Addressing the post disaster needs in Georgia
I recently had the opportunity to interview Victoria Salinas, Track III - Sustainable Recovery Team, who recently returned from Georgia, where she was working with the Europe and Central Asia (ECA) Disaster Risk Management Team, World Bank to support the Government of Georgia to conduct a post disaster Joint Needs Assessment. The World Bank worked closely with the United Nations Development Program and United Nations agencies, European Union, and other national and international partners on this assessment.. I was able to ask her about her experience and next steps with the Joint Needs Assessment in Georgia. The interview is below.
Tell us about your experience - where were you, why were you there, when were you there, and what did you do?
Victoria: On July 19, an extreme weather system swept through three regions of eastern Georgia, starting with hail