National Energy Globe Award Azerbaijan (overall winner)

Submitted by: IOM (International Organization for Migration)
Implemented country: Azerbaijan
Title: New Wells for Arid Zones in Azerbaijan

In Azerbaijan, water is a scarce commodity. Agriculture in the most arid regions of this Caucasian country lies fallow; many regions are not arable, the environment is suffering and people migrate to other areas seeking job opportunities. Yet deep down in the soil of Azerbaijan there are substantial underground water reserves which are  taken to the surface by traditional water systems called kahrizes (in Persian: qanats). They are like horizontal wells that transport drinking and irrigation water from foothills of mountainous regions. They were manually constructed long time ago and mostly abandoned during the Soviet era.  
In 1999, IOM – with the request and participation of the local population – initiated a pilot kahriz rehabilitation project to help enhance sustainable water supply in Nakhchivan (autonomous republic) and the project has been expanded to the mainland as well. It is told that at least 1,400 of such kahrizes exist in 20 regions of Azerbaijan, but so far only 10% of them have been rehabilitated and used by local communities.
Only few people are still familiar with the old craft of traditional water-engineering, which should be done mostly underground. The men who are knowledgeable in this skill are called kankans. IOM has trained about 300 members of the local population as kankans and many of them are employed for the rehabilitation work. From the mother-well, teams of four to five men dig well-like vertical shafts from the original water source every 20 to 35 meters and then connect them through a sloped tunnel. The water then drains relying on gravity and reaches its destination without using any additional energy. The water discharge from one kahriz can be as high as 60-70 liters per second. The quality of the water is excellent. Once a kahriz is rehabilitated, it has a nearly unlimited life cycle. They contribute to diversification of agricultural activities and sustainably improve the quality of life for the local population.

The projects have been supported by numerous international donors, as well as voluntary contributions from local beneficiary communities. By the end of 2012, another 20 kahrizes will be fully rehabilitated in the mainland of Azerbaijan, with financial support from the KOICA (Korean International Cooperation Agency). Similar water systems exist in nearly 40 other countries around the world. In the future, IOM will also support these countries with experience and expertise gained in Azerbaijan.

"It would be ideal to transfer our knowledge and share experience with other countries."

Miyeon Park