Managing droughts and floods in Azerbaijan
Mehemmed Veliyev, a 45-year-old farmer living in Abrikh Village in Azerbaijan, had a good life. He had hectares of land where he grew fruit and hazelnut. But 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 climate change. It is estimated that average annual flood damages in the region amounts to $US 18-25 million for infrastructure alone. On the other hand, Azerbaijan just came out of a prolonged drought, which scientists say will 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. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), droughts are likely to reduce water supply by 23% during the 2021 to 2050 period in the country.
Improving community resilience to flood and water stress requires proactive adaptation to the impacts of climate change. But Azerbaijan’s current water management policies are not flexible enough and institutional capacity is insufficient to address increasing climate-related damages and hazards. On the other hand, local communities have not been able to actively participate in water and flood management decision making.
With support from the GEF-managed Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF), UNDP core funds, and the Ministry of Emergency Situations, the Government embarked on a project to include 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.
One of the main goals of the project is to ensure key institutions are capable to apply advanced climate risk management practices for water stress and flood mitigation. 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 accurate methods. 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.
Other than improving institutional capacity for water and flood management, the project also focuses on upgrading and modernizing meteorological stations for early flood warning. Critical stations will be equipped with automatic alarm systems that inform the central station once a pre-defined critical water level is reached. Data will be collected and analyzed to predict 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 regions of Turyanchay, Kischay and Tilachay, where 650.000 people, mostly self-sufficient farmers and nomads, live, water user associations and local stakeholder committees were established to test and introduce participatory land use and watershed planning . Locally tailored public information campaigns target flood-prone communities and make them aware of the risks and the means to manage them.
At a later stage, this pilot project will be replicated across the Greater Caucasus region.