WIESBADEN, Germany - More than most people, Armenians value water.

In the late Bronze Age, the Assyrians dubbed Armenians Nairi, or the people of the lakes and rivers. Every July, the country celebrates National Water Splashing Day, called "Vardavar," when citizens douse each other - sometimes total strangers - with bucketfuls of water. In fact, one of the most popular sites in the country is Lake Sevan, one of the largest high-altitude lakes in the world.

And yet clean water is scarce.

About 50 to 60 percent of clean water is lost due to breaks, leaks and gaps in the country's disjointed network of pipes. In the capital, Yerevan, water flows from the tap only a few hours a day. The fear of water contamination is real.

To combat this crisis, the Office of Defense Cooperation in Yerevan teamed with the U.S European Command and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to execute six fully functional, turnkey water systems throughout the country as part of a single humanitarian assistance project. Through EUCOM, ODC gained approval, funding and ultimately the Corps of Engineers' support for this mission.

"These are six separate projects that help six separate communities throughout the country," said Charles Samuel, Caucasus Project Office chief who is overseeing design and construction. "Together, they make a statement that the U.S. values its friendship with Armenia and is willing to help them in any way we can. I'm just happy to be a part of the team making that happen."

In accordance with current host nation building standards and codes, the $600,000 undertaking - collectively called the Renovation of Public Water Supply System - seeks to partially or fully reconstruct the existing water supply systems near the villages of Aghavnavank, Antaramej, Karmir-Aghek, Sevkar, Ttou Jour and Vaghashen.

This includes disassembling, rehabilitating and constructing reservoirs, fences, catch basins, wells and roughly 14 miles of intercommunity pipelines to assist the villages, which have a combined population of just over 9,000.

"We're talking thousands of people who - some for the first time in their lives - will now have clean, fresh water," said Samuel. "That, to me, is a truly amazing contribution."

The project was introduced by CARD, the Center for Agribusiness and Rural Development, a non-profit non-governmental organization originally created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to solve agricultural and irrigation problems in Armenia. Executing the project is CESCO Co. Ltd., a construction and engineering services company based in Yerevan.

According to Samuel, CESCO, which normally provides heating, ventilation and air-conditioning services, is on target to deliver all six projects by the end of the year- on time, on scope and on budget. CESCO's work also includes the design, delivery, installation, renovation and connection of utilities.

"We're really very pleased and impressed," Samuel said about CESCO's work. "Their ability to adroitly handle a variety of complicated water problems in a variety of remote regions throughout an already remote country is impressive, to say the least. It's one of our greatest success stories."

In addition to providing an adequate and sanitary water supply to the people of the six remote communities in the mountainous and seismically active regions of central Armenia, the water systems create the potential for an enhanced local economy through increased irrigation, improving the local's capacity to help themselves.

"Building partner nation capacity is our watchword at EUCOM," said Charles Brady, EUCOM humanitarian assistance program manager. "We are fortunate to be able to contribute to an improvement in Armenia's ability to help people."

Recently, the World Bank, USAID and others financed millions of dollars in water system rehabilitations in Armenia, said Maj. Edward Keller, bilateral affairs officer with ODC. While these have led to improved supply, quality and financial viability of the water utilities, they have mostly focused on Yerevan.

"This water project extends EUCOM's reach of assistance [to] these villages," said Keller, who is serving as part of Kansas' Army National Guard's State Partnership Program. "[We] have also been active with renovations to schools and hospitals."

These humanitarian assistance projects, Keller added, were started by Lt. Col. Doug Peterson and Maj. Michael McCullough, both ODC chiefs and former EUCOM staff officers who assisted EUCOM in building friendships and positive relationships.

"It is great to be associated with such superb leaders who understand how to carry out EUCOM's strategy," said Brady. "I can't say enough about how important the ODC chiefs and their teams are in carrying out DoD's equities in the AOR and in particular the HA [humanitarian assistance] projects."

The Renovation of Public Water Supply System project is one of several the Europe District is executing in the south Caucasus. Other projects include a $1.1 million renovation of a forensics lab in Yerevan as part of the Department of State's International Narcotics and Law Enforcement program, and two high school construction projects in poverty-stricken regions of Azerbaijan, valued at about $1.3 million.

Armenia and Azerbaijan are both U.S. coalition partners that have allowed unconditional use of their airspace for support to operations in Afghanistan. Both countries have sent troops to support overseas contingency operations in Kosovo and Iraq, with Azerbaijan being the first Muslim nation to do so.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16