Garbage Dilemma: Provincial Authorities Continue Issuing ‘Futile’ Directives
On February 24, 2105, an official from the Tavoush Provincial Administration told members at the opening meeting of the province’s council that the committee handling snow and refuse removal throughout the province was conducting spot checks to see if the work was being handled correctly.
To deal with infractions and deficiencies, the provincial government, it was claimed, had reviewed the issue, had taken appropriate steps, and had drafted a corresponding plan of action to see that such irregularities were fixed. Deadlines were set and instructions were sent to local authorities to right such wrongs.
The official noted that the above noted measures had resulted in a measurable improvement in sanitary conditions in local communities and the roads running through them.
“The improvements are to be seen in all communities in the province. I must note, however, the extremely positive work carried out by the communities of Dilijan, Berd, Haghartzin, Baghanis, Joujevan, Haghtanak, Ptghavan and Azatamout,” said the official.
Months later, on August 18, Hetq published the first in a series of articles entitled “Tavoush Province: Armenia’s Legal and Illegal Garbage Dumps” examining the state of trash collection and disposal throughout Armenia.
Hetq found 19 illegal dumps in Tavoush. A few were located in areas deemed ‘measurably improved’ by the Tavoush authorities.
The Tavoush government never responded to the article. One month later, during a discussion of the issue that took place at the second session of the Tavoush council on September 17, 2015, it was noted that: “From an environmental perspective, there remains the problematic issue of spontaneous placement of wastes, irregular garbage removal, and the matter of unregulated use of garbage dumps in the province.”
The report issues by the province notes that the problem must be tackled on several fronts – the drafting of a plan dealing with the regulation of garbage dumps in large communities; designing inter-communal garbage dumps and the provision of equipment to operate them; and improving overall trash collection.
The report also stresses the need to strengthen monitoring of sanitary conditions in the communities.
With its third session the provincial council ended its work year. It was assumed that at least one of the above-mentioned work approaches to the overall problem would have been noted at the session. However, the Tavoush Provincial Administration deemed it more important to discuss the results of the December 6 constitutional referendum. It seems that the Tavoush Administration wasn’t aware that summarizing the results of the referendum does not fall within its purview.
In any event, the year ended and it remained unclear what else the Tavoush Provincial Governor felt regarding the garbage problem in his backyard other than expressing some concern and discomfort. After reading the Hetq article, with the accompanying map pinpointing illegal trash dumps in Tavoush, did the governor issue more directives to the committee in his government responsible for sanitary norms and trash collection?
This state of affairs is not confined to Tavoush. Hetq found the same neglect and inaction when it surveyed trash collection in Kotayk, Vayots Dzor and Ararat provinces last year.
Of the 15 garbage dumps Hetq discovered in the five villages along the Garni-Geghard stretch of highway, just one was legal. Eight illegal dumps were found in Vayots Dzor. Only one dump of the 18 registered in Ararat was legal. (We should note that Hetq’s research didn’t encompass all the territory in these provinces.)
None of the provincial governments in question deemed the issue of removing these illegal garbage dumps imperative.
And we are disinclined to believe that the provincial authorities were informed of the problem only after Hetq published its findings. Every year, the provincial governments conduct monitoring of 1/3 of their communities and inspection crews have registered sanitary and environmental violations in almost all communities both prior to and after our studies.
These inspection crews have instructed all local community officials to remove the existing violations and to adopt decisions regarding how to tackle sanitary issues within their borders. In other words, they have to meet the guidelines as specified in Article 11 of the “RA Law Regarding Wastes” stating that if suggestions aren’t met within a defined time limit the matter will be adjudicated in the courts.
Communities, however, aren’t concerned with such ‘threats’ because they are never applied. No one follows up to see if such official directives are complied with.
According to Presidential Decree NH-728 (Official Governance in Armenia’s Provinces), the results of administrative monitoring must be summarized quarterly and presented at the next session of the provincial council. In addition to debating such findings, the provincial governments must also provide systematic assistance to communities in order to ensure legality.
An inspection team from the Kotayk Provincial Administration visited the communities along the Garni-Geghard roadway to assess sanitary conditions in May, months before Hetq published the second of its articles that specifically dealt with the area. (Garni-Geghard: Armenia’s Legal and Illegal Garbage Dumps)
The team found a number of environmental violations and set a twenty day deadline for community authorities to resolve them.
Three months later, however, Hetq found the situation unchanged. Communities weren’t collecting garbage removal payments and trash removal contracts hadn’t been signed with residents or businesses.
Provincial council sessions should have prioritized the issue of setting fees garbage collection, obtaining adequate equipment for the job, and ensuring that legal dump sites are maintained and operated properly.
Provincial authorities should be working with local communities to see that financial and other resources are effectively and legally used to tackle the garbage collection issue.
Naturally, such measures will only be adopted if Armenia’s provincial authorities are serious about tackling the garbage problem head on.