YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The World Bank and several other Western donors formalized on Monday the release of $16 million in environmental gran’s and loans to Armenia’s two poorest regions. An agreement on the launch of the natural resource management and poverty reduction project was signed by Environment Minister Vartan Ayvazian and a senior World Bank official.
The six-year project is aimed at restoring the ecological systems of the northern provinces of Tavush and Gegharkunik that officials say have suffered a big damage over the past ten years. The funds are expected to generate new jobs that will discourage local residents from resorting to illegal logging–fishing and extraction of natural resources. They will be spent on the construction of roads–water lines and the planting of trees.
A substantial part of Armenia’s mountainous forests is located in Tavush–while the vital Lake Sevan covers much of Gegharkunik. Environmentalists say deforestation has becoming an acute problem in Tavush and needs to be dealt with urgently.
"We risk losing our scarce natural resources," said Deputy Finance and Economy Minister Meruzhan Mikaelian. He said the total area of the country covered by forests has shrunk by at least 10 percent since the early 1990s when many Armenia’s–faced with a severe energy crisis–began using wood for heating.
In early January the ministry of environment imposed a two-month ban on all kinds of logging across the country. Ayvazian said the illegal practice has reached "a threatening scale."
Only just over a half of the donor funding will take the form of low-interest loans–with non-repayable gran’s making up the rest of the sum.