Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

The city of Sumgait which was an environmentalist's nightmare, is now looking up. Almost every factory in this heavily industrialised city had to close due to skyrocketing costs after the loss of the erstwhile Soviet markets and subsidies. This has given some solace to those who have suffered one of the worst environmental disasters in the former Soviet Union, even though they have lost their jobs. A plan is now afoot to put Sumgait's economy back on track with a promise to provide both jobs and cleaner air.

A survey conducted by Khalida Kuliyeva, the city's chief paediatrician, shows a nearly eight-fold increase in the rate of children born with birth defects between 1970 and 1990. There are nearly five million tonnes of toxic waste in the city. The un Development Programme and the Azerbaijan government recently spelled out plans to attract foreign investors who would be expected to overhaul the existing infrastructure and technology and also contribute to an environmental clean-up fund. Said Paolo Lembo, the un resident co-ordinator, the aim was to "halt a situation that was deteriorating into a state of collapse and apocalypse".

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