Georgian Villagers on Shaky Ground

Residents fight losing battle against nature as houses crack and crumble.
  • Damaged homes in the village of Nakalakevi. (Photo: Samkhretis Karibche newspaper)
  • Damaged homes in the village of Nakalakevi. (Photo: Samkhretis Karibche newspaper)
  • Damaged homes in the village of Nakalakevi. (Photo: Samkhretis Karibche newspaper)
  • Damaged homes in the village of Nakalakevi. (Photo: Samkhretis Karibche newspaper)

“At night, when it’s quiet, you can hear the houses cracking, and the rumbling from underground,” Guguni Beridze said.

Beridze, 66, lives in a village called Nakalakevi in southern Georgia, which is gradually being shaken to pieces by the ground moving underneath it. The walls of houses shift, plaster crumbles off, and running water can be heard from deep within the earth.

“The village is standing on water,” Beridze said. “Geologists came here last year… they drilled down in our yard and found water at a depth of 50 metres. We’re in a difficult position what with the village collapsing.”

Giorgi Butskhrikidze, deputy dean of the university for Samtskhe-Javakheti, conducted a study of the village in the 1990s at the request of the authorities.

“There is a layer of earth above the bedrock, and water is moving in between the two,” he told IWPR. “The village is standing atop it all. The earth is shifting and could swallow it up at any time.”

Almost all the houses in the village are now in a dangerous state, and residents say new cracks appear in the walls every day.

“We’ve lived like this since 1983,” villager Melano Kavelidze said. “Our house is sliding down the slope. We’ve even poured in concrete, but we haven’t been able to halt the process. The stones are falling out of the walls, and every year we shore them up to no avail.”

“We have appealed to everyone, we’ve been to Tbilisi, but no one has any time for us,” Kavelidze continued. “The only help we’ve received was a few years ago, when the owners of the most badly damaged houses were given metal caravans as accommodation.”

Kavelidze’s neighbour Nodar Beridze, 74, has lived in the barn next to his original home for several years, as the two-storey house has partly collapsed and is too dangerous to live in.

“We noticed the first cracks after the Spitak earthquake [in neighbouring Armenia in 1988]. The layers of earth beneath us moved, and everything began falling apart and we were left without a house,” he recalled. “My son and his wife and children moved into a rented flat in town, so we old folks are left here.”

“What can pensioners live on? No one has helped us since the communists left, the government remembers us only when there are elections, they promise to help us and then forget about it. We have no objections to this government, but can’t someone remember us?”

Tamaz Magradze, the local government representative in Nakalakevi, pointed out that the villagers had been given an alternative in 2007, when the Georgian government offered to relocate them all to a region further to the east. They refused to go on the grounds that going to Kvemo Kartli region would be too big a move, and asked for compensation instead.

Butskhrikidze recalled that back in the 1990s, the villagers had asked to be moved to a settlement closer by, near the town of Akhaltsikhe, but were turned down on the grounds that there would not be enough farmland to support them there.

Officials in Aspindza, the district of Samtskhe-Javakheti where the village is located, say they had no plans to help the 100 household move somewhere else. Nor did they have funds to assist the village, but they did do whatever they could, for example helping residents repair their roofs and walls.

Mikheil Maisuradze, an infrastructure expert with the district government office, was pessimistic about Nakalakevi’s future. He said a geological survey carried out in 2010 showed that soil movements were continuing.

“In the houses I’ve seen, there is no point in helping. The houses need to be dismantled and rebuilt somewhere else,” he said. “We can’t help populations living in landslip-prone areas. It would be just throwing money to the wind.”

In the capital Tbilisi, the ministry responsible for displaced persons confirmed that it was aware of the situation, but a spokesman said there were so many parts of Georgia facing similar risks that it was impossible to deal with all of them at once. The ministry’s data indicates that more than 35,000 families are affected by natural disasters or hazards, and 11,000 live in homes no longer suitable for habitation. (See Mountain Resettlement Not Going to Plan in Georgia on southwestern areas threatened by mountain landslips.)

The spokesman said the ministry would work with the local authorities to look at the options for Nakalakevi’s population.

Tamuna Uchidze reports for the Samkhretis Karibche newspaper in Akhaltsikhe, southern Georgia.

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