Since 1998 IOM has been implementing community development projects in rural areas of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic (NAR). The current project aims to support employment and income generation in rural communities by providing permanent access to water.
The project will provide nearly 10,000 households with access to water for both consumption and agriculture through the renovation of traditional underground water supply systems, called kahrizes, in rural areas of the NAR.
Many regions of Azerbaijan are among the driest regions on earth. The total amount of surface water cannot provide an adequate water supply for every household, farm or industry across the country.
Kahrizes were first developed some 3,000 years ago to take underground water to the surface through simple gravity flow. For centuries kahrizes provided a constant year-round water supply through a network of interconnected wells and underground tunnels that collected water from the hills.
During Soviet times the authorities decided to systematically drill deep sub-artesian wells to bring water to the surface using electric pumps. Kahrizes (also known as qanats) began to be abandoned.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to the collapse of much of the country's infrastructure and electricity supplies became erratic. Soon, many sub-artesian wells stopped pumping and villages were left without water.
The project starts with research and evaluation of necessary investments. In most cases villagers apply for kahriz restoration.
Thirty percent of the project cost, as well as the later maintenance costs, are invested by the water user communities. Thus, the project also aims to promote responsibility inside the communities.
IOM provides community trainings that describe the benefits of the project. A community leader, who will manage the project, is selected by water users.
IOM works with village officials to support the projects. Within less than four years 100 kahrizes in more than 30 villages of NAR are being rehabilitated. The project also receives great support from the Government of NAR.
Contracts are signed between the water user communities and IOM. Afterward, the first funds are transferred to start the work. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) is the donor organization for this project.
Kankan Yunis was one of the last surviving traditional water engineers, “kankans”, with skills and knowledge from the generations handed down to him. Since the start of the project IOM has trained more than 120 new kankans.
Trained kankans work at Ilanli-3 kahriz in Gal village. Gal depends 100% on kahriz water. Gurban, a community leader, describes the situation prior to the project: “People here experienced a lack for water throughout the summer”.
Traditional kankan roles are well defined. The head, or Bash, kankan relies on the Charkhchi kankan to operate the winch that lowers him into the well. He works with a Laghimbar kankan who digs the tunnel and the Dolkesh kankan who brings the excavated earth to the surface.
The tunnels, which can extend for kilometers, are around 1 meter high and 60cm wide—just large enough to allow the kankans inside to maintain them.
Kahrizes are also among the oldest operational architectural monuments of Azerbaijan and thus part of the country’s national heritage. The renovation and protection of the kahrizes is a success.
Restored kahrizes in NAR provide typically 3 to 15 liters of water per second and enough irrigation water to help developing the agro-economic sector.
Kahrizes also contribute to empowering women, who are the main beneficiaries, by incorporating them in all stages of the decision making process.
Some kahriz architecture allows the space to also be used as a natural refrigerator for food storage.
The IOM kahriz renovation project ensures water sustainability for future generations of NAR.
Azerbaijan: Prosperity through the revival of ancient kahriz water systems