Zugulba. Photo Turan

Zugulba. Photo Turan

The Center for Hygiene and Epidemiology, in cooperation with the Ministry of Ecology, has published a comprehensive analysis of the state of the waters of the Caspian Sea along the coast of Azerbaijan on the eve of the beach season. Laboratory analysis included both physic-chemical and bacteriological parameters, revealing significant differences in water quality between different beaches.

According to the results of the study, the water quality on the beaches of Baku, including Buzovna, Zugulba, Mardakyan, Shuvelyan, Novkhany, Goradil, Nardaran, Bilgah and Pirshagi, was established within acceptable limits. This indicates that these beaches are safe for swimming and outdoor activities.

Conversely, the water quality on several other beaches did not meet the required standards. Intensive wastewater pollution was detected along the southern coast of Absheron (Shikhov, Primorsk), the eastern coast (Hovsan, Turkan), Sumgayit, northern villages (Yalama, Nabran, Istisu, Seyidli) and the southern part of the sea (Lankaran and Astara). Of particular concern was the bacteriological contamination in these areas, which prompted the authorities to temporarily refrain from swimming in these waters.

The suitability of the beaches of Zagulba and Buzovna for swimming has caused surprise, especially given recent reports and investigations by the Turan news agency. The Agency has previously drawn attention to ongoing pollution problems, citing the systematic discharge of wastewater into the sea in these places.

On May 5, the Turan news agency published an article "Will Azerbaijani beaches raise Blue Flags" about the illegal discharge of sewage on the beaches of Zagulba and Buzovna. Subsequent monitoring conducted in early June showed that the situation remains unresolved. The agency's requests to the Ministry of Ecology, JSC “Azersu,” the Executive Authority of the Khazar district and the State Agency for Tourism did not lead to any responses or actions. According to the agency's calculations, up to 20 thousand cubic meters of wastewater are discharged daily into the waters of Zagulba beach. Due to the fact that we cannot get answers to the questions posed, we have made our own calculation. About 20 thousand people live in multi-apartment and private buildings connected to the central sewerage system. According to the standard, there are 30 cubic meters of water per person per month. The result is 600 thousand cubic meters per month.

Turan's persistent investigative actions, which began on January 12, 2024 with an information request to “Azersu”, revealed the unauthorized construction of sewer lines by the “Khazar” sanatorium and the Sheki wellness center in Buzovna. This activity, which allegedly involves “Azersu,” the State Committee for Urban Planning and Architecture and the Confederation of Trade Unions, continues without proper supervision or coordination. Requests for information in accordance with the Law on Obtaining Information did not receive clear answers, which required the assistance of the Ombudsman, whose influence is limited.

The Ministry of Ecology and the Executive Authority of the Khazar district deny their awareness of wastewater treatment projects, despite the powers provided by the Urban Planning and Construction Code to control and coordinate such projects. The Ministry of Ecology and the State Committee for Architecture and Construction shifted responsibility to unidentified "relevant authorities". In addition, these agencies apparently do not know about the presidential decree dated March 30, 2017 approving the "Action Plan for the development of Beach tourism in the Republic of Azerbaijan for 2017-2020”, prescribing the use of individual cleaning systems for such facilities.

The construction of an unauthorized sewer has already  caused regular accidents along with the connection of an unauthorized line to the main collector. And what will happen when the facilities, which are designed for about 600 beds, start working. The Sheki Wellness Center is undergoing reconstruction, while the Khazar complex is preparing for modernization. The projected volume of wastewater at these facilities is estimated to exceed 200,000 cubic meters per year. Any malfunction in the sewage system can cause serious environmental consequences and public health problems, especially given the current state of the sewage treatment plants that discharge wastewater on Zagulba Beach.

The ongoing problems in Buzovna and Zagulba illustrate a broader picture of disregard for the environment and mismanagement by Azerbaijani officials. The unauthorized appropriation of coastal lands, the destruction of unique geological sites such as the Buzovna rocks, and the uncontrolled discharge of wastewater into the sea are a symbol of disregard for public and environmental well-being.

The continuing problems on these beaches underline the urgent need for a balanced approach to environmental protection, in which the interests of the individual, society and the State are harmoniously combined. The current situation, characterized by uncontrollable personal interests and absence of regulatory control, threatens to escalate into a serious environmental and public health crisis.

As beachgoers prepare for the summer season, the contrasting conditions on Azerbaijan's beaches underscore the urgent call from both the Government and civil society for action to address these environmental issues.

