Environment in Azerbaijan Essay

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While still struggling to assert its independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Asian nation of Azerbaijan became involved with its neighbor Armenia in an armed territorial dispute over the area of Nagorno-Karabakh that continued from 1988-94. By the time a tenuous truce was declared, Azerbaijan had lost 16 percent of its territory and was forced to deal with the internal displacement of 571,000 Azerbaijanis. Economic problems and widespread corruption have plagued the country. However, Azerbaijan’s generally untapped petroleum resources have improved economic prospects since a consortium of Western oil companies began pumping a million barrels a day from Azerbaijan in 2006. Other natural resources include natural gas, iron ore, nonferrous metals, and alumina.

Approximately one-fifth of Azerbaijan is arable, and 41 percent of the population is engaged in the agricultural sector. The population of 7,911,974 has an annual per capita income of $4,600, and the country is ranked 140th in world incomes. Nearly half of Azerbaijanis live below the national poverty line. Around 23 percent of the population has no sustained access to safe drinking water, and 45 percent lack access to improved sanitation. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Human Development Reports rank Azerbaijan 101st in the world on general quality-of-life issues.

Although Azerbaijan borders the Caspian Sea for approximately 800 kilometers, the country is landlocked. Rivers tend to be fast flowing and are generally not navigable. The climate is dry, semiarid steppe, and the terrain is diverse. The flat areas of the Kura-Araks Lowland are mostly below sea level. The Great Caucasus Mountains cover the northern section of Azerbaijan, while the Karabakh Upland is located in the west. The capital city of Baku is part of the Apsheron Peninsula that juts into the Caspian Sea. Azerbaijan is subject to severe droughts.

Ecological Challenges

Local scientists maintain that the Apsheron Peninsula and the Caspian Sea are the most ecologically devastated areas in the entire world. The sea has been polluted by decades of oil spills and raw, inadequately treated sewage. There is evidence that water levels are rising, posing a threat to coastal areas. Baku experiences severe air pollution. Although there are only 43 cars per 1,000 people, Azerbaijan produces 0.1 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Chemical and metallurgical industries are major polluters, and soil and water pollution have resulted from oil spills and the use of the pesticides and toxic defoliants. Birth defects and other illnesses have been linked to pollution.

Just over 13 percent of the land is forested. While the government has protected 6.1 percent of this land, pristine areas of Azerbaijan were destroyed during the conflict with Armenia, when highways were built for army use. Of 99 endemic mammal species in Azerbaijan, 13 are endangered. Similarly, eight of 229 endemic bird species are threatened. A 2006 study by Yale University ranked Azerbaijan 95th of 132 countries on environmental performance, well below the relevant income and geographic groups. The score on sustainable energy was abysmally low at less than 10 percent. Low scores were also given in the areas of air quality, biodiversity and habitat, and environmental health.

The State Committee for the Environment is responsible for implementing environmental policy in Azerbaijan and serves as the administrator of 14 state reserves and 20 preservations. In 1992, the government adopted the Environmental Protection and Nature Utilization, which established specific standards for environmental protection and compliance. In 1999, the Law on Environmental Protection and the Law on Environmental Safety established a new framework for additional legislation designed to make environmental policy more effective and responsive. Penalties for noncompliance with environmental laws include suspension or closure of polluting enterprises and the suspension of construction financing.

Azerbaijan has signed the following international agreements: Air Pollution, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, and Wetlands.


  1. Timothy Doyle, Environmental Movements in Minority and Majority Worlds: A Global Perspective (Rutgers University Press, 2005);
  2. Kevin Hillstrom and Laurie Collier Hillstrom, Asia: A Continental Overview of Environmental Issues (ABC-CLIO, 2003).

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