Storm Damage Payments Divide East Georgia
A charity owned by Georgian prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili is extending a helping hand to people whose homes and crops were damaged by hailstorms last summer. But the gesture has received a hostile response from residents of the affected area who say they have lost out in the compensation process.
Some 20,000 families suffered damage to their homes and farmland when strong winds and hail struck eastern Georgia’s Kakheti region in July 2012.
Coming just two-and-a-half months before a hard-fought parliamentary election, the storm damage became a political issue, with the governing United National Movement, UNM, vying with the opposition Georgian Dream coalition to offer help. (See Electoral Storm in Georgia.)
In late July, the UNM-dominated parliament voted to award 162 million laris, about 96 million US dollars, working out at 1,500 laris per family.
During campaigning, Ivanishvili – who is a billionaire – also pledged to help, a promise he made good on after Georgian Dream won the October election.
In a statement published on its website on January 21, the Kartu foundation said anyone on a list of named residents could come and collect their compensation.
This provoked angry responses from people who said they had been left off the list, or else were being offered sums they felt were too low.
On January 23, residents of the village of Vardisubani staged a protest outside the local government offices in the main regional town Telavi.
One protester, who gave his first name as Niko, said, “I lost almost my entire grape harvest. If residents of other villages are getting 30,000 laris, then why aren’t we getting anything – not even 500? We suffered, too. Why doesn’t the government want to help us?”
Gela Mtivlishvili, a human rights advocate and head of the Information Centre Kakheti, said such concerns were widely shared.
“Many residents of villages damaged by last July’s storms are unhappy with the compensation process,” he said. “Some of them didn’t get on the list for receiving monetary compensation, while others who are getting only minimal compensation are asking for their losses to be assessed more fairly.”
The demonstrators in Vardisubani said many of the names on the list compiled prior to the election were missing from the list.
Officials insist the awards are based on damage assessments which local people filled out after the storms.
“Their signatures confirm that they have no objections to the damage assessment,” Georgia’s minister of regional development, David Narmania, said. “Citizens are receiving the compensation that they named in their reports.”
There is also anger among Kakheti residents who lost property in storms that struck their region in May 2012. They do not come under the compensation scheme. Many feel they are being ignored because their misfortune did not occur close enough to the election.
“In the village of Kardenakhi, for example, almost 100 families have taken out loans and now they can’t pay the interest because the May storms destroyed their harvest,” Mtivlishvili said. “The previous regional government promised to sort things out with the banks, but this didn’t happen.”
He continued, “The July storms coincided with election campaigning, and they were exploited by both the old government and the opposition.”
Asked whether people who lost crops last May would receive any assistance, officials struggled to answer.
“At the time, there wasn’t a commission that assessed the damage, so it’s hard to say now how much damage the storm did,” said David Napireli, deputy local government chief in Telavi.
Tinatin Jvania works for Business Times Georgia magazine.