Old Tech Brings a Future to Rural Azerbaijan

IOM Azerbaijan staff, community members and kankans working together. Photo: IOM

Baku – In Azerbaijan everyone knows the value of water because it is in desperately short supply.

Even though there are two big rivers – the Kur and the Araz, plus several small ones - reservoirs cannot provide enough water to meet the needs of the population.

This makes groundwater crucial. Fortunately, Azerbaijan has substantial reserves, which for centuries was brought to the surface via man-made tunnel systems called kahrizes. But during the Soviet period, kahrizes were considered primitive, and were replaced by deep drilled wells which extracted water using electric pumps. Many kahrizes simply collapsed through lack of use.

After Azerbaijan gained independence, the money needed to keep water systems running ran dry, and so did the deep wells. But now people are turning back to the centuries-old, gravity-fed traditional water-supply systems that quenched the thirst of their ancestors. 

Kankans rehabilitate kahrizes, centuries-old reservoirs that continue to provide clean water for their communities. Photo: IOM

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Azerbaijan has been rehabilitating kahrizes – over 160 of them – since 1998. The mission currently is implementing a four-year project financed by the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) to provide safe and consistent water supplies for over 8,000 families in eight districts through the renovation of 40 kahrizes.

Building on past experience, the project is founded on a community-driven approach, paying specific attention to cross-cutting issues such as gender, governance and environmental sustainability.

The project enhances water access to the local and rural communities, lessening the likelihood they will have to leave their homes in search of less arid land.

Kankans rehabilitate kahrizes, centuries-old reservoirs that continue to provide clean water for their communities. Photo: IOM

The clean water supply produced helps increase agricultural productivity and livelihoods and provides opportunities for income generating activities linked to kahriz renovation. It also ensures the protection of biodiversity and contributes to local communities’ quality of life.

Mirashelli village is one of the biggest villages in Aghdam district of Azerbaijan. To assist it with the water scarcity it faces, IOM plans to rehabilitate a derelict, hundreds-of-years-old kahriz named Shamsi under the KOICA project.

“Our main problem is the lack of clean water supply flow. I have been experiencing great difficult in irrigating my land plot. The access to irrigation water is strictly timed, and if, for some reason, you miss your turn to irrigate your land, your crop can be ruined,” said Mirashelli resident Jahan Mammadova.  

Jahan Mammadova, a resident of Mirashelli, benefits from clean water supply which helps her keep her land fertile and garden growing. Photo: IOM

The Shamsi kahriz is in a picturesque spot, in the forest where the temperatures are cooler than in the rest of the village. “It is especially precious in summertime. People have always used this spot as a family recreation place. Now with the rehabilitated kahriz even more people will be attracted to the area, where they will enjoy the shadow of the trees and the flow of the cool kahriz water,” said local man Eldar Gasimov.

Sakit Shirinov, is a Kankan, the name given to the people who renovate Kharizes. He used to work as a driver, but “I changed my profession because there was a shortage of water in the village where I live.” Now he has a trade and can earn a living in his birthplace.

Kankans rehabilitate kahrizes, centuries-old reservoirs that continue to provide clean water for their communities. Photo: IOM

Under the auspices of the renovation programme IOM established the Kahriz Research and Information Centre at the Azerbaijan State Agricultural University (ASAU).

Today the centre specializes in researching kahriz systems which will ensure that the experience and knowledge of kankans like Sakit is passed to the next generation.

This story was written by Ilqar Xudiyev, IOM Azerbaijan Public Information Officer

For more information about IOM’s WASH programmes visit the IOM website.