Sewage rivers and the Zagulba coast

The village of Buzovna, once called Zagulba (in the early 70s of the last century, the village of Buzovna and the village of Zagulba were united and given the common name Buzovna), was founded after World War II by German prisoners of war and they also built a purification plant in the area of Zagulba beach. The structure was built in the style of a miniature medieval castle, but by the 1990s it had fallen into disrepair, which led to the fact that untreated wastewater began to drain directly into the Caspian Sea, effectively dividing the beach into two polluted parts. Despite numerous attempts by activists and concerned citizens to get immediate action from the authorities, the situation remained unresolved for many years.

The beach area is located in the immediate vicinity of the presidential residence "Zagulba". In the early 2000s, a pier with a wooden house extending into the sea was built for President Heydar Aliyev, where he could breathe iodine-rich sea air, which is considered to be beneficial to health. However, the pier was only 300 meters from the polluted water.

In early July 2002, President Aliyev, having received a message about the dangerous state of the water, personally inspected the place. This led to an important meeting on July 15, 2002, at which he expressed serious concern about the level of pollution of the Caspian Sea. "I am very concerned about the degree of pollution of the Caspian waters. This is a topic that requires a separate discussion," Aliyev said, recognizing the seriousness of the environmental crisis.

In response, a modern modular deep wastewater treatment plant with the possibility of deep purification was built, which replaced the obsolete German installation. From the new sewage treatment plant, a sewer pipe was stretched 300 meters into the sea. However, later constructive problems arose: the pipe broke near the shore, and now insufficiently treated wastewater still reached the beach. The smell of sewage discharged into the sea with waste, the so-called deep cleaning, hovering on the beach indicates the absence of such cleaning.

On September 20, 2007, by presidential decree "On certain measures to protect the Caspian Sea from pollution", 3.5 million manats were allocated from the President's Reserve Fund for the construction of 12 local modular wastewater treatment plants along the coastal strip of the Bilgah-Shuvelyan zone and Piralahi Island in Baku.

Despite these efforts, problems persist. The system of the new modular station does not fully prevent environmental pollution. Apparently, due to violations of the operating rules, insufficiently treated wastewater still poses a threat to the coastal environment, which underlines the need to monitor the operation of modular stations.

Solving the problem of water supply and sewerage in Buzovna: the way forward

In 2014, significant investments in the amount of 122.7 million manats were allocated to provide Buzovna with drinking water and sewerage systems. However, ten years later, the promised infrastructure is still missing, leaving residents without access to clean water and proper wastewater disposal.

The problem is aggravated by the chaotic, unplanned development of the village, which makes it technically difficult and excessively expensive to implement an integrated sewerage system. The solution to this ongoing problem may lie in the development and implementation of individual wastewater treatment plants for private homes and institutions.

A viable approach to solving this problem involves the creation of a manufacturing enterprise in Azerbaijan specializing in the production of individual wastewater treatment systems – for individual houses, for apartment buildings, sanatoriums, hospitals, schools, etc. Ideally, this enterprise should be located in newly liberated territories, providing both economic benefits for these areas and meeting urgent environmental needs.

Individual wastewater treatment systems have a number of advantages: they are cheaper, technically easier to install and environmentally friendly. These systems purify wastewater to a level that allows it to be reused for irrigation of household plots, thereby saving water and reducing environmental pollution.

Such modules are especially suitable for seaside establishments. For example, the installation of an individual treatment system for the Sheki wellness center, designed for 300 people, will cost about 90,000 manats. This cost-effective solution stands in stark contrast to the opaque and probably higher tariffs charged by “Azersu” for sewage installation and subsequent services, since the parties involved do not disclose exact financial details.

The successful implementation of individual wastewater treatment plants requires a multifaceted approach:

1. The Government of Azerbaijan needs to encourage the creation of a plant for the production of individual cleaning systems. This may include tax incentives, subsidies, or other financial incentives to attract investment and ensure the economic viability of the plant.

2. A clear and supportive regulatory framework is necessary to ensure that cleaning systems comply with environmental standards and are accessible to residents. This includes optimizing approval processes and providing technical advice on installation and maintenance.

3. It is extremely important to inform the public about the benefits and functioning of individual treatment systems. Training programs should be developed so that residents and local businesses can effectively use and maintain these systems.

4. The involvement of private companies in the production, distribution and maintenance of cleaning systems can contribute to innovation and efficiency. Partnerships between the public and private sectors can help scale the initiative faster and more effectively.

