Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Georgia: Natural Disaster Victims Claim Neglect

They say the authorities’ promises of new homes have failed to materialise.
By Tea Topuria
  • Village of Mleta was badly damaged by flood waters earlier this year – but residents are still waiting to be resettled.  (Photo: Tea Topuria)
    Village of Mleta was badly damaged by flood waters earlier this year – but residents are still waiting to be resettled. (Photo: Tea Topuria)

Georgians whose homes were destroyed by floods and other natural disasters say the government does too little to provide them with alternative accommodation.

More than 11,000 Georgian families are currently living in homes left uninhabitable by natural disasters. But although the state has pledged to resettle them, officials are not doing so, and they are forced to live in dangerous circumstances.

“On April 24 at 10 o’clock in the morning, water burst into the house and flooded it, and we only just managed to get out. Everything we owned was taken by the river,” said Tsisana Zakaidze, a resident of the village of Mleta in the Dusheti region, where the ground floor of the houses were inundated earlier this year.

An expert commission from the national environmental agency, part of the ministry of the environment protection and natural resources, recommended that the residents of the village, which is in the foothills of the Caucasus mountains about 50 kilometres north of Tbilisi, should be resettled, but that has still not happened.

“We still haven’t been provided with accommodation. Anyone who could left a long time ago to live with relatives,” said Zakaidze, who along with 14 other families is forced to live in the damaged village because they have nowhere else to go.

There has already been at least one death caused by people not being moved away from the zone of a natural disaster in time.

In 2008, residents of Ajara, a region on the shore of the Black Sea, were warned about the imminent risk of a landslide, but were not resettled. As a result, in the village of Khalashi six members of the Davitadze family were killed, including two children. Six people were killed in two other villages as well.

According to international standards set out by the United Nations, governments should not just warn people of imminent disasters but do all they can to move them to safety as well.

According to the Georgian government’s environment agency, the country’s mountainous regions are most at risk of natural disasters. In 2006, it surveyed the country and found 53,000 potential landslides threatening 1.5 million hectares, with 70 per cent of them near inhabited land. Some 3,000 towns and villages were directly threatened by the risk of landslide.

Emil Tsereteli, head of the environment ministry’s department for geological threats, said the government was doing all it could to prevent catastrophes, but lacked the resources to completely solve the problem.

“You have to recognise that in the last few years a lot has been done, and these people have received material aid, and houses are bought for them. Of course, we need to do more, but the size of the problem is so large, that dealing with it just with the Georgian budget is not possible,” he said.

“Some 70 per cent of Georgia is in danger of ecological disasters: landslides, mudslides, floods and more. And all of Georgia is at risk of earthquakes. We have to conduct permanent monitoring to discover where the most serious situation is today and act accordingly.”

But people affected by disasters say that, despite its claims, the government is not doing enough. A landslide cut the road at the village of Vedzstakhevi in the Dusheti region five years ago. The government promised to resettle the 18 families remaining there, but it is not clear when this will happen.

All the fields of Vedzstakhevi were swept away, and the houses are in a very dangerous condition.

“If there is rain we can’t get out at all. We need to hoard goods for the winter, since there is no shop or chemist in the village at all,” said Nino Kapiashvili, a resident of Vedzstakhevi.

Last year, Levan Gogochuri died in the village waiting for an ambulance.

“He had a bad stomach, there was heavy rain. The ambulance could not get here. We have no doctor and no medicine. We buried him, without even knowing what he died of,” she said.

The local authorities are taking steps to deal with the problem, Manana Narimanidze, deputy head of the Dusheti administration, said.

“Residents of Vedzstakhevi are in a very difficult situation. The government is working on this question, and soon there will be a decision on where these people will be resettled to,” she said.

Another 900 families from the Tsageri region, in the mountainous north of the country near the Russian border, are also are awaiting rehousing.

“There was a landslide this spring and destroyed everything. Specialists who looked at my house recommended that I leave it and go to live in another place. The courtyard is completely destroyed, the houses could collapse at any moment. I had triplets in December and now I live with the children in my mother’s house, and the old folk are in our house,” said Marika Bendeliani, a resident of the village of Larchvarli.

“We appealed to the Tsageri administration for help, but they told us there was no money for compensation and promised to give us compensation if money appeared. We haven’t heard anything yet.”

According to official statistics, the process of resettlement is going very slowly. Figures from the ministry for refugees and resettlement show only 429 houses were provided in 2007-9. The 2010 budget did not set aside funds, and it is not clear if the 2011 budget will.

Tea Topuria is a freelance journalist.