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Sara Petrosyan

Yerevan Djur Can’t Guarantee Residents Won’t Be Poisoned Even Though the Utility Claims It Has Implemented All Its Obligations

There was a case of widespread water poisoning on June 1-3 in 2011 in the 11th neighbourhood of Nubarashen in Yerevan. According to the official statement, 87 individuals received treatment for intestinal infections at the Nork Infectious Diseases Clinic. Forensic testing showed that one of the patients was extremely sick, 58 were moderately sick and 28 were lightly affected.

A few days later, between July 9 and 14, some more cases of water poisoning were registered in the villages of Nor Kharberd and Ayntap adjacent to the capital Yerevan. The official statement noted that sanitary and anti-infection rules had been violated in unknown circumstances and that, as a result, eleven residents of Nor Kharberd and two from Ayntap were hospitalized with severe intestinal infections. In particular, 16 year-old Lilit Mouradyan from Nor Kharberd, who had given birth one month before the incident, died from kidney failure on July 3, 2011 at the Erebouni Medical Center. Her family members were being treated at the Masis Hospital.

Criminal cases were launched regarding both cases. The case involving the Nubarashen 11th neighbourhood, being investigated by the Erebouni Police Investigations Division, was dropped due to the lack of a  corpus delicti in the top management of Yerevan Djur (Yerevan Water CJSC) (Criminal Procedure Code of the Republic of Armenia: Article 31 Part 1, Point 1).

The criminal case launched on September 14, 2011 regarding the “instances of widespread sickness” in the villages of Ayntap was suspended based on the Code’s Article 31, Part 1, Point 1 of the same Code - Criminal proceedings may be suspended, completely or partly, upon the resolution of the prosecutor, the investigator, the agency for inquest, or the court, if: 1) the person, who must be presented as the accused, is not identified.

One year later, on June 25, 2012, the police reported that: “Due to as yet unknown circumstances, in the Ararat Marz villages of Nor Kharberd and Ayntap, sanitary and anti-infectious rules were violated, resulting in widespread illnesses among residents.” We need only remember that at a press conference in the summer of 23011 regarding the Nor Kharberd case, Artavazd Vanyan, who heads the Hygienic and Anti-Infectious Monitoring Inspectorate at the RA Ministry of Health, stated: “...anti-infectious studies show that it was water-related. Without doubt, the source was water.”

Recently, I informed residents of the Nubarashen 11th neighbourhood that nobody had been held responsible for the mass poisoning that took place one year ago. “But they said that they would get to the bottom of it and that they pay compensation. They haven’t changed one pipe and haven’t fixed the water supply. In fact, two days after we were released from hospital, they had the nerve to come by and read our water meter,” said neighbourhood resident Emma Hayrapetyan who didn’t seem all that surprised at my revelation.

18 month-old Emma in Nork Infectious Disease Hospital Emma Hayrapetyan

Her three grandchildren, 18 month old Emma, Hakob and Sargis, spent four days in hospital. Before being admitted, they all experienced diarrhea, nausea and dehydration for two days. Everyone in the neighbourhood suffered the same symptoms. They told me that each came up with their own explanation as to what was happening and that they all tried their own home remedies as treatment. Arevik, a mother of three young children, told me she took them to the polyclinic since two of the kids were suffering from acute weakness, nausea and diarrhea. She was pregnant and was experiencing the same symptoms. Arevik told me that the doctor advised her to take Regidron as a water restorative, but when the children took a turn for the worse, she collapsed as well and called an emergency ambulance.

 It never crossed their minds that nearby residents felt the same and that it was a mass poisoning from water. The news spread when calls to emergency ambulances increases and several of the vehicles approached the same building. Neighborhood residents relate that the ambulances couldn’t transport all of the patients and that emergency staff were giving intravenous injections in the apartments. They kept the children in the hospital for four days and released them to continue treatment at home even though they hadn’t fully recovered. After returning home, they purchased medicines for quite some time. Some residents organized a variety of self-treatment methods and confess that their children still suffer from various ailments today. A frequent complaint is intestinal tract problems. Adults were treated at home. One the first day, water and Regidron were distributed, and that was all.

Emma Hayrapetyan says that during the next four days the neighbourhood had no water supply. When the supply resumed, it ran hot and chalky for 2-3 days. On the fourth day, the water color cleared a bit but it tasted awful but it was cold.

Yerevan Municipal Prosecutor Hrach Badalyan summarized the police investigation thusly: “At the intersection of 11th and 9th Streets in Nubarashen it was found that the water pipeline was damaged and that there had been a water leakage for about one year. As a result the ground was always wet. In other words, discovering the water leak, fixing the problem and preventing the mass sickness of residents weren’t particularly complicated.”

The six month preliminary investigation by the police found that: “The cause of the mass sickness of Nubarashen residents was the infiltration of   sewage waste infectious agents into the human organism transported via the drinking water. Specialists have concluded that over time that sewage flows and the infectious agents at the intersection got into the potable water distribution pipe due to a lack of pressure, thus causing residents to seek hospital care with severe intestinal infections.”

In its decision to drop the case, the pre-investigation examining body touched up the guilty individuals and concluded that, “no one in the company was tasked with the responsibility of carrying our periodic testing or inspection and that there was no in-company procedure to expose accidents or water seepage.” No evaluation of guilt was assigned to the water supply company even though immediately after the warning of the incident had been sounded the State Prosecutor General, in an advisory session, had called for the timely expose of the “guilty individuals and organizations”.

