Azerbaijan belongs to the world’s water stress countries. With current deficit of water resources being about 5 km3, the additional pressures on water resources due to climate change will seriously affect the rural water supply. The region of Greater Caucasus has been identified as particularly vulnerable in this regard. Paradoxically, most of the quality ground waters are formed in foothills of the Greater and Lesser Caucasus and constitute 24 million m3 (8.8.km3) per year. However, currently, only 20% of a total resource has been used. And as Azerbaijan's Second National Communication (SNC) suggests, with the view of increasing water deficit, the country will have to increase ground water extraction both for irrigation and fresh water supply needs.
The goal of this project is to sensitize the water management policies to the long term risks of climate change. The objective of the proposed project is to reduce vulnerability of the communities of the Greater Caucasus region of Azerbaijan to water stress and hazards by improved water and flood management.
Water is unevenly distributed across the seasons and geographic areas in Azerbaijan. Despite an overall trend of rainfall reductions in the country, the mountainous regions of Greater Caucasus experience increasingly prolonged inundations and flash floods during the wet season and extended dry spells during the dry seasons. Variation of water flow may reach 30% between the dry and wet seasons.
Climate change does not only impact water availability but also exacerbates frequency and magnitude of local floods. A sustained increase in rainfall has been recorded during winter and spring months leading to floods and mudflows (the latter occurs in the areas subjected to erosion). Major floods occurred in the Greater Caucasus in 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2002. The frequency of mudflows in the region increased from an average of 2 – 4 per year during the baseline period of 1960-90s, to an average of 15-18 per year in the new millennium (SNC, Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources). At present, the value of assets at risk from flooding is about USD 3.7 billion (Asian Development Bank). Floods and mudflows regularly affect large areas of Azerbaijan, in particular the Kura River and Araz River floodplains (near to and downstream of Sabirabad) and the steep alluvial plains along the tributaries of the Kura and Araz Rivers. The volume of sediments each mudslide brings is between 0.2 and 1.0 million m3. Floods in 2003 caused over USD 50 million in losses and damaged over 7,150 private and public buildings. A 100-year flood event would cover 15,000 km2, affect 300,000 people, and result in damages of $396 million.
Seasonal nature of water availability in the areas of Greater Caucasus prompt local population to move closer towards the flood plain areas and river banks thus increasing exposure of settlements to flood incidents. Protective zones are not clearly defined or observed. Structural measures that are currently favoured and applied cannot offer long-lasting solutions in the face of climate change. Even though structural measure are needed and have already contributed to improved flood protection, they offer 'end-of-pipe' approach rather than sustainable solution to improved water and flood management in the face of exacerbated risks posed by climate change. A complex mosaic of land use in the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus, ranging from the high altitude summer pastures, bordering with forest belt and agricultural small householder land plots, mainly practicing multicrop rainfed agriculture, requires more complex and integrated approaches to addressing the issues of water stress and flood impacts. The normative condition that the project proposes to establish is to sensitize the water management policies and practices to the long term risks of climate change.