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Legitimacy, Trust and the Environmental Agenda: Lessons From Armenia

September 2000

Citation: ELR 10771

Author: Ruth Greenspan Bell

Lake Sevan is land-locked Armenia's chief water resource. The largest alpine lake in the Caucasus, Lake Sevan's catchment basin is one-sixth of Armenia's total geography. Almost one-half of the fish for the kitchens of Armenia come from Lake Sevan. Lake Sevan is a source of recreation, hydropower, croplands irrigation, habitat for fish and shellfish, nursery zones for aquatic and amphibian species, and a resting place for migratory birds. Not surprisingly, the lake figures importantly in Armenia history, literature, and culture.

Lake Sevan is also in severe danger. Its declining environmental health is one of the many problems Armenia inherited from the Soviet Union. Stalin-era decisions to rely heavily on lake water for irrigation caused Lake Sevan water levels to be lowered by 19 meters in 40 years. Combined with pollution from municipal sewage, agriculture, and industry—when industry was active in Armenia—the quality of Lake Sevan water has dropped significantly. Lake Sevan is a major reason why Armenia considered an environmental sector loan from the World Bank to support comprehensive environmental management reform, including law drafting and capacity building.

The author is Director, International Institutional Development and Environmental Assistance (HDEA), Resources for the Future. She previously served as Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, and in various management positions in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of General Counsel. She provides legal and policy institution building advice to foreign governments seeking to strengthen their regimes for environmental protection. The views expressed here are those of the author.

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