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Georgia / Russian Federation: a difficult winter ahead

06-11-2008 Operational Update

Three months since war broke out between Russia and Georgia, thousands of people face a difficult winter. The ICRC has been helping the most vulnerable including the displaced, dispersed families and the elderly.


Georgia-South Ossetia: key moments in the ICRC's response to the crisis

  • The ICRC has reunited over 270 people with relatives in Tbilisi, Gori and Tskhinvali since the beginning of the hostilities.
  • The ICRC has delivered food and other assistance to 135,000 people since the beginning of the hostilities.
  • Throughout the crisis, the French, Italian, Kuwait, Norwegian, Swiss and Turkish Red Cross and Red Crescent societies worked in coordination with the ICRC and the Georgian Red Cross. In addition, the Canadian and German Red Cross societies have seconded staff to the ICRC mobile medical team.
  • Today, the ICRC is still the only international humanitarian organization with a permanent presence in South Ossetia, where it employs over 60 delegates and national staff.

  •   August 2008:
  • 11.08: Additional staff join the ICRC team already in Tbilisi; ICRC preliminary appeal launched for $US 7.4 million; ICRC visits two Russian prisoners of war in Tbilisi;
  • 12.08: The North Ossetia branch of the Russian Red Cross, with the support of the ICRC, distributes essential household items to 600 people who had fled fighting in South Ossetia;
  • 13.08: First ICRC flights land in Tbilisi. Nine flights bring 335 metric tonnes of food, water and sanitation equipment and other supplies. The airlift ends 19 August;
  • 16.08: The ICRC president arrives in Tbilisi;
  • 17.08: Volunteers of the Georgian Red Cross distribute food and essential household items in collective centres in Tbilisi;
  • 18.08: The ICRC visits three Georgian prisoners of war in Vladikavkaz (Russian Federation);
  • 20.08: An ICRC team reaches Tskhinvali from Vladikavkaz;
  • 21.08:The ICRC establishes an office in Gori and carries out its first field visits to villages south of Gori and north into territories adjacent to South Ossetia under the control of Russian forces;
  • 23.08: ICRC makes its first visit to civilian detainees in Tskhinvali;
  • 24.08: ICRC Tbilisi staff visit South Ossetian detainees;
  • 26.08: ICRC protection teams begin assessments in villages outside Tskhinvali;
  • 28.08: ICRC mobile medical clinic starts to operate in villages north of Gori; over 200 consultations take place daily;
  • 29.08: The Turkish Red Crescent Society distributes 700 food parcels in Gori in coordination with the Georgian Red Cross.

  •   September 2008:
  • 22.09: Over 100 ICRC delegates and national staff are based in Tbilisi /Zugdidi/Gori/Batumi/Sukhumi. Over 50 delegates and national staff are based in Tskhinvali;
  • 23.09: The Italian Red Cross serves its 200,000th meal at a Red Cross soup kitchen located in Gori's tent camp.

  •   October 2008:
  • 01.10: Beginning of an ICRC shelter programme in villages north of Gori; beginning of an ICRC winterization programme in South Ossetia.
  © ICRC / ge-e-00386    
  Tskhinvali. ICRC staff member collecting Red Cross messages from elderly people separated from their families.    
    Three months after the outbreak of the armed conflict between Russia and Georgia thousands of people still need help. " Though the conflict started on 8 August and lasted only a few days, " said Jerôme Sorg, ICRC deputy head of operations for Russia and the Caucasus, " its impact will be felt by the civilian population for months to come. " The ICRC is focusing its support on the most vulnerable people, especially the elderly who live in rural areas, cut off from services and support. " The acute emergency phase is now over, " said Mr Sorg, " but with winter approaching, people's needs will increase over the coming months. We will increase our assistance accordingly. "

The ICRC has been helping those affected by the conflict and its aftermath on all sides. In the early days of the conflict, it rapidly gained access to civilians living in villages in or near the worst-affected areas. It also assisted those displaced by the fighting in both Georgia and Russia. While the ICRC has maintained a presence in Tbilisi, Gori and Tskhinvali, it has now shifted its strategy to focus increasingly on remote rural areas.

