Western /Central Georgia and South Ossetia: helping the most vulnerable

20-03-2009 Operational Update

Six months after the end of hostilities between Georgia and Russia, the humanitarian situation for most of the affected populations has improved, although chronic problems remain.

 General situation  

Six months after the end of active hostilities, the humanitarian situation for the majority of the affected populations has improved, even if chronic problems that predate the latest conflict remain. While the overall situation is calm, tensions persist in villages close to the demarcation line. People displaced by conflict and those living in remote rural areas, already vulnerable before August 2008, remain the most at risk. " After an emergency phase that lasted until November 2008, the overall humanitarian situation in the region has stabilized. We are now able to focus on the longer-term needs of the most vulnerable " says Pascale Meige Wagner, ICRC head of operations for Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.

In Western/Central Georgia, most of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) who fled the hostilities in August were able to return to their places of origin. Many displaced people from South Ossetia have left collective centres for new settlements built by the authorities in Central Georgia. Over the last months, many humanitarian organizations have carried out a wide range of programmes that have had a positive impact on the victims of the August conflict.

  © ICRC/R. Boeckli,    
  The ICRC assisting the most vulnerable in rural South Ossetia.    

In Tskhinvali, many private homes and public buildings damaged during hostilities – including hospitals and schools - are being rehabilitated. Gas delivery resumed in late January after a five-month-long disruption. About a third of Tskhinvali households are now connected to natural gas. Access to electricity has also improved significantly. Access to basic healthcare remains a problem for some rural residents.


 ICRC action  

Following its emergency response of August 2008 during the conflict between Georgia and Russia, the ICRC focused on the needs of the most vulnerable population during winter. The organization is now consolidating its various assistance programmes based on longer-term need s assessments. The overall objective of the ICRC operation is to enable people living in war-affected areas to sustain themselves over the short-term and regain their pre-conflict levels of economic security.

The ICRC has gradually expanded its activities since last August. Its multi-faceted operation now covers both rural and urban areas. While many humanitarian organizations currently operate in Central and Western Georgia, the ICRC remains the only international humanitarian organization active in South Ossetia, where it currently employs over 60 Tskhinvali-based staff.

 Reuniting families torn apart by war  

The restoration of family links remains a priority for the ICRC in the region. In its role as neutral intermediary, the ICRC has helped to reunite families in Tskhinvali, Gori and Tbilisi. These reunifications take place with the full support of all parties. Family reunifications were suspended from mid-November 2008 to mid-January 2009 while the ICRC sought to ensure they were conducted in full accordance with its working methods. Since August 2008, over 310 people have been reunited with relatives under ICRC auspices.

The ICRC offers family members separated by the conflict the possibility to exchange news through Red Cross messages. Since August 2008, the ICRC has exchanged over 950 Red Cross messages between separated family members.

 Humanitarian assistance  


From November to late December 2008, the ICRC distributed food and non-food items to over 14,000 beneficiaries in rural areas of South Ossetia usually inaccessible in winter owing to poor road conditions. " Local people now know who w e are " says Massimiliano Cartura, the ICRC delegate in charge of economic security programmes. " With their support we can reach out to potential beneficiaries more effectively " .

In late January, the ICRC started distributing clothes and shoes to orphans, displaced people and the elderly in South Ossetia. " The attention paid to each child by ICRC delegates when they distribute clothes in the orphanage made a tremendous difference for children deprived of parental care " says Roland Tedeev, director of the Tskhinvali orphanage.

The ICRC rehabilitated water and sanitation facilities in schools, hospitals and other Tskhinvali public buildings. It provided cement, stoves, window glass, timber and roofing material to local authorities and individuals. In an effort to improve the living conditions of persons living in Tskhinvali collective centres, the ICRC is helping rehabilitate the city's power and water networks and its garbage disposal system.

In Western/Central Georgia, the ICRC rehabilitated collective centres housing people displaced recently and during the 1992-93 conflict. The organization also continued to support ambulatories, notably in Rukhi, Shamgona and Zugdidi districts. Through its emergency shelter programme, the ICRC provided temporary repairs for the homes of over 8,500 people.

Until October 2008, ICRC medical teams conducted over 6,400 medical consultations in Shida Kartli district, north of Gori, where normal healthcare services had been suspended. Once the local health structures reopened, the ICRC supported them by carrying out light repair work and distributing medical equipment and medicines.

Since November 2008, the ICRC has regularly provided over 24,000 people in Western/Central Georgia with food and non-food items. Firewood was also provided to 27 villages in Shida Kartli district throughout the winter. A final ro und of assistance will end in April.

The ICRC is currently assessing the capacity of Shida Kartli district farmers to tend their fields. Given the loss of most crops last year, limited access to fields – owing to insecurity or contamination by explosive remnants of war – and poor irrigation, the farmers may need assistance throughout the year. The ICRC is also assessing the needs of people originally from Upper Kodori Valley who are now displaced in Svaneti.

 Detention visits  


The ICRC in Georgia regularly visits places of detention to monitor the living conditions and treatment of detainees, particularly those held in connection with the recent conflict.

From the onset of the hostilities, the ICRC in Tskhinvali has taken steps to ensure that it can visit all persons detained in relation to the conflict. The objective of ICRC detention visits is to assess the treatment of detainees and their conditions of detention.

 The missing  

People seeking missing relatives continue to contact the ICRC in Tskhinvali, Gori, Tbilisi and Moscow. Today, 37 families are still without news of their loved ones. The ICRC follows up each individual case of people who went missing during the conflict and its aftermath with the relevant authorities and on a confidential basis. In addition, an ICRC forensic expert in Tbilisi is on hand to help authorities identify mortal remains.

There are still over 1,900 people missing as a result of previous conflicts in the region. The right of families to know the fate of their loved ones is a fundamental provision of international humanitarian law and international human rights law.


 Weapon contamination  


Mines and unexploded ordnances continue to pose a risk for civilians. To minimize this risk, the ICRC raises the awareness of the population about the danger posed by explosive remnants of war.

In South Ossetia and Shida Kartli, the ICRC places posters in public spaces in towns and rural areas. It also places advertisements in local newspapers on the risk posed by unexploded ordnances. The organization works closely with district and village authorities to reach those living in rural areas. Whenever possible, it works in collaboration with volunteers of the Georgia Red Cross Society (GRCS). The ICRC is alerted whenever unexploded ordnances are found. It then transmits the relevant information to the organizations and authorities in charge of marking contaminated areas and of clearance.

 Prevention activities  

The organization regularly informs members of the armed forces and other weapon bearers about humanitarian law and the ICRC’s mandate and activities.

 Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement – a coordinated response  

The ICRC's winter assistance programme for IDP families in and around Tbilisi was successfully implemented jointly by the GRCS, the International Federation of the Red Cross/Red Crescent and the ICRC. The GRCS is also active in psychosocial support, disaster management, and first aid, with support from the Internati onal Federation and the ICRC. The ICRC works closely with GRCS volunteers whenever it distributes assistance.