Wastewater treatment is a rare luxury in rural areas of Armenia, and domestic wastewater is subjected to either direct disposal to water bodies or land. The same is true for most of settlements in Ararat Valley, where the ground water table is rather high, and there is a high risk of contamination of groundwater aquifers with domestic wastewater and fertilizers.
Parakar community in Ararat Valley, with a population of 10,000, is among the disaster-prone communities. All 2,500 community households have private farmlands and are mainly engaged in agricultural activities.
Currently, only about 5 percent of farmlands are cultivated because the wastewater, bypassing the non-operating sewerage pumping station, is uncontrollably discharged into the open irrigation canal, ultimately infiltrating into the ground. About 100 hectares of the community farmlands, being intensively flooded with wastewater, remain uncultivated and are subject to gradual degradation. Furthermore, as the irrigation canal is jammed with sediments from wastewater, the latter often flows out the canal to adjacent residential areas, making foul odor and anti-sanitary conditions. The situation poses a real risk for break-out of intestinal and epidemic diseases during summer and jeopardizes food security of the population.
In March 2010, the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) Small Grants Programme (SGP) in Armenia supported the initiative of the Parakar community administration to address the issue through application of a low-cost, decentralized wastewater treatment system as a simple local solution, applied for the first time in Armenia. The initiative aims to rehabilitate community farmlands through application of lagoon type biological ponds for domestic wastewater treatment. This technology was adapted for Armenian conditions and the treatment structures were designed by a local engineering-consulting company. The technology allows treating the household wastewater to the quality required for irrigation, while using the naturally treated effluents.
In terms of global environmental benefits, it is estimated that 100 hectares of degraded lands will be restored and penetration of about 12 tons of nitrogen and 6 tons of phosphorus into the groundwater aquifer will be prevented.
The project enjoys a strong local ownership. It is notable that among the ten projects funded within the framework of the GEF Small Grants Programme in Armenia thus far; this initiative received the highest monetary contribution from the beneficiary community - about 70 percent of the total project budget.
“This project is of high importance for the community residents, since it aims to solve several problems at once – social, health and environmental. Unlike the option developed under the Master Plan of the Parakar community with an estimated cost of USD 1.5 million, this option is rather cost-effective and environmental- friendly. It will also contribute to the development of small businesses in the community, as a community-owned entity will be established to operate the treatment system and develop fish industry in the future,” said Samvel Vardanyan, the head of Parakar community.
Apart from addressing urgent environmental issues, the project will result in significant improvement of the local people’s well-being and livelihoods. It is estimated that by 2011 about 45 households of the community will gain an average USD 700-1,200 annual income, depending on the cultivated crop. In addition, the community administration plans to provide the treated wastewater to the most vulnerable groups for irrigation at a lower price. It will result in expansion of cultivated farmlands by about 7.2 hectares.
As part of local empowerment component, training sessions will be conducted on sustainable land management practices for the community residents. Moreover, for adequate operation of the wastewater treatment system, special training courses will be delivered to the facility operating staff, to be recruited from the community residents.
Overall, in line with GEF strategic and national environmental and development priorities, the initiative will contribute to the prevention of land degradation, contamination of groundwater sources and promote sustainable land management practices. It also well fits into the National Action Plan on UN Convention to Combat Desertification and, if scaled up, can further boost Armenia’s progress towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal #7 - “halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe water and basic sanitation." It’s worthwhile to note that this wastewater treatment technology is applicable only for small communities, with population of about 10,000, and upon availability of vacant lands for ponds. The achievements of the initiative, implemented by Country Water Partnership NGO, in collaboration with the Parakar Benevolent Foundation, will be presented at the national and regional levels within the framework of Global Water Partnership Network.