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Protest in Daghestani town over lack of drinking water

4 July 2018
Strike in Izberbash (Saida Vagabova /OC Media)

Around 400 residents of the Daghestani town of Izberbash protested in front of the local mayor’s office on Tuesday, demanding their water access be restored. Houses in the town have been without water for the last three weeks.

As protesters gathered chanting ‘Water! Water! Water!’, neither the town’s mayor, Abdulmedzhid Suleymanov, nor his deputy, Nariman Rabadanov, were present. Ruslan Magomedov, director of the water supply company, Vodokanal, addressed the crowd. He attempted to quell the demonstration by stating that some cities in Kazakhstan also lack access to drinking water. This comment angered people, leading some to threaten to block the federal highway south of Izberbash.

According to Daghestani daily Chernovik, drinking water in Izberbash, a town 50 kilometres south of Makhachkala along the Caspian Sea, is normally supplied just twice a day. Around May each year, people begin to require more water for agriculture, placing a burden on the town’s supply, at which point taps in homes often run dry. According to Chernovik, the authorities have given different explanations for the drought for several years.

On 2 July, Mayor Abdulmedzhid Suleymanov and the chairman of the city’s assembly of deputies, Islamabal Bagomedov, shared a video on YouTube to explain the reason. Suleymanov citeddamage to the town’s water pipeline, built in 1984, which he said had deteriorated to the point of constant disrepair. Bagomedov added that two of Gazprom’s geothermal wells, which normally help supply water to the city, are out of action.

The mayor criticised the ‘destructive Izberbash residents’ for their protests, and relieved himself of responsibility, claiming he could not solve the problem without state support.

The mayor of Izberbash, Abdulmedzhid Suleymanov (mo-izberbash.ru)

In the video, he assured residents that he has been working to solve the issue, presenting as proof a letter from the interim head of Daghestan, Vladimir Vasilyev, to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, requesting co-financing for the completion of the water pipe and treatment facilities.

The letter said that a new water network is needed for the entire region, at a cost of ₽526 million ($8.3 million). Another ₽360 million ($5.7 million) is needed, the letter said, for the completion of water treatment facilities started in 2009, and ₽350 million ($5.5 million) for an ‘external water supply system’.

‘No city mayor could solve this problem without ₽1 billion ($16 million). If our taxes went to the town, we could have handled this in a year, but instead our taxes go to the budgets of the republic and the state. And the city’s revenue is only ₽160 million ($2.5 million)’, the mayor explained in the video.

Rally in Izberbash (Saida Vagabova /OC Media)

Protests spreading

Residents of Buynaksk, a town 60 kilometres north-west of Izberbash, have also expressed anger over a lack of water. Several local residents told OC Media they are prepared to join the Izberbash demonstration, because they do not have a consistent water supply in their homes, and need to install reservoirs to save water.

On Monday, the head of Buynaksk, Islamudin Nurgudayev, held a meeting on the matter, according to the administration’s official Facebook page. The critical decrease in water, according to the head of the housing and communal services Gadzhi Gabitov, was due to the abnormally high temperature, irrational use of water by the residents, as well as the deterioration of the water network.

‘An influx of tourists’

Izberbash also experienced water cut-offs in 2017. Deputy Mayor Nariman Rabadanov claimed the shut-off was the result of an influx of tourists. This, he said, created higher-than-normal usage and at a time of lower-than-normal water reserves at the source, Lake Rybye in Kaspiysk. In addition, according to the Mayor’s Office, there has been a decrease in the amount of water coming to Izberbash via the October Revolution Channel (ORC), a major source of drinking and irrigation water in Daghestan.

According to the local administration, Daghestan’s Karabudakhkent District, which was initially supposed to receive only 10% of the water from the ORC, has over time increased its consumption and now exceeds 50 %.

Last year, Kadilabagand Kadilagabandov, the director of the ORC Office, stated that the company supplies 472 liters of water per second, in compliance with their contract, and that they bear no responsibility for the water level in the lake or the amount of water reaching Izberbash.

Kadilagabandov told OC Media that it is currently impossible to supply more water from the ORC, because it wouldn’t leave enough for irrigation. In addition, heat causes the water to evaporate quickly.

Despite the water shortages, the Izberbash Water Supply company sells water in Izberbash at a price of 4.5 tonnes for ₽500 ($8).

A former employee of Izberbashsky, Arsen Shapiyev, told OC Media the problem can be solved gradually by addressing defects in the water supply network as soon as they arise. He claimed the local authorities were responsible for the degradation of the water network, but even in such circumstances, three years ago residents of Izberbash still had water in their houses 24 hours a day.

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