Yerevan Water was the water supply company for the Nubarashen 11th neighbourhood and the villages of Nor Kharberd and Ayntap as of May 30, 2006. Regarding what took place in the villages, company General Manager Gor Grigoryan noted that both Yerevan Djur and Hayjrmoughkoyughi (Armenian Water and Sewage) were both supplying water to the villages in question, but that instances of poisoning didn’t fall within their parameters. “They are private water pipes and neither of us operates them,” he said.

In the management contract signed between the Republic of Armenia and the French company Veolia Water, it states that the operator must respond on an operational basis to all received petitions and complaints, and that fines will be levied for not doing so within the prescribed average deadline. Gagik Margaryan, Director of Yerevan Djur’s Customer Relations Division, says that due to modern technologies installed in the 1-85 service more than 1.5 years ago, the company is immediately informed of customer warnings.

 “Once the warning enters the system, all appropriate division heads see it at the same time. The information is passed along to the regional engineer who organizes the work to be carried out,” says Margaryan.

Yerevan Djur General Manager Gor Grigoryan

Working in such operational conditions, it remains unanswered why the company wasn’t able to prevent the three day breakdown in Nubarashen, especially when the company director stated that “we were informed about the incident within minutes”. More correctly, General Manager Gor Grigoryan revealed that it wasn’t possible to pinpoint the location of the accident since, “We have a tortured and sick system where individuals connect water pipes willy-nilly to the system and no one knows anything about it.” He didn’t rule out that such cases could happen again and noted, “We are not insured given the conditions of today’s water supply system. Today, there are more holes than metal in the pipes. It’s simply that the continuity of the water supply has decreased the risk factor.”

As of January 1, 2010, the Commercial Authority (headed by Gagik Margaryan at the time) of Yerevan Djur was dealing with customer complaints. In the fourth year of the implementation of the contract the Danish company Rambol conducted a technical, operational, service and management audit of Yerevan Djur for 2009-2010. From an organization stance, according to the audit, a solution to the problem had been given. “Warnings received by residents or organization regarding water supply accidents, schedule violations, sewage   as well as courtyard pump breakdowns will be received by the “1-85 Call Center” customer hotline.”

The audit also says: “There are frequent complaints that it is hard to contact the 1-85 Call Center. The public perception is that service level of the lessee is severely lacking when it comes to quickly fixing breakdowns. Even though the response time to customer petitions did not exceed accepted norms, what was considered unsatisfactory is that the average response time in the fourth year doubled in comparison to the third year. Yerevan Djur must explain why it took repair crews twice as long to fix breakdowns in the fourth year as opposed to the third.”

The Ministry of Health’s website (June 3, 2011), after residents were hospitalized, states that the Southern Branch of Yerevan Djur and Yerevan Municipality specialists have already repaired the accident. People in the know claim that the company would only initiate repair work when there was a hue and cry raised; thus it’s no wonder that the accident here was fixed after people started showing up in hospital wards.

In a letter to Serzh Denis Popof, former General Manager of Yerevan Djur, the heads of the company’s branches and two division chiefs complained about obstacles arising in organizing work activities and called on him to take drastic measures to remedy the problem.

They wrote: “We appreciate the investment made in equipment, but we have claimed and claim now that the main investment must be directed to changing broken down water pipes and non-working valves. This isn’t happening in practice. Pipe insulation work has stopped and we are essentially wearing down and already dilapidated system. In these conditions, the branch offices, at tremendous effort,   can just about manage to repair all the breakdowns. Furthermore, the branches are sometimes instructed to change 100-400 meters of water pipe. This is unacceptable and a major violation of branch functions...”

 “Technical management” section of contract

Point 8

“locating and monitoring of external seepage; taking measures to prevent and/or decrease such losses”

Point 9

Planning of greater protection and repair projects, including restoration and repair of equipment, that are incorporated in the business plans and the projects for greater protection and repair.

Point 14

Preservation of underground pipes that assist in drainage of surface water, since these pipes are still joined to the sewage system.

Despite the fact that the company failed to carry out its responsibilities, the General Prosecutor also did not see a corpus delicti (Latin: "body of crime") in the act of the company’s general manager. The prosecutor, as mediator, merely urged the Yerevan mayor to look into the water seepage issue and come up with alternative ways to expose hidden breakdowns, adding that the measures of Yerevan Djur were inadequate.

In a letter to the Yerevan mayor, we asked to be informed as to the status of the general prosecutor’s mediation.

 “In order to increase the effectiveness of the process, the company has acquired new and more sensitive equipment to locate seepages and pressure fluctuations. The problem is more complicated in the sewage system, where the absence of pressure prohibits the application of such measures. In this regard, studies are being conducted and a specific approach will be crafted designed to provide modern solutions,” stated K. Ghazaryan, acting head of the Yerevan Municipality’s Department of Communal Services.

Yerevan Djur General Manager Gor Grigoryan, replying to the same issue, states, “These are all modern, nevertheless they cannot insure a 100% result. The only alternative is to change the water network.”

According to the director, given the state of the network today, when it is impossible to reveal who has installed pipes and where, they will not be able to prevent such cases. In order to have new pipes will require great expenditures. Costs factored into water utility rates only cover the repair of the most damaged sections located.  The director says that the government must provide a solution to this issue by way of credits and that there had previously been an agreement for credit programs.

The general manager stated that the company had fulfilled all its obligations, including the investment portion, and that he and Gagik Margaryan regarded all complaints about the company’s activities and shortcomings as “absurd” chatter.

(To be continued)

(Scoop, a Danish-based network for investigative journalists, assisted in the preparation of this investigative article) 

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