Opening speech by Ilham Aliyev at the meeting on water management situation

23 july 2020, 13:00

Today we will discuss problems in water management and talk about the work to be done. Water projects occupy a special place among infrastructure projects. We are consistently implementing all infrastructure projects in the country. As a result of these projects, our country is developing fast. If we had not implemented these projects, the sustainable development of our country would not have been possible today. Of course, it was necessary to define priorities among infrastructure projects, and when we adopted the first State Program on the socioeconomic development of the regions in 2004, we set these priorities very clearly.

At that time, we had quite serious infrastructure problems. There was a lack of energy in the country. We were facing major problems related to the production of electricity and depended on imports. Of course, first of all, it was necessary to normalize the situation in this area, otherwise there could be no question of any development. The funds invested in the energy sector in recent years and the modernization carried out in this area have allowed us the opportunity not only to provide ourselves with electricity for many years, but also to create export opportunities thanks to additional generation capacities. The geography of these exports is already expanding. Of course, major investment had to be made in this area, and it was. Our energy security today is provided by more than 30 power plants.

Even more work was done in this area recently, as issues of restoring the lost capacity have been resolved. More than 800 megawatts of lost capacity have been restored at the existing plants, and this process continues. So the entire energy sector is being modernized.

Of course, the level of gasification in our country was very low at that time. As a result of the work done, gasification in our country has now reached 96 percent. I can say that this is one of the highest indicators in the world. But if we take into account that our industry and population are growing, the need for natural gas is increasing, our power plants operate only on clean energy resources, natural gas and water, of course, we will continue to pay attention to this sector as a priority.

The transport infrastructure has been largely upgraded. I think it would be unnecessary to list all transport projects because the public has been repeatedly provided with information about this. Suffice it to say that a report of the Davos World Economic Forum has praised the work done in this area. Azerbaijan is ranked 11th in terms of the efficiency of air transport and 12th in the world in terms of the efficiency of railways. Azerbaijan is in 27th place in terms of the quality of highways. In general, according to the state of infrastructure, Azerbaijan ranks 34th in the world.

Of course, these infrastructure projects also include drinking water and land irrigation projects. A lot has also been done in this area in recent years. This sector was not left on the sidelines. I just want to bring a few figures to the attention of the public. In 2004, when the first State Program on the socioeconomic development of the regions was adopted, the provision of drinking water in Azerbaijan was at the level of 40 percent. Today this figure has reached 70 percent. In Baku, only 29 percent of had continuous supply of drinking water. Today this figure has reached about 82 percent. In the regions, the coverage of the population with drinking water was only at 9 percent. Today that figure is 63 percent. This is truly a historic achievement. We have done this first of all for people’s health, for the development of the economy and agriculture. At the same time, these figures indicate that we have not been able to fully achieve what we wanted. Therefore, from now on, drinking water and irrigation projects will be on our agenda as the most important issues. The main goal of today's meeting is to eliminate the mistakes and existing shortcomings in this area in the coming years, so that a single management mechanism is developed and submitted, so that we consistently implement short-term, medium-term and long-term action plans. As a result, the provision of drinking and irrigation water in Azerbaijan should reach 100 percent.

I believe that the work done in relation to irrigation water also deserves approval. If we had not done this, then our situation would be very difficult today. Several projects serve both as drinking and irrigation water projects. The giant water projects implemented in Azerbaijan in recent years have completely changed the situation for the better. Among them, I would like to highlight the Oghuz-Gabala-Baku water pipeline. This pipeline is of great importance. First of all, large volumes of clean drinking water are delivered to the city of Baku. Considering that a significant part of our water resources is formed in foreign countries, the Oghuz-Gabala-Baku water line is a large project based exclusively on a local source. The implementation of this project began, one might say, after we received our first oil revenues. At that time, I said that we need to transform the black gold into human capital, and the Oghuz-Gabala-Baku water pipeline is a clear proof of that because oil revenues began to flow into our country after 2006. At that time, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline was put into operation. Then, of course, our revenues were at a very low level. However, we channeled them primarily into resolving the problems of internally displaced persons and issues related to water.

