Mad as Hail: Villagers block roads in demand for weather-damage compensation

Mad as Hail: Villagers block roads in demand for weather-damage compensation

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Residents of more than 30 villages of the Ararat Valley, which suffered major damage because of the 30-minute non-stop hail a few days ago, periodically block interstate and intrastate highways and roads demanding compensation from the government of Armenia.

“All is left from my vineyard are branches, it was like earthquake which broke our spine. Let the state mediate with the banks to freeze their interests for two years, give us new loans for which they would not demand interest to be paid during the year ahead,” says Karlen Danielyan, resident of Shenavan village, Armavir province.

According to Armavir local government, 12,811 farmers, 10,931 hectares of land have suffered from the hail; some rural communities saw 100 percent damage, others between 50-100 percent.

Along with the expected hike in natural gas tariff which by chain effect will cause inflation in many other spheres, concerns keep growing that fruit and vegetable prices will go up as well.

By blocking the roads desperate villagers are trying to make their voice of protest and plea for help reach the country and government leaders, demanding a meeting exclusively with them. Haykavan village head Mamikon Gevorgyan says their only demand is for the banks to freeze their interests for two years, because only in the second year vineyards will yield crops.

“Only if pruned correctly the vines will grow new branches, but that’s questionable too, because many cut their vineyards from roots. Among the 308 entities 95 percent have bank loans to pay. Last year some people were granted loans with 14 percent interest rate, but before loans were taken with 22-24 percent interest rates. The average loan [villagers have taken] is over half a million drams ($1,200),” Gevorgyan told ArmeniaNow, detailing that it is about 26 billion drams’ worth damage in total, which is around $65 million.

On Monday Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan stated there would not be any compensation, only support.

Vice-premier Armen Gevorgyan, minister of territorial administration, told the protesting villagers that the government is discussing four directions of assistance, related to the loans and bank liabilities, increase of anti-hail stations and their efficiency, assistance through various infrastructures, and others, which implies also financial support.

The damage would have been much milder if the existing 55 anti-hail stations of the region worked on time; for this they had to be charged, while in many of the communities they were out of service, due to no money to run them.

Robert Hovsepyan, leading the Armenian State Hydro-Meteorological Monitoring Service (ASHMS) at the Ministry of Emergency Situations (MES), stated that it is the village administration’s duty to maintain the anti-hail stations, but MES often did it for them. The goal now is to take all the anti-hail stations across the country under MES’s control.

Rural community budgets, made of state subsidies and villagers’ taxes, can hardly cover local expenses. A clear-cut state policy is needed, and villages should be relieved of the responsibility for anti-hail stations. It took millions of dollars in damage to finally decide to take those under MES supervision.

It should be noted that the RA Control Chamber’s latest report on budget expenditures of the ministry of agriculture has revealed extra expenses budgeted in, supposedly, for the installation of anti-hail stations: 15.5 million drams ($37,000), 5.6 million drams ($13,000) of which was in 2009 and 9.9 million drams ($235,000) in 2010.