 Reuniting families torn apart by war  


Even though 270 people have so far been reunited with their families with ICRC help, about 400 families are still without news of their loved ones. Over the coming months, the organization will intensify its efforts on behalf of the more than 1,100 people who have approached it for help in finding missing relatives. In addition, an ICRC forensic expert is on ha nd to help local authorities identify mortal remains.

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

 Health care in remote areas  

Access to quality health care remains a problem, particularly for the elderly and for people in rural South Ossetia. " Our medical aid facility does not even have the supplies to treat patients for minor problems such as cuts or headaches, " said Boris Gabaraev, the head of local government in the village of Khetagurovo, in Tskhinvali district.

The ICRC started to operate mobile clinics in the Gori area of Georgia in late August to help people without access to medical care. A joint ICRC/Norwegian Red Cross team working with local medics and the local authorities has offered free consultations, mainly to elderly people suffering from chronic diseases. The clinics have so far provided over 6,300 consultations.


 Food and other assistance  


Food can be difficult to obtain in rural areas affected by the conflict, particularly for the elderly. A delayed harvest and poor transport have resulted in high prices at local farmers'markets. Many people are concerned about the coming winter, and harsh weather conditions may soon render many villages inaccessible. " We will go on distributing food until winter arrives, " said Aslan Tukhuzhev, an ICRC delegate who specializes in economic security. " We hope that this will help people to cope during the difficult months ahead. "

The situation in the more remote areas remains particularly bleak. " Because of poor roads, people are isolated and their access to services and humanitarian aid is limited, " said Mr Tukhuzhev. " They need a lot but we can only meet some of those needs. "

The ICRC remains one of the few humanitarian organizations working in rural South Ossetia, in both ethnic Georgian and Ossetian villages. " Residents here have been hit hard by the conflict. They will need assistance throughout the winter, " said René Boeckli, head of the ICRC office in Tskhinvali. " In South Ossetia alone we will provide wheat flour, sugar, salt, oil and hygiene items for about 14,000 people before the end of November " .

During winter, the ICRC plans to continue delivering food and hygiene items to about 13,000 people who recently returned to their homes in the so-called buffer zone around South Ossetia that was particularly hard-hit by the fighting. Since August, the organization has provided over 60,000 food rations and over 75,000 essential household items in war-affected areas of western and central Georgia. The beneficiaries have included displaced people living in collective centres, families or individuals cut off by the fighting, and people returning to the homes they had fled.

The ICRC has also launched information campaigns to alert the population, particularly children, to the danger of landmines and unexploded ordnance left by the fighting.


 Rebuilding homes  

With winter approaching fast, the ICRC has been carrying out major repairs in several c ollective centres in Tbilisi, Gori and western Georgia housing around 5,000 people who fled their homes because of the conflict. About 2,000 families whose homes were damaged will also receive clear plastic sheets to cover their windows.

In Tskhinvali, many people whose houses were damaged or destroyed in the fighting are desperately seeking practical solutions to the problems they face with winter looming. The ICRC has so far distributed over 1,300 tarpaulins in the town and in nearby villages as well as glass and building materials. While this will enable residents to better prepare for the hard winter ahead, long-term solutions will have to be found in order to solve the housing problem.


 Working within the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement  


From the onset of the crisis, the ICRC has worked closely with its partners in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The Red Cross Society of Georgia and the Russian Red Cross Society played an important part in the ICRC's operations. Other Red Cross and Red Crescent societies worked in coordination with the ICRC to ensure an effective and comprehensive response.

Since 8 August the:
  © ICRC / ge-e-00375   Dmenisi village. An woman carrying hygiene products, blankets, kitchen sets and other items distributed by the ICRC.    
  • French Red Cross has provided jerrycans and tarpaulins;

  • Italian Red Cross has served over 270,000 meals to displaced people in the Gori area and Tbilisi's collective centres;

  • Kuwait Red Crescent Society has provided baby food, beds, blankets and bed sheets;

  • Latvian Red Cross has provided financial support for the Red Cross Society of Georgia for its relief operations;

  • Norwegian Red Cross has provided a mobile hospital and specialized staff;

  • Swiss Red Cross has provided over 8,500 mattresses;

  • Turkish Red Crescent Society has provided food packages, mattresses and kitchen kits.