By Carolyn Mugar and Jeff Masarjian
A widely accepted definition of sustainable development is “a pattern of resource use that aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment so that development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Unfortunately for Armenia, current economic development trends, particularly in the areas of forest management and mining activities (copper, gold, molybdenum, and soon, uranium), are not being managed and regulated with the goal of sustainability.
Both foreign and domestic corporations in Armenia are being allowed to plunder the nation’s natural resources, and are leaving behind a legacy of ravaged landscapes, toxic tailing dumps, polluted rivers, and widespread public health problems. There is a growing public awareness and concern for these issues in Armenia, and Armenia Tree Project is working with local groups to support environmental protection legislation and strengthen enforcement.
In late 2008, despite public opposition both locally and internationally, clear cutting the forest in Teghut began in preparation for creating an open pit copper mine, with the blessing of the Armenian government. Most recently, another mining company announced plans to move its gold processing facilities to the basin of Lake Sevan, which will seriously threaten the environmental integrity of the lake.
Although such activity is banned by Armenian law, there has so far been no move by the government to prevent it from taking place. Logging and mining does not, by definition, have to severely damage the environment and public health, but minimizing its impact means reducing the profit margins of corporations and shareholders. This is not a compromise that most corporations are willing to make voluntarily, which is why it is the responsibility of government regulatory bodies to enforce laws that represent the public welfare for current and future generations.
Although the health and livelihood of poor and rural citizens of Armenia suffer the greatest immediate risk from this type of unsustainable development, it is undeniable that the long-term results of severe environmental degradation will eventually compromise Armenia’s (and the planet’s) security and survival.
ATP will continue to advocate, with a long term vision, for intelligent and sustainable solutions to the nation’s need for economic development. We will support policies and practices that prioritize the public interest over short-term profit taking.
Editor’s Note: Carolyn Mugar is the founder of Armenia Tree Project and Jeff Masarjian is the executive director of the organization. Since 1994, ATP has planted and restored more than 3,000,000 trees at over 800 sites around the country and created hundreds of jobs for impoverished Armenians in tree-regeneration programs. For additional information and to support ATP’s mission, visit the web site www.armeniatree.org.