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Central and western Georgia/South Ossetia: three years after the conflict

08-08-2011 Operational Update

Three years after the end of hostilities in August 2008, people are still feeling the effects of the conflict, particularly those living along the administrative boundary lines (ABL). The International Committee of the Red Cross remains the only international humanitarian organization operating on both sides of the ABL.

"Many people are still struggling with the consequences of the August 2008 conflict," said Pascale Meige Wagner, the ICRC's head of operations for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. "These consequences come on top of the effects of previous conflicts and are aggravated by a continuous economic decline and further degradation of infrastructure in many sectors, including health, water and sanitation."

Key facts and figures

During the period between 2008 and 2011, the ICRC:

  • provided agricultural supplies and other assistance to around 41,280 households in central and western Georgia and to about 12,330 households in South Ossetia;
  • funded micro-economic initiatives benefiting about 1,828 households in central and western Georgia and over 340 in South Ossetia;
  • implemented over 30 water and sanitation projects in central and western Georgia and nine in South Ossetia, benefiting over 21,500 people;
  • acting as a neutral intermediary, facilitated 61 medical evacuations, 72 family reunions, 29 family visits to places of detention and four transfers of human remains across the ABL.

Although the majority of the people who fled the August 2008 hostilities have returned home or have settled in new accommodation, thousands are still displaced and are living in collective centres or government settlements. Over 200,000 people are still displaced as a result of conflicts that took place in the early 1990s. Some of the centres housing displaced people urgently need refurbishing, but are not covered by government schemes or other organizations’ programmes. People who have returned or resettled also face difficult living conditions because of the worsening economic situation and lack of support.

The almost total closure of the ABL makes everyday life difficult, restricting access to relatives on the other side, to health services, to social benefits and to markets – a major source of income for many. Life is particularly hard for elderly people, who have little income and no relatives nearby.

In some areas, mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW), a pre-existing problem worsened by the 2008 hostilities, continue to endanger safety and livelihoods and to hamper access to farmland.

A number of people are still missing as a result of the August 2008 conflict, while over 2,000 people remain unaccounted for in connection with earlier conflicts. Many families of missing persons face legal, psychological and economic problems, and existing facilities do not respond to their needs.

ICRC response

The ICRC is working to help people affected by the 2008 conflict and earlier conflicts. These people include those who have been displaced, the families of missing persons, people living along the ABL and those living in areas affected by mines and ERW. The organization is helping to improve living conditions and to alleviate the psychological suffering of those who remain without news about the fate of their missing relatives or are separated from their families.

"The ICRC is acting in two capacities: as an independent and impartial humanitarian organization providing assistance to vulnerable people and as a neutral intermediary between the parties concerned," said Pascale Meige Wagner. "We are also monitoring the situation through field visits and reminding all parties of their obligations to ensure respect for civilians’ rights and to meet their basic needs."

Following the emergency phase, in the aftermath of the August 2008 conflict, the ICRC gradually moved to activities aimed at helping vulnerable people recover economic self-sufficiency and supporting the authorities in maintaining essential infrastructure and services.

Helping the most needy

The ICRC has continued to provide aid to vulnerable people living on both sides of the ABL, in particular through agricultural support programmes and micro-economic initiatives.

In Shida Kartli and the Kodori valley, about 7,220 internally displaced people, returnees and affected residents could prepare for the summer harvest and start a number of new potato nursery projects, thanks to ICRC-donated seeds and agro-chemicals. In South Ossetia, over 16,450 similarly vulnerable people received supplies for their orchards and vegetable gardens. Around 460 people began to benefit from new micro-economic initiatives, for example in bee-keeping and livestock management. As part of the project, they also received training in managing a small business, to maximize their chances of success.

Local people appreciated the ICRC’s efforts, with one participant in a micro-economic initiative commenting: “The ICRC was the only organization that offered something concrete and kept their promise.

In addition, the ICRC continued to help some vulnerable groups who still needed aid to cover their immediate needs. In 2011, the organization delivered essential household items and/or food to over 730 people, including returnees in rural areas, particularly affected households in South Ossetia and Shida Kartli, elderly people, those awaiting integration into welfare programmes and residents of the remote Kodori valley. The ICRC also helped some households by transporting flour and sugar during the winter, when they were cut off from the markets.

To mitigate the effects of movement restrictions on civilians, the ICRC offered its services as a neutral intermediary to facilitate their passage across the ABL for humanitarian reasons. In 2011, four urgent medical evacuations were carried out with ICRC support, moving dangerously ill patients from Tskhinvali/Tskhinval to Tbilisi and Gori. Some people in rural areas of South Ossetia have little access to primary health care, so the ICRC continued to carry out home visits to elderly people in need of medical attention in Tskhinvali/Tskhinval and in two villages.

