ADVOCATES OF NATURE

Azerbaijan 2016 | INDUSTRY & MINING | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Huseyn Bagirov, Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources, on how the Ministry is protecting the environment while at the same time allowing business to prosper.

Huseyn Bagirov
BIOGRAPHY
Huseyn Bagirov has been serving as the Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources in Azerbaijan since 2001. He has significant experience in the sphere of education, science, environmental management, and economics, as well as mountaineering. He has worked for both government and private organizations, and founded the Western University (WU), where he engaged in research and teaching activities. He has also served as a Fulbright professor at Indiana University in the US. He is the author of more than 50 books, monographs, brochures, and scientific articles, and is engaged with mountaineering and air sports, and headed the Air and Extreme Sports Federation of Azerbaijan (FAIREX). He has also led a number of Azerbaijani expeditions to Antarctica, Africa, and South America.

What were some of the directives over the past years that helped spur advancements in the important areas of environmental and ecological protection?

Fast economic growth, the improvement of the welfare of the population, the protection of the environment, and the effective use of natural resources have always been the main focuses of our President. The 2016 Environmental Performance Index, compiled by researchers from Yale and Columbia University, evaluated how nations protect their ecosystems and human health. Azerbaijan placed 31st among 180 countries. The report looks at nine different factors that measure a country's performance in areas such as the health of residents, the state of water resources, sanitary standards, nature, and the environment. Azerbaijan has greatly improved, jumping 32 ranks since 2014. This biennial report showed that our country has made significant progress over the last 10 years by scoring 83.78 points this year and leaving behind all other CIS countries. The report put Azerbaijan into second place among Eastern Europe and Central Asian countries, eclipsing Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. Moreover, the country also ranked second in the climate and energy category, reducing gas emissions from 73 to 51 million tons since 1990. All these factors are the result of a purposeful environmental policy implemented by President Aliyev. As a result, tangible progress has been recorded in the improvement of the environmental situation.

The preservation of biodiversity is one of our main activities. The size of specially protected nature areas has nearly doubled since 2003, reaching 10.3% of the total area of the country. There are specially protected nature areas currently covering 893,000ha, including nine national parks, 11 state nature reserves, and 24 state sanctuaries. Special attention has been paid to the development of infrastructure in specially protected natural areas as well. For example, routes were created in the Goygol National Park, an eco-tourism destination, and more than 65,000 tourists visited the park shortly thereafter.

Elsewhere, and more than 625,000 people now have access to quality drinking water in 384 settlements as a result of the establishment of modular water treatment facilities. This program covered large areas in a short period of time and yielded tangible, positive results. A facility for 20,000 cubic meters of sea water desalination, with a pilot stage daily production capacity of 1,000 cubic meters, has been created as an effective solution to a possible water shortage problem that may occur in the future. The construction of additional equipment to double the production capacity of the desalinization factory will soon be completed. This factory is the largest desalination facility in the Caspian Sea. The water from this factory will be used for the irrigation of greeneries in the surrounding areas. Large-scale projects were carried out in Azerbaijan for the reconstruction of centralized sanitation systems, with the modernization and building of new waste water treatment facilities. A total of 17 stations, consisting of modular treatment facilities with the total capacity of 6,400 cubic meters waste water per day, were established by the Ministry in Mardakan, Buzovna, Bilgah, Nardaran, Pirshagi, Novkhani, and along the coastal lines of Sumgayit city, which had no centralized sanitation system. To modernize the hydro-meteorological surveillance system, we have set up relevant equipment to allow us to follow the Kura river's fluctuations and flood streams on the Kish river in real time, which strengthens our control over disastrous hydro-meteorological events and improves forecasts and early warning systems. The comprehensive hydro-meteorological and ecological research scientific center, which is the highest mountainous facility in the Caucasus, was created and three automated meteorological stations were established to study the Bazarduzu-Shahdag-Tufandagh ecosystems. In 2015, 10 automated weather stations in Azerbaijan were put into operation and 39 AMS were equipped with solar panel power supplies.


As Azerbaijan expands its industrial complex, what role does the Ministry play in evaluating the ecological and environmental impact of these activities?

Fast economic growth rates necessitate a modern and flexible management of the environment. Large-scale infrastructure projects are being implemented in the country, which require the application of an environmental impact evaluation. The creation of new ventures and the expansion of industrial complexes have an inevitable impact on the environment. In the wake of these rapid developments, the Ministry faces a challenge to preserve the balance between economic development and the environment. The Ministry adheres to the principle of sustainable development when evaluating the environmental impact of feasibility studies, estimations, and designs related to construction, re-construction, expansion, the provision of new technologies, and the termination of industrial facilities. These evaluations determine the possible negative environmental impacts and consequences of business activities. We study the compliance standards of industrial facilities to ensure they are built to environmental and ecological requirements. The Ministry also focuses on the effective use of natural resources and achieving power efficiency while using alterative, non-traditional sources of energy. This leads to less pollution in the atmosphere, soil, and water resources. The Ministry also supports enterprises in the effort to optimize their business operations and improve waste management.

What measures has the Ministry taken for the protection and growth of wildlife?

The Ministry focuses on the preservation of biodiversity and the protection and study of rare plant and animal species. The Red Books play an important role in the observation and registration of rare plant and animal species in the country. The Red Book of Azerbaijan, which was published in 1989, covered 140 species of flora and 10 species of fauna in need of conservation. The second edition of the Red Book of Azerbaijan was published in 2013, covering 300 species of plants and fungus, as well as 223 species of animal. Granting special protection status to the areas with rare species is one of the most effective methods of preservation. As of 2001, there were 14 reserves and 20 sanctuaries in the country, covering 478,000ha. Measures implemented over the past years extended the protected areas up to 893,000ha. Moreover, activities aimed at the preservation of rare species in the country include public awareness raising and educational campaigns for different demographics of the population, an increase in fines for the destruction of rare species, imposing stricter punishments, and re-introduction measures for increasing the number of rare species. Some species in the country—for example, the Caucasus leopard, striped hyena, crested porcupine, chamois, and gazelle—are of high importance. Ensuring the effective protection of the leopard, creating necessary conditions enabling their harmonic existence in the natural ecosystem alongside human beings, and providing for their populations while preserving of their means of food is of a great importance. Up to the 2000s, the existence of the leopard in the country was in question. In following years, the Ministry enacted strict control of migration routes in the areas of leopards and sanctuaries were created (Hirkan and Zangazur National Parks). In March 2009, the First National Strategy and Action Plan on the preservation of leopards in Azerbaijan was approved, covering comprehensive measures in this direction. Together with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), works are underway to prepare a new National Action and Strategy Plan for the next five years. Measures were also taken aimed at increasing the species of gazelle in Azerbaijan. In the Shirvan National Park, the largest gazelle population in Europe has been increased from 3,000 to 7,000, and the living area for gazelles has been significantly increased. In addition, a project has also been launched to reintroduce gazelles in areas where they historically lived, but were uprooted due to human activities. The project is implemented by the Ministry with the support of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, IDEA Campaign, and WWF Azerbaijan Office. On December 24, 2010, President Aliyev and First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva took part in the process of reintroducing a herd of gazelles to the Priakashkul settlement of the Absheron region, their historic home. In total, 26 gazelles have been released to the Gobustan-Jangichay area and they have collars equipped with satellite transmission devices. Gazelles have been gradually introduced to the Aghgol National Park, Gobustan-Zangichay valley, Ajinohur-Sarija lowland, and Korchay reserve, and more than 150 gazelles have been returned to their historic lands.