Georgia/South Ossetia: the long road to normalization

06-08-2009 Operational Update

One year after hostilities broke out between Georgia and Russia, the ICRC is focusing its humanitarian efforts on helping people regain secure and stable income and bringing aid to those who need it most.

  ©ICRC/J. Powell/ge-e-00570    
  Georgia, Ergneti. Sirana stands at the door of her wrecked, charred home. She and her husband have returned, having fled to Tblissi during the fighting in August 2008.    

  ©ICRC/J. Powell/ge-e-00573    
  South Ossetia, Tbet. Zoia shares photographs of her missing son with an ICRC field officer. Her son disappeared on the night fighting approached their village, when he went out to check on the family's cattle.    

  ©ICRC/T. Kirill/ge-e-00558    
  South Ossetia. An old woman thanks and bids farewell to the ICRC team which brought food to her remote village of Leningori.    

  ©ICRC/J. Powell/ge-e-00567    
  Georgia, Shindisi. Water is only available in the village every other day. Families spend hours queuing at the only two water points and carrying water to their homes. A new water supply is being installed with the help of ICRC Wathab engineers.    

  ©ICRC/J. Powell/ge-e-00569    
  Georgia, Zemo Nikosi. Tamar's garden had to be cleared of explosives before she could plant the seeds the ICRC had given her earlier this spring.  

 General situation  

The end of active hostilities did not resolve the problems or put an end to the needs of those worst affected. One year after Georgian and Russian forces clashed in the area extending from Gori to Tskhinvali, many people are still struggling to get their lives back to normal. The de facto administrative boundary line dividing Georgia and South Ossetia makes everyday life difficult: access to health care, schools, markets and contact with other family members is complicated if not impossible.

Despite the fact that most internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been able to return to their home towns or villages, hundreds are still hosted in collective centres, while others had no choice but to find new homes elsewhere.

Since August 2008, the ICRC has been gradually stepping up its activities to help those who are most vulnerable. After initially providing emergency aid to help people deal with the short-term impact of the hostilities and the rigours of winter, the organization adjusted its approach to focus on enabling those worst affected to regain the self-sufficiency they had before the fighting.

 Reuniting families and facilitating exchange of news  

Over the past months, the ICRC has received more than 1,200 requests from people looking for relatives and wanting to re-establish contact or to be reunited with their loved ones. To date, it has facilitated the exchange of almost 2,000 Red Cross messages between relatives separated from each other and reunited 326 people with th eir families. However, there remain 40 cases for which it has not yet been able to locate the people being sought or to clarify what happened to them.

In an effort to resolve these cases, the ICRC has been in close contact with the authorities concerned. In accordance with its mandate, it has submitted to both sides, in its role as a neutral intermediary, a list of all people reported missing by their families to the ICRC.

 Visiting detainees  

The ICRC regularly visits places of detention to monitor the living conditions and treatment of detainees. It makes the authorities aware of the right of the detainees to have regular contact with their families. These visits focus primarily on people detained in connection with the hostilities. From January to July 2009, the ICRC carried out 39 such visits.

 Supporting health care  

In May 2009, the ICRC resumed evacuations of people requiring urgent medical treatment from South Ossetia to hospitals in Tbilisi and Gori. So far, it has helped three patients in this way. The ICRC also facilitated the transfer of two bodies from South Ossetia to relatives in Tbilisi and Gori.

In South Ossetia, the ICRC supports the training of health personnel, who have not attended any courses for decades. Four doctors participated in an ICRC-organized seminar on war and emergency surgery in Vladikavkaz on 24-26 March.

During the crisis, the ICRC – together with the Norwegian Red Cross and in coordination with the Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Welfare – operated mobile clinics in the Gori and Kareli districts, where health-care services were suspended. The mobile teams conducted more than 6,400 consultations.

Since then, the organiza tion has been supporting the resumption of regular health services. Between October 2008 and January 2009, it carried out repairs to health facilities, distributed medical equipment and medicines and ran training workshops for staff. This support continued until January 2009. The ICRC also donated equipment and supplies to ambulatory treatment centres in Shamgona and Rukhi (western Georgia), which it had renovated in January.

 Providing food and other items  

In western Georgia, the ICRC is currently assisting recently displaced people to register with the authorities so that they can receive the pensions and social benefits they are entitled to.

Following an assessment in March and April, the organization launched a programme to help the rural population in war-affected areas of South Ossetia to resume seasonal gardening and farming activities that were an important source of income before the fighting broke out. A total of 10,000 people will benefit.

In July the ICRC launched a pilot project in the collective centres of South Ossetia to provide the most vulnerable displaced people with income-earning opportunities. "There is no shortage of ideas", says Massimiliano Cartura, an ICRC economic security delegate . "But not everyone understands or believes that just a little help can be enough to enable people to earn what they need to take care of their families."  

  • Over the past year, the ICRC has provided food for some 46,000 people and household essentials for some 53,000.

  • In December and January, the ICRC distributed 4,550 cubic metres of firew ood to more than 6,000 people in Gori district who were not receiving aid from other organizations. These people had been cut off from their traditional sources of firewood in the forests of South Ossetia.

  • In South Ossetia, 14,000 people received food and other relief items in November and December 2008. In early 2009, the ICRC also distributed winter jackets and other clothing to nearly 4,500 displaced, homeless, elderly and disabled people, orphans and those in rural areas hardest hit by the fighting.

 Improving sanitation  

The ICRC has been renovating buildings damaged by last year's bombings, particularly the collective centres housing people displaced either by the 1992-1993 conflict in Abkhazia or by last year's fighting. In Georgia, this benefited more than 5,300 people living in 17 collective centres, while similar activities were carried out to help IDPs and refugees in South Ossetia. The work included window and roof repairs, together with improvements in the water and electricity supply.

The ICRC also responded to requests from municipalities to help improve sanitation and housing in South Ossetia. It stepped in to supply timber and roofing plates, which will result in 55 houses in three villages having their roofs upgraded.

The ICRC has been working with local authorities to improve community services and has been providing assistance for the local water board in South Ossetia. "We focus on building up local capacity so that the water board, for example, can maintain the pipelines and supply better quality water to residents," says ICRC Water and Habitat delegate Alexander Mailyan.  

 Working with Red Cross partners  

The ICRC intensified its operational partnership with the Georgia Red Cross Society (GRCS) by raising funds for its winterization programme, carried out with the support of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. About 4,000 IDPs in Tbilisi and the nearby towns of Bolnisi, Gardabani and Rustavi received blankets, winter jackets, sweaters, warm winter boots and socks.

Georgian Red Cross volunteers also helped the ICRC in to distribute relief to displaced people living in 98 collective centres.

 Raising awareness of the danger of explosive remnants of war  

In spring, as snow melts and people start working their fields, the risk of accidents caused by explosive remnants of war increases.

The ICRC and the GRCS have been working together to raise public awareness of this danger. Red Cross volunteers distributed more than 10,000 handouts to IDPs in especially dangerous areas. Meanwhile, the ICRC organized information sessions on " working safely in a weapon-contaminated environment " for more than 100 Red Cross volunteers.

In South Ossetia, the ICRC distributed mine-risk education sets to more than 70 schools with the support of the de facto education authorities. It also forwarded information received from the population on the location of explosive remnants of war to the authorities in charge of clearing them.