By focusing on individual wastewater treatment plants, Azerbaijan can take a significant step towards solving long-standing sewage problems. This approach not only solves pressing environmental problems, but also contributes to the introduction of sustainable water management methods, which benefits both residents and the ecosystem as a whole.

The water supply of officials turns into a lifeline for residents of Buzovna

In July 2016, “Azersu” OJSC started construction of a water pipeline intended for villas of high-ranking officials in Buzovna. These officials built their luxurious residences on the picturesque but illegally acquired coastal cliffs of Buzovna, causing damage to the natural seaside landscape. The pipeline with a diameter of 10 centimeters was laid from the main water pipeline on the Zagulba highway and passed through the village of Buzovna, which has been experiencing an acute shortage of drinking water for 40 years.

Historically, Buzovna's water supply was conducted from artesian wells and wells. However, the injection of seawater into oil wells to increase the flow rate of oil production led to salinization of underground water sources, which made it unsuitable for drinking. Because of this long-standing problem, residents of Buzovna found themselves in a difficult situation, relying on limited and often inadequate expensive water resources.

The construction of a special pipeline for officials caused outrage, according to an article by the Turan agency, which called it an "immoral" water supply, given the plight of the villagers. After a series of critical articles, the project was suspended. However, officials then promoted a more inclusive project aimed at providing drinking water to apartment buildings in order to still provide their own water supply.

By the end of 2016, construction resumed under the guise of a public welfare project, and by 2017 the project was completed. Despite initial disagreements, more than 20,000 Buzovna residents have finally gained access to drinking water after four decades of deprivation. Officials also received their own water, but the overall benefit to society was undeniable.

In 2016, the Turan news agency filed lawsuits against “Azersu” OJSC for refusing to disclose information about a controversial water supply project. However, the courts have consistently ruled in favor of “Azersu,” ensuring that the agency's transparency requirements are not met.

Meanwhile, reports of "immoral" water and sewer pipes continued to be received subsequently. “Azersu” used internal work Order No. 203 to facilitate these illegal connections. According to sources, intermediaries not officially associated with “Azersu” operated between the company and citizens who wanted to connect to the water supply. These intermediaries charged and charge citizens a fee of more than 600-1000 manats for the service, connect them to the water supply, then Azersu fines 168 manats for illegal connection, and then registers them as new subscribers, while the cost of installing meters falls on the shoulders of new subscribers.

This process grossly violates the law on Water Supply and Sanitation," which criminalizes unauthorized connection to the water supply system. In addition, there are suspicions that “Azersu” may be registering expenses related to new subscribers as its own expenses, in fact misappropriating funds.

A similar scenario most likely developed with the sewerage project of the Khazar sanatorium and the Sheki wellness center. The fact is that the laying of sewers began in early autumn.  And the project was advertised to curious residents as a sewer line for 300 private homes. However, after publications and information requests, to which “Azersu” for the most part does not respond, information was announced to “Azersu” that the project was approved in 2019, but was not started due to the pandemic. The project was re-approved at the request of the “Khazar” sanatorium on January 17, 2024, “Azersu” reported Turan agency.  It looks more like the project was approved retroactively after the Turan agency sent an information request to “Azersu” on January 12 and to the Confederation of Trade Unions on January 17.  Due to the absence of requested information, it is difficult to draw final conclusions.  A journalistic investigation into the illegal laying of sewage continues, as there is no clarity around the legality of the project and its consequences for the environment. 

Recommendations:

1.There is an urgent need for a comprehensive management concept for water supply and treatment facilities. This should include unified oversight and the implementation of consistent policies.

2. Ensure the mandatory involvement of the scientific community and public environmental organizations in the planning and implementation of water resources management projects. Their expertise can help provide environmentally sound and technically viable solutions.

3. In order to restore public trust and ensure accountability, it is necessary to give priority to the transparency of the industry's activities. This includes clear communication about projects, costs and decision-making processes.

By addressing these issues, it is possible to ensure that water supply and sanitation systems meet the needs of all citizens in a fair and sustainable manner, preventing future conflicts and fostering healthier relationships.

Previous articles:

Is it possible to raise the standards of beach recreation amidst environmental issues?

Environmental crisis in Azerbaijan: sewage scandals and inactivity of state structures

Corrupt canalization system

Silence speaks volumes: Azerbaijan's struggle with transparency and accountability

Will Azerbaijani beaches raise "Blue flags"?

Construction of Immoral Water Supply System in Buzovna Accelerated

Construction of "immoral" water pipeline is suspended

Third Lawsuit against Azersu on Turan News Agency's Information Request

 

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