The critical environmental and sustainability issues of Azerbaijan:
- Water Quality
Energy-rich Azerbaijan has recently begun to provide its citizens with reliable access to gas and electricity. However, the government is lagging on one key front: potable water. A large percentage, if not a majority, of Azerbaijan’s 8.2 million citizens lacks easy access to drinkable water. Water quality in Azerbaijan is thus a major issue. Groundwater pollution from oil spillage and leakage from pipeline and storage tanks results in petroleum, heavy metals and possibly radiation contamination spoiling the water in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has the reputation of being an environmental disaster zone. Many scientists consider Absheron Peninsula, where 50 percent of Azerbaijanis live, to be the most ecologically devastated area in the world due to severe air, water and soil pollution. Decades of pollution have created medical concerns. Poor water quality in Azerbaijan can facilitate the transmission of bacterial diseases such as cholera and hepatitis. Additionally, traces of heavy metals in the water lead to health complications such as cancer.
Diseases and illnesses remain common problems in Azerbaijan. With the exception of residents of Baku (Azerbaijan’s capital), many Azerbaijanis lack access to healthcare services in rural areas. Digestive, nervous and circulatory system complications were among Azerbaijan’s top diseases in 2016. Obesity is becoming highly prevalent in Azerbaijan’s adolescents. In 2015, 586 children registered as overweight–a rate of 23 children per every 100,000. The rate increased to 51 per 100,000 children in 2016. Azerbaijani children who live stationary lifestyles while consuming unhealthy foods and beverages are most at risk. Educating Azerbaijan’s population on health risk factors could help more Azerbaijanis avoid diseases.
- Climate Change
Azerbaijan is vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change mainly due to the large number of people engaged in the agriculture sector and natural resources, and its vulnerability to sea level rise. Temperatures increased 0.34°C from 1961 to 1990 (baseline year), and increased an additional 0.41°C in the ensuing decade. For the past 10 years, rainfall levels decreased by 9% across the country compared to the baseline year, with the higher decrease of 14.3% in Kura-Araz Lowland. In the last 40 years, the Caspian Sea has experienced the most intensive and prolonged rise in the history of instrumental observation in the country, with future projected rising levels to cost the country $4.1 billion by 2040–2050. Evidence suggests that Azerbaijan will continue to become drier this century and sea levels will continue to rise. Temperatures are expected to rise by 1.0° to 1.6°C by 2050 and by 4.1° to 4.5°C by 2100 compared to the baseline.
- Arable Land
Extensive areas of Azerbaijan, including arable lands, are affected by desertification and degradation. Estimates of around 40% exist for all lands affected by erosion [42.5% (3.7 million ha), quoted in Agayeva 2009. Approximately 40% of irrigable land is affected by salinity. Irrigation’s share of total water abstraction increased from 42% in 2002 to 46.6% in 2008. Water losses during transportation remain largely unchanged at around 32%. Improving these conditions is really the need of the hour.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Azerbaijan has made great strides in socio-economic indicators including hunger, malnourishment, poverty, GDP per capita and the under-five mortality rate. Azerbaijan is on course to meet the global target for under-five wasting, but is off course to meet the targets for all other indicators analysed with adequate data.
Azerbaijan still experiences a malnutrition burden among its under-five population. As of 2013, the national prevalence of under-five overweight is 14.1%, which has increased from 10.4% in 2011. The national prevalence of under-five stunting is 17.8%, which is less than the developing country average of 25%. Azerbaijan’s under-five wasting prevalence of 3.2% is also less than the developing country average of 8.9%.
In Azerbaijan, 12.1% of infants under 6 months are exclusively breastfed. Azerbaijan’s 2015 low birth weight prevalence of 7.3% has increased slightly from 6.5% in 2000.
Azerbaijan’s adult population also face a malnutrition burden. 38.5% of women of reproductive age have anaemia, and 13% of adult women have diabetes, compared to 11.6% of men. Meanwhile, 23.6% of women and 15.8% of men are obese.