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Georgia : frozen in time and space

12-03-2003 Operational Update

Years after the fighting stopped, war victims in Georgia are still waiting for peace to start. A report on some of the bleak realities of acute post-war poverty and what is being done to help.

 

CICR/F. Clarke ref/GE-E-00094
Zugdidi. Beneficiary card of ICRC's assistance and identity card of an internal displaced person. 

 

It has been years since open warfare ended in Georgia – but peace is proving elusive. The country's economy is in decline, dragging social welfare and basic services down with it, while crime is on the rise.

 
The situation is acute in western Georgia, which still shelters many of the 250,000 people who fled Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia to escape the fighting in the nineties. Their presence puts additional pressure on western Georgia's infrastructure, already weakened through lack of maintenance and resources.
 
It is unlikely that the IDPs will return home until Georgia and Abkhazia settle their political differences – something that is not expected to happen soon.
 

 
  The ICRC in Georgia

Present in Georgia since 1992. It visits detainees and runs a tuberculosis control programme in prisons, in cooperation with the authorities; it also aims to help strengthen local resources to run physical rehabilitation programmes for the disabled. Projects to promote and implement international humanitarian law (IHL) are under way for the authorities, the armed forces and civil society. With the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the ICRC is working on a development plan for the national Red Cross society in Georgia.    
 

 Down and out in western Georgia  

    

Although there are no longer full-blown hostilities in the region, western Georgia remains in the grip of an emergency. Approximately half the displaced people from Abkhazia live there - and in the Zugdidi district alone, they account for 50 per cent of the population. At least five per cent of the population (both residents and IDPs) are destitute and unable to meet their basic food, health and shelter needs.
 
The state welfare allowance barely provides for a loaf of bread each day. And with donors now looking more at structural reform and development, only a few humanitarian organizations are helping the destitute to meet their immediate vital needs – for example, the UN's World Food Programme, the Salvation Army and the Orthodox Church all support soup kitchens.

 
 

 Snapshots of survival:  

 
 

    

  •  A displaced family of five in a collective centre : the family has lived here, in one room, for eight years. Their clothes and bedding are threadbare. The youngest child is four years old and severely disabled. The family receives an allowance that covers just electricity, water and bread for a month. There is land next to the collective centre which IDPs can rent to make a vegetable garden, but the parents, both jobless, can afford neither the rent, nor the seeds, fertilizers and tools needed to work the land.

  •  Destitute residents in the town of Kutaisi : a mother and her two sons, living in their own apartment. They have sold everything they own, including the light fittings and even the floorboards. The mother has chronic arthritis and is bedridden. One son has tuberculosis (for which there is no medicine available locally) and the other is disabled; neither has a job. They receive the basic state pension, but beyond that they buy bread on credit and exist on gifts of fresh food from neighbours.

  •  Poverty in a rural area : a family of 11 living in three rooms under a leaky roof. They own a cow, a pig, 22 chickens and 0.3 hectares of land for growing maize. Their only revenue is a disability pension for one of the children, which they receive only occasionally, and money earned from selling dairy products. They say their most urgent needs are for food, shelter and education. To make ends meet, they have had to sell their other cow - and give up one of the children for adoption.

 
 

 
  Reaching out to the most vulnerable
 
  Based on still pictures and video interviews, this six minute clip describes the desperate situation some people in western Georgia are facing after the conflict over Abkhazia.    
 

 Finding the most vulnerable  

 
The ICRC focuses its food aid on the most vulnerable people in places where the IDP population amounts to 10 per cent of the population; this covers all districts of Samegrelo as well as the urban areas of Kutaisi and Tskhaltubo. By the end of 2002, almost 23,000 IDPs and residents had been helped; this number should eventually reach 40,000.
 
The assistance consists of dry food rations: flour, beans, rice, cooking oil and salt. Non-food items, including personal hygiene articles, are provided on a case-by-case basis.

 Improving collective living  

 
 What are "bad, to very bad" living conditions ?  
 
  • having to walk at least half a kilometre to the nearest working tap, or having water available for just a few hours a day ;

  • sewage systems and sanitary installations are either non-existent or do not work ;

  • electrical fittings are unsafe but are still used as there are no alternative means of heating and cooking ;

  • leaky roofs have created damp conditions giving rise to associated health problems ;

  • missing or broken windows accentuate the harsh winter conditions.

   
 
 

According to official figures, there are almost 109,000 displaced people still living in collective centres throughout Georgia. Of these, 60,000 are in western areas such as Samegrelo and Imereti. In the 1990s a number of international NGOs carried out some repairs to the centres, never imagining that the IDPs would stay there for the next ten years. The centres are set up in all kinds of buildings, such as schools, factories, former sanatoriums, hospitals, and farms.
 
Out of the 52 largest centres (those housing between 180 and 700 people), ICRC found that conditions in 42 of them were " bad, to very bad " . By the end of 2002, the ICRC had rehabilitated the ten largest centres where conditions had been judged " very bad " , restoring acceptable living conditions for their 3,714 inhabitants.
 
In 2003, the ICRC will start to assess some 15 medium-sized centres (housing from 50 to 180 people) in rural areas and smaller towns, with a view to carrying out some rehabilitation. Smaller centres and private homes are covered by the Norwegian Refugee Council - the only other humanitarian organization working on rehabilitation.