UNDP Helps Georgia Reduce Natural Hazard Risks

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Georgia office held a special information session for media representatives over flood risks and protection measures for western Georgia.

The event, involving around 20 participants from across the country, took place on March 11-12 at hotel Tskaltubo Plaza in the town of Tskaltubo, western Georgia.

The representatives of the UNDP and Ministry of Environment, alongside the Adaptation Fund, introduced attendees to their mutual accomplishments and planned future actions aimed at reducing or preventing risks in the basin of the Rioni River in western Georgia.

The talking points incorporated UNDP’s efforts in Georgia in terms of assisting Georgian agriculture and people living in rural and remote areas of the country. Namely, the UN-based organization and its partners have invested over USD 5 million for reducing natural risks and hazards in the Rioni Valley through which runs a river which has been a challenging factor for Georgia’s environment for years.

The Environment Ministry assesses the Rioni river basin as an area of Georgia most vulnerable to floods and extreme climate events. Flood prevention and adaptation models tested there can be expanded to other regions of Georgia to reduce the risk of floods and protect the most vulnerable.

The grant provided by the UN has been apportioned to installing a warning system in the river which will enable emergency services to evacuate citizens residing in the surrounding area in case of danger. The UNDP estimates some 200,000 residents have benefited directly and indirectly from the money injected into the project.

Interestingly, experts participating in the session panel emphasized the disadvantages of Georgia’s mountainous relief. While the country is doubtlessly eye-catching to tourists for its unique nature and attractive terrains, the scholars underscored a number of shortcomings connected to the mountainous regions of Georgia, which create additional obstacles for environmentalists in terms of high risks of natural disaster.

As part of the event, media representatives visited the villages of Sajavakho and Ianeti (Imereti region, western Georgia), where shoreline protection and agro-forestry works are ongoing to reinforce the damaged river banks and protect houses and agriculture plots from in-coming water.

Head of UNDP Georgia office, Niels Scott, and Minister of the Environment, Gigla Agulashvili, joined the field event.

“Our joint work with the Government of Georgia aims to introduce policies, economic practices and adaptation measures that will protect people and promote the economic development of these regions,” Niels Scott told GEORGIA TODAY, adding that the UNDP aspires to continue the projects launched and he hopes that sufficient resources will be mobilized for this purpose.

Minister Agulashvili told GEORGIA TODAY that the technology employed by the UNDP for building shoreline protection with rock structures will definitely work and will assist a number of residents living along the Rioni River. “If these constructions were not built here, most of the inhabitants would have to leave the area due to flooding,” he said.

This year, the UNDP is celebrating the 23rd year of its presence in Georgia and has categorically refused to mark the anniversary in a luxurious manner. Instead, the organization, which brings together dozens of value-based and bright-minded professionals, has planned a number of awareness campaigns to communicate better their accomplishments to date.

Since 2012, the UNDP Georgia project has been involved in the construction of shoreline protection with rock boulders in 10 high-risk territories, including agro-forestry works started in 11 villages. In addition, 35 new hydro-meteorological monitoring sites have been established. An important part of the process is developing new policy documents that introduce flood resilient insurance schemes and building codes, as well as flood forecasting and early warning systems.

The seminar organizers revealed that the United States government has promised to assist the Georgian side with an expensive radar system which will greatly increase the level of predictability of potential floods or other types of natural hazard in Georgia.

The problem of natural hazards in Georgia has been in the spotlight in particular since the tragic flood of the night of June 13 last year, when a flood claimed the lives of dozens and left many homeless in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

Zviad Adzinbaia

15 March 2016 11:00