YEREVAN (RFE/RL and Armenpress)–Minister for Urban Development David Lokian pledged on Wednesday that Armenia’s northwestern regions devastated by a catastrophic earthquake in 1988 will be completely rebuilt before the end of next year.
Lokian told a news conference that the implementation of a three-year government plan on the reconstruction of houses and public infrastructure in the Lori and Shirak provinces is proceeding on schedule–with about $30 million spent this year. He said the government will raise an additional $60 million to provide the remaining 14,000 families with housing next year.
The program on the earthquake zone worth a total of $150 million was launched at the beginning of last year. The bulk of the money is to come from external sources–including the US government and leading Diaspora charities.
Official figures cited by Lokian show that nearly 2,000 families that were made homeless by the disaster have settled in new houses and apartmen’s this year. Just over half of those families–living in the northern cities of Gyumri and Vanadzor–have acquired new apartmen’s under a $15 million housing scheme funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
The USAID has been underwriting the purchase of apartmen’s by those families who obtain special housing certificates from aid officials. The scheme has been praised by President Robert Kocharian who made the reconstruction of the earthquake-hit areas a major theme of his election campaign in 1998.
A considerable part of the ongoing construction work–$15 million–is financed by the Lincy Foundation of Armenian-American billionaire Kirk Kerkorian. Other major contributors are the US Huntsman Corporation and the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund.
Lokian said the government will remain faithful to its commitmen’s to provide apartmen’s to 14,200 homeless families in the region. Vouchers to purchase apartmen’s will be given to 1,084 families by the end of 2001. Approximately two thousand families will receive vouchers next year–and some 2,600 families will move into new apartmen’s and cottages in 2002.
Lokian also announced that a map of Gyumri–Spitak–Artik and Vanadzor will soon be submitted to government’s approval. All these towns were severely hit by the earthquake–however the town of Spitak was hardest hit. The entire town was toppled to the ground.
Lokian said that the preparation for these maps was included in the comprehensive restoration plan.
The minister also stated that close to 60 percent of buildings–nearly 23,000–in Gyumri–were constructed illegally–however they did correspond to zoning standards. There are three bills currently being discussed at the National Assembly that would legalize the buildings.
Armenia will mark the 13th anniversary of the earthquake which killed some 25,000 people and left hundreds of thousands without shelter on Friday.