines operating in Armenia and even those only being investigated that have been sold to high-ranking officials and foreign investors for a mere pittance...All suitable land for construction purposes, including park land and open spaces, in the cities, especially Yerevan...recreation areas in the country, particularly in Tzaghkadzor, Sevan, Dilijan, Hankavan, the forests and timber facilities in Aghveran, etc...”

Vazgen Manukyan devotes a separate portion of his program to the environment entitled, “Issues Regarding Normal Development, the Utilization of Resources, and the Environment”. Here he writes, “The government must draft a long-term program designed to utilize the resources’ potential in the production sector in stages, taking into account consumed supplies, the demand for metals and their market prices and all the while introducing the latest environmental friendly technologies into mining operations. In this regard the government’s decision for the mining operations at Teghut must be reviewed. It’s vital to improve the extractive process of all beneficial elements and to substitute their exportation with the production of finished products.”

In recent meetings with environmentalists Vazgen Manukyan discussed the “stage by stage inclusion of resource material potential in the production process” and the Teghut issue. “In the days of the Soviet Union a methodology existed regarding the operation of mines. Many mines were conserved based on their reserve levels and the international price of ore. If we take these standards into account when looking at the Teghut operation, mining activities shouldn’t start for another 30-50 years. If this trend continues within the next 5-10 years all our mines will be sold to sham foreign corporations covertly owned by our own authorities.”

“We oppose the operation of Teghut for two reasons. The first is solely based on pragmatic calculations - such a mine wouldn’t have been opened for operation in any other country. Secondly, even if the mine’s operation was vital, it should have been done in a way that the unique forest at Teghut not be destroyed in the process. This aspect was totally overlooked.”

“When it comes to preserving the surrounding environment and solving health issues and insuring the ecological safety of the nation and the world, quality ecological components play a role of prime importance. The problems of the environmental preservation and the protection of natural resources are threats to the safety of the national security. Today it’s difficult to obtain demographical data regarding the numbers of people who are suffering or have died from the various maladies and diseases resulting from the careless exploitation of natural environment. Today, the ill-planned and careless exploitation of our natural resources has turned into a very serious issue and is a problem of poor governance on the part of the regime as well. In this regard the possibility exists to apply the management practices employed by the international environmental system.”

“In terms of developing human resource potential the adoption of an incorrect political strategy and a negligent attitude regarding natural resources as well as the exercise of a political system of patronage in financial and industrial capital has resulted in a state of affairs in our nation that is difficult to characterize as real development.”

Artur Baghdasaryan also touches on ecological issues in a separate chapter entitled, “A clean environment - a healthy human”. While discussing such issues as the complicity of the government regarding the pollution of the environment by certain factories and local petty honchos, the desertification of large tracts of territory, the issue of Teghut, Yerevan’s poor environmental conditions, the candidate proposes certain strategic steps that need to be taken, in particular:

“The formulation and ratification of a review process designed to insure the protection of the environment as well as the refinement and application of procedures within the next 2-3 years designed to conserve the water resources of minimize the extent of deforestation by severely punishing acts of illegal logging carried out for industrial and exportation support the creation of waste recycling operations by the application of environmental technologies, to prioritize the raising of efficiency levels at mining enterprises by the application of new technologies,  to heighten the scope of accountability regarding the reckless exploitation of the country’s mineral wealth and the utilization of green spaces and forested pay special attention to the balanced and uniformed development of Yerevan and other urban areas, to reinforce legal standards in the urban planning sphere and prevent illegal construction sites, to apply the full weight of the law to preserve parklands, gardens and other green spaces and to institute a principle of ‘green architecture’ in all cities without exception...”

The country’s economy is dependent upon the conservation of the country’s natural resources and their correct utilization. It appears that many of the candidates either do not comprehend this reality or if they do they turn a blind eye because it's to their advantage to do so. Given that some of the presidential hopefuls have precious little to say regarding the environmental issues confronting Armenia, the average voter has much to seriously ponder. On the other hand, the question remains to what extent will those candidates who speak out on these issues honor their pledges and actually translate the words they’ve written down on paper into reality.

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