Armenian Environmental Network Launches New Series of Panel Discussions

WASHINGTON–The Armenian Environmental Network hosted its inaugural event in Washington on Monday, April 9 at the World Bank. Deforestation in Armenia and the Path to Recovery was the first in a series of panels focused on urgent environmental and developmental issues in Armenia. The panelists included Charles Dunlap, senior program manager of the US Civilian Research and Development Foundation, Frauke Jungbluth, senior rural development economist at the World Bank, Jeffrey Tufenkian, president of Armenian Forests NGO and Jeff Masarjian, executive director of Armenia Tree Project. The first panelist, Charles Dunlap, presented the impacts of deforestation in scientific terms, such as how a deforested mountain can lead to public dangers such as mudslides, as well as degraded agricultural soils and changes in water quality due to sedimentation. Dr. Dunlap was the director of the Environmental Research and Conservation Center at the American University of Armenia (AUA) in Yerevan from 1998 to 2004, and he was responsible for creating the format of AUAs environmental studies course required for all students. He has conducted tests on water quality and soil contamination in urban areas and provided GIS mapping for illegal logging studies used by organizations such as AFNGO and ATP. Frauke Jungbluth described the economic impacts of illegal logging and discussed the costs to society. She compared Armenia’s case with those of several other countries, and discussed what the World Bank is doing to apply the approaches learned elsewhere to Armenia. Dr. Jungbluth has worked in Asia, Africa, the Balkans, and Central Asia, and is now the World Bank Task Team Leader for agricultural and rural development and natural resource projects in Armenia and Georgia. Jeffrey Tufenkian discussed AFNGOs reforestation projects and efforts to increase public awareness about illegal logging and the impacts of deforestation. He presented slides showing villagers working in devastated areas to restore these ecosystems and ensure their proper maintenance and protection. Before initiating AFNGO, he brought nearly 20 years of advocacy experience in the US on a variety of issues including environmental protection, human rights, public health, and consumer protection. His work has included developing policy, media advocacy, and nonprofit management. The final panelist, Jeff Masarjian, described ATPs programs and presented the results from the recent forest survey conducted by AUA and co-funded by ATP. The results showed an extremely high level of public interest in saving Armenia’s forests and recognize that there is a significant problem regarding deforestation. The majority of respondents also appeared to understand the causal link between deforestation and micro-climate changea phenomenon already occurring in parts of the country. Rural respondents also indicated that they would like the option of switching to natural gas instead of wood for heating and cooking fuel, according to Masarjian. However, governmental consent in exporting timbernot domestic energy demandwas recognized by all panelists as the primary contributing factor to the illegal logging problem, and as the most significant threat to the future of Armenia’s forests. Masarjian is a licensed social worker and brings decades of experience in clinical social work, family treatment, and organizational management. Ursula Kazarian, director of AENs main branch in Washington, formally introduced AEN to the Armenian community and to the other development and environmental professionals in attendance. Todays panelists have essentially opened a doorway to understanding the real impedimen’s toand opportunities fordevelopment in Armenia today, Kazarian stated. Their work on the ground is a great source of information and helps to shed light on the reality of the quality of life for Armenia’s. Now, it is up to us to create an active forum through which we can promote positive change in partnership with the people we are trying to help. Kazarian added that due to the positive response AEN has already received from Armenian and non-Armenian organizations, program planning will be another upcoming task, to create small groups through which to organize projects in topic areas strategic to Armenia’s development. She stated, AEN was formed by people with the common goal of improving the situation in Armenia by forging and maintaining partnerships between the Diaspora and local Armenian communities. Those who share that goal are welcome to join us in helping to move the country forward. Kazarian noted that AEN strives to work with non-environmental organizations, as well. Small business development, gender equality issues, anti-corruption measures, and a number of other areas are extremely relevant to what AEN is aiming to accomplish. There are several different ways that foreigners [Diaspora] have viewed Armenia’s development in the past, but the most successful paradigm will have locals and foreigners working together, and will include environmental, economic, and social factors being addressed collectively under one rubric of sustainability. It is possible to integrate these issues, and in fact it is the only way to ensure Armenia’s stability and prosperity. AENs next panel will address energy security in Armenia and the South Caucasus. For details, please visit the web site of the Armenian Environmental Network at www.armenvironment.net. Requests to join the organizations listserve and other inquiries should be directed to info@armenvironment.net.

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