Providing better water and sanitation

Georgia’s water supply company received further ICRC training, enabling it to upgrade its services. This included the use of a camera provided by the ICRC to monitor well water. In Tskhinvali/Tskhinval, the water board continued work on restoring the sewerage system, completing the replacement of a section of sewage pipes. The ICRC also helped renovate 10 primary health-care centres.

The ICRC renovated two collective centres in western Georgia, near the ABL, enabling 270 internally displaced people to live under safer and more hygienic conditions. The organization continued to raise awareness among all the authorities of the difficulties faced by internally displaced people in collective centres, with a view to finding durable solutions.

Helping people affected by mines/ERW

Working with the Georgian Red Cross, the ICRC continued to help the Georgian Explosive Remnants of War Coordination Centre with mine/ERW data collection and the assessment of victims' needs. In 2011, Georgian Red Cross volunteers visited over 700 mine/ERW victims, including 80 in the Shida Kartli area.

With the financial support of the ICRC, the Georgian Foundation for Prosthetic Orthopaedic Rehabilitation started a clinical evaluation of 20 mine/ERW victims, who will receive physical rehabilitation treatment. 15 mine/ERW victims from Tskhinvali/Tskhinval received care at the Vladikavkaz Orthopaedic Centre in North Ossetia.

In addition, 25 mine/ERW victims benefited from ICRC-supported micro-economic initiatives to increase their self-reliance, and the organization continued to raise awareness of mine/ERW-related dangers among communities in weapon-contaminated areas.

Family links and missing persons

Family members separated by conflict continued to communicate with their relatives by means of Red Cross messages. In 2011, over 290 such messages were exchanged, mainly with the purpose of maintaining family links for those living in remote areas where no other means of communication are available. Acting as a neutral intermediary, the ICRC also facilitated 14 family reunifications and four transfers of human remains across the ABL.

The ICRC continued to remind all the authorities of their obligation to provide answers to the families of missing persons. In 2011, a coordination mechanism set up under ICRC auspices to clarify the fate of people missing in connection with the August 2008 conflict, comprising Georgian, South Ossetian and Russian participants, held its fourth meeting in Dvani, Georgia, to exchange and update lists of missing persons and plan next steps. A first exhumation relating to the conflict took place and the body was transported across the ABL from Tskhinvali/Tskhinval to Tbilisi. The body was identified by Georgian DNA experts, who had earlier received specialized ICRC training, and returned to family members in the presence of an ICRC psychologist.

The ICRC continued to support the collection of ante-mortem data from the families of missing persons and the management of ante-mortem/post-mortem data. The organization also offered technical support regarding the management of human remains.

Around 290 families of people unaccounted for as a result of the 2008 conflict and previous conflicts received psychological support and legal assistance through group meetings and home visits conducted by local NGOs and associations trained by the ICRC. In addition, over 60 such families benefited from ICRC-supported micro-economic projects.

Visiting detainees

In accordance with its mandate and standard working procedures, the ICRC continued to visit prison inmates in Tskhinvali/Tskhinval and Tbilisi, including those detained in connection with the August 2008 conflict, and to monitor their living conditions.

The ICRC enabled detainees to maintain contact with their relatives via Red Cross messages and family visits. In 2011, it facilitated four such visits to three places of detention in Tskhinvali/Tskhinval and Tbilisi, allowing 12 people, including seven women and two children, to visit family members in custody.


Photos

Selkhoztekhinikum Collective Centre, Tskhinvali, South Ossetia. 

Selkhoztekhinikum Collective Centre, Tskhinvali, South Ossetia.
© ICRC / M. Kokic

Koda, Shida Kartli, Georgia. Murtaz and his neighbours are able to feed their families thanks to the timber workshop they set up under the ICRC’s micro-economic initiative programme. 

Koda, Shida Kartli, Georgia. Murtaz and his neighbours are able to feed their families thanks to the timber workshop they set up under the ICRC’s micro-economic initiative programme.
© ICRC / K. Sorin

South Ossetia. An ICRC delegate with a newly-reunited family. 

South Ossetia. An ICRC delegate with a newly-reunited family.
© ICRC / A. Isyuk

Lower Okona, South Ossetia. Distributing seed potatoes. 

Lower Okona, South Ossetia. Distributing seed potatoes.
© ICRC / M. Tedeti