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Environmental appraisal and risk assessment, Azerbaijan

Environmental appraisal and risk assessment, Azerbaijan

1 January 2001

Located on the western coast of the Caspian Sea, the Republic of Azerbaijan gained its independence from the U.S.S.R. in 1991. Serious economic problems started with the transition to independence, reinforced by the conflict that developed with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabhak territory. This conflict has resulted in the occupation of 20 per cent of the Republic's territory, and has left more than one million refugees and internally displaced persons in its wake.

As part of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan was a centre for the oil industry and the production of chemicals. Following the break up of the Soviet Union, the industrial complex fell apart: years of industrial productivity followed by the decay of facilities and equipment has left contamination legacies in many parts of the country. The government has declared the Apsheron peninsula, where more than half of the population live, an ecological disaster area.

Since 1995, UNHCR has funded the construction of shelters and infrastructure for refugees and internally displaced people in Azerbaijan. One of these sites, the Kalentari settlement, near Barda the capital city, is adjacent to an agricultural chemical storage facility which, although defunct since 1993, may still be contaminated by chemicals, particularly pesticides and fertilizers.

Conscious of the risks that refugees and internally displaced persons might face under these conditions, UNHCR commissioned an environmental appraisal and risk assessment project around the settlement by the British company, Dames and Moore. The work, which will take place from July to August 1999, is divided into six phases:

  • a preliminary site investigation;
  • soil and water sampling;
  • chemical analysis of the findings;
  • a screening risk assessment;
  • an assessment of risk mitigation; and
  • reporting, including details on proposed actions.

The site investigation will evaluate the local water supply and sanitation practices in the Kalentari settlement. A walk-over survey will be made of the chemical plant area, and its surroundings, to verify the extent of visible contamination, to identify the site conditions, and to locate any waste storage/disposal areas.

Soil and water sampling will be carried out to broadly characterise the aerial range, severity and type of potential contamination in the soil. Fifteen trial pits will be excavated, inspected and mapped. Soil and water samples will be studied in order to determine the magnitude of any contamination and to verify the presence and concentration of pesticides, herbicides and heavy metals.

The results will be screened to determine whether a more detailed risk assessment is necessary. Using these findings, which will include options for reducing risks to the population, UNHCR staff will undertake a field trip to assess possible risk reduction, including discussions with local population.