Experts are well aware that if we did not have the Oghuz-Gabala-Baku water pipeline today, the problems related to water could deteriorate in the city of Baku.

This is not the only project. I believe that the construction of the Takhtakorpu reservoir is a historic project because the volume of this reservoir is quite large – 270 million cubic meters. At the same time, a new concrete canal was laid from the Takhtakorpu reservoir to the Jeyranbatan reservoir. The special significance of the Takhtakorpu reservoir is that the waters of the Samur River are collected there. They are naturally treated and water from the new reservoir flows into Jeyranbatan. Previously, water from the Samur River entered Jeyranbatan directly through the canal. If we did not have this large water basin, we would not be able to provide Baku with drinking water now. This is obvious. Therefore, a lot of work has been done to implement this project and, in general, to distribute the waters of the Samur River fairly. At the same time, it has significantly expanded the area of irrigated lands in Shabran, Siyazan and Khizi districts. Water is now supplied to the previously non-irrigated lands with an area of almost 30,000 hectares and large-scale agricultural work is currently underway on these lands.

Another major project is the reconstruction of the Jeyranbatan reservoir and the construction of modern treatment plants. When the project was completed, this treatment plant was considered the largest in the world. An even larger facility may have been built somewhere else since that, but this is not the point. The main thing is that it was already possible to supply high-quality water to the city of Baku.

Of course, I should also note the importance of the Shamkirchay reservoir. The Shamkirchay water reservoir plays a special role in the collection and distribution of our water resources today. The capacity of this reservoir is 165 million cubic meters. Several districts of the western zone are using these opportunities and the cultivated areas there are expanding. Thus, Takhtakorpu plays an important role in providing water to the northern zone and Baku, while Shamkirchay to the western.

In parallel, the Goytapa and Tovuzchay water reservoirs were built in the southern zone in recent years too. The capacity of these large water reservoirs created over the past 15 years is 470 million cubic meters. Experts are well aware that this is a very large figure.

As for drinking water projects, they are of particular importance. They are being consistently implemented on my initiative. Drinking water and sewage projects are under way in most of our cities now. This work has not yet been completed only in a few cities, but work is under way. We must analyze both positive and negative experience in this area because, according to my data, in some cases water sources were chosen incorrectly, natural changes, climate changes, including the drought experienced in the last two years and its risks, were not calculated. Therefore, water shortages have been experienced in a number of places where drinking water projects were implemented. Therefore, this issue should be seriously examined. Of course, the figures I have cited indicate that we have achieved great development. But there is still a lot to do.

I have been receiving letters from the ground every day. As a result of the drought and in some cases the indifferent attitude of relevant bodies, very serious problems have emerged. Farmers and entrepreneurs write more. Letters from more than 10 districts are received on a daily basis. These letters are examined in the Presidential Administration and the Cabinet of Ministers. These signals are monitored and issues are resolved promptly. However, we must solve them in a comprehensive manner in order to be ready for an unsightly picture and difficulties caused by natural problems in the future.

Therefore, the issues I have noted unequivocally indicate that the problems of drinking water and land reclamation are not just in the spotlight, but a lot has been done to resolve them. However, the drought that occurred last year showed that we are not ready for such a crisis. Relevant bodies failed to correctly determine what needs to be done in such a crisis. Therefore, we lost time last year. If relevant bodies had worked hard last year, had not blamed each other and taken urgent measures, we would not be faced with these problems now. These problems affect both human health and the development of agriculture because water is life. Human health primarily depends on clean drinking water.

At the same time, water resources have a huge impact on the ecological balance and the development of agriculture. We must develop agriculture using intensive ways, and to do this we need to have sufficient water sources, and this is the case. But if there were no such monstrous losses, we could fully provide ourselves with water. This issue is being studied now. In some cases, losses amount to 40 or 50 percent, which is unacceptable. We are losing water. Thus, it does not reach cultivated areas and houses and, on the contrary, causes damage to lands. The most labor-intensive sectors in our country today are grain and cotton growing. Cotton growing cannot develop without water at all. This sector employs approximately 200,000-300,000 people who support their families. In grain growing farms where there are modern technologies, including modern irrigation systems, we get about 70-80 quintals of wheat from each hectare. This is at the level of developed countries. In fact, this is the highest level in the world. It cannot get any higher than that. Can we achieve this if there is no water?

By applying modern technologies to grain growing, we can grow more on the existing areas, perhaps even on slightly smaller areas, and depend on imports less. Water is life, development and security. Therefore, these issues must not be treated indifferently. I must say quite frankly that this work was left to the mercy of fate and no-one was dealing with it. Each of the relevant bodies was minding its own business and there was no coordination. “AzerSu” and land reclamation agencies became more active only when the state investment program was being discussed, wondering what share of the state budget they would get. In some cases, the projects they proposed were not worthy of any attention at all. I simply saw that their goal was to receive and use public funds. But did anyone enquire about the effectiveness of these projects afterwards? Did anyone analyzed this? No! This is why some of the projects we invested heavily in actually turned out to be ineffective. How can it be that a water source was analyzed incorrectly? Large funds are allocated, pipelines are built and citizens are happy about this. But then they give a thousand reasons to explain why

this and that happened, say that there is not enough water, that it is necessary to look for a new source, that more funds should be allocated to look for a new source. This must be stopped. Therefore, I will regulate all these matters in an organized manner. Instructions have been given to relevant bodies. A mechanism of strict control is needed, primarily control over costs. Otherwise, “AzerSu” and Irrigation and Water Management Open Joint Stock Company send requests saying that they need so much to do something. It later turns out that there is no feasibility study for this. Where did these figures come from? Out of thin air!

There was no strict control over the investment program and over what was ordered and what was provided. How were the funds spent afterwards? This must be stopped. Therefore, in my opening remarks at today's meeting, I am saying what has been done. But we could have achieved more as a result of this work. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In the future, this work should be carried out only in coordination. I am being told that we have never had a water balance. How is this possible? We have our energy balance prepared. Thanks to this, we know what needs to be done during the year, which agency needs how much fuel. Is the President supposed to talk about drawing up the water balance? This should be done by relevant agencies. Our underground and surface water resources have not been estimated. They were last assessed during the Soviet times and haven’t been assessed ever since. Currently, the process of drilling artesian wells is under way. But we need to see where and how they should be drilled and what impact this will have on groundwater sources. We need to choose the right locations. I repeat that these agencies see their main role here in asking for money to drill an artesian well, asking for money to extend a water line, asking for money to do this and that. Okay, we allocate the money, but then what? It often turns out to be ineffective. Cost control is very low.

As I said, I receive over 10 letters every day. I have given instructions to the Presidential Administration and the Cabinet of Ministers. They are examining them and resolve promptly. But this is not their main job. This should be done by relevant bodies. Why are these letters being sent to me? Because when they are sent to relevant agencies, they do not attach importance to them and shrug them off. There are so many facts like this. How much longer should we tolerate this?

Therefore, having fully analyzed the situation, I set up a special commission in April of this year. The commission has been working for three months now, regularly updating me about the work done during this time and existing problems. The head of the commission is Deputy Prime Minister Shahin Mustafayev. The commission consists of ministers and heads of relevant bodies. If all the relevant bodies had correctly structured their work, there would be no need for this commission. How can it be that a commission that has been working for only three months has achieved a more significant and more tangible result in terms of analysis and suggestions than the work done over the past 20 years? This means it is possible. But nobody cared about this and pinned this on each other. And what we get is drought. This problem has existed for two years, it may still be there next year. Climate change is an issue the whole world is discussing. According to some estimates, if prompt measures are not taken, then the process of desertification will accelerate in our country by 2030. Do you want Azerbaijan to turn into a desert? Therefore, this attitude must be stopped. All the officials making mistakes and showing indifference to this issue should be punished.