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Georgia/Russian Federation: gaining access to most vulnerable remains top priority

18-08-2008 Operational Update

Tens of thousands of people in Georgia fled their homes as a result of the conflict involving Georgian, South Ossetian and Russian troops. As of 18 August, the ICRC still had not been able to gain access to those in need in South Ossetia. The following is the latest report on ICRC activities in Georgia and North Ossetia.


More than 10 days after the armed conflict erupted, the ICRC's key priority remains gaining safe and unimpeded access to all areas affected by the conflict, including South Ossetia, as well as isolated villages near Gori, which were cut off by the fighting. As of 18 August, the ICRC still has not received the necessary security guarantees from the authorities to gain access to South Ossetia. The organization remains ready to go to South Ossetia, and has the staff and facilities needed to make a rapid and substantial contribution to efforts already underway to tackle humanitarian needs there. 

The ICRC continues to provide medical assistance to the war wounded and is distributing emergency assistance to affected people, especially those displaced or isolated by the conflict in both Georgia and North Ossetia. A top priority is reaching out to the most vulnerable – the elderly and the sick – who were isolated or unable to flee when the fighting broke out. Providing safe drinking water, access to sanitation facilities, food and other basic items, such as blankets and buckets, are also top priorities. Finally, gaining access to all persons arrested or captured in connection with the conflict remains another key priority.


 Supplying food and medical assistance  

The last initial air bridge shipment from the ICRC's logistics centre in Amman is due to take place on Tuesday 19 August. The ICRC remains on stand-by to send furthe r shipments if needed. As of 19 August, the ICRC will have delivered 445 tonnes of assistance, including food, blankets, medicine and water treatment equipment, to Tbilisi by air (9 plane loads carrying 320 tonnes) and road (truckloads containing 110 tonnes).



 Visit of ICRC President  

On 17 August, the ICRC's president, Jakob Kellenberger, arrived in Tbilisi. He visited a collective centre for displaced people near the capital to get a first-hand look at the situation they are facing. A planned meeting with the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, could not take place due to scheduling problems. Mr. Kellenberger was in the North Ossetian city of Vladikavkaz on Monday, where he also met with people who had fled their homes due to the fighting. Some people are returning home from North Ossetia to South Ossetia, however it is difficult to assess how many without having access to all areas. On Tuesday, Mr Kellenberger is due to meet senior Russian officials, including the foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow.

 Distributing assistance to Gori and surrounding villages  

Over the weekend and on Monday, 18 August, the ICRC was able to return to the Georgian town of Gori, where ongoing security concerns had made access impossible at the end of last week. One of the ICRC's top priorities is to gain access to villages around Gori, where people may remain isolated and injured, especially elderly persons. Trucks with additional medical supplies, including a war-wounded kit, travelled from Tbilisi to Gori and the Georgian town of Kareli on 18 August. Medical assessment teams from both Tbilisi and Zugdi di were also able to visit the Kutaisi on Monday, 18 August.


 Restoring access to safe drinking water  

ICRC teams in and around Tbilisi continue to restore water connections at the collective centres sheltering people who were forced to flee their homes. The centres are mainly abandoned public buildings, so the ICRC is working to ensure functioning water connections. This includes fixing pipes and sewage systems. On 18 August, the ICRC began distributing cooking stoves to displaced families so they can cook the rice they have received. Water and sanitation issues remain a concern in some of the collective centres.


 Gaining access to detainees  

In accordance with the ICRC's mandate, the organization has officially requested access from both the Russian and Georgian authorities to all persons arrested or captured in connection with the conflict. The ICRC has been able to visit two wounded Russian pilots held by the Georgian authorities on several separate occasions. On 17 August, the ICRC was granted access to three wounded Georgian prisoners of war held by the Russian Armed Forces. They had the opportunity to speak with their relatives by phone during calls facilitated by the ICRC and filled out Red Cross messages.


 Access to South Ossetia / restoring family links  

The ICRC's tracing delegates continue to hear from people who are very worried about the relatives they left behind, especially in South Ossetia. Many are concerned about their elderly relatives, who were unable to flee when the fighting started. Until the ICRC has safe and unimpeded access to all affected areas, it is difficult to have a full picture of the scale of the humanitarian needs.

 Facts and figures  

 Since the start of the crisis on 8 August, the ICRC has:  

 In Georgia:  


Flew 15 tonnes of medical supplies and water and sanitation  material from Geneva to Tbilisi on 12 August.

Established an air bridge on 13 August from the ICRC's logistics centre in Amman, Jordan, to deliver 320  tonnes of  food and non-food items (blankets, tarps, buckets, hygiene, etc) in daily rotations to Tbilisi. An additional 110 tonnes were brought by truck   from Amman. These relief supplies will meet the needs of 5,000 families, or about 25,000 people, for one month .

Distributions to displaced people started almost immediately upon arrival of the goods. Water and sanitation assistance is underway in a number of collective centres. On 13 August the distribution of emergency household items took place for 1,200 displaced people in six collecti ve centres. Another 1,500 displaced people in 10 collective centres in Tbilisi received emergency relief later in the week.

An ICRC team, including water and habitation experts and surgeons, first arrived in the Georgian town of Gori on 13 August and has since returned to evaluate heath and general needs and do ad-hoc distribution. The town is for the moment largely empty. 

An ICRC surgical team, as well as a surgical field hospital and personnel from the Norwegian Red Cross, have arrived in Georgia and are assessing needs in the hospitals and the possibility of setting up the surgical hospital as soon as possible. It has 20 beds, 12 staff and can be up and running in 24 hours.

Assessment of the situation in Western Georgia has also been carried out by the ICRC team based in Zugdidi.

 In North Ossetia:  


ICRC provided basic items (soap, hygiene, blankets, and cooking pots) to the Russian Red Cross on 12 August for distribution to 600 displaced people in North Ossetia. The North Ossetian branch of the Russian Red Cross has also distributed food and non-food items and games for children.

Six war wounded and other medical kits were distributed by the ICRC to hospitals for a total of around 150 people.

 For further information, please contact:  

 Jessica Barry, Maia Kardava, ICRC Tbilisi, tel: +995 32 35 55 10 or +995 91 60 06 89; +995 91 60 06 85 (mobiles)  

 Yuri Shafarenko, ICRC Vladikavkaz, tel: +7 867 253 0737 or +7 903 545 3534 (mobile)  

 David-Pierre Marquet, ICRC Moscow, tel: +7 495 626 5426 or +7 906 708 4637 (mobile)  

 Anna Nelson, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 217 3264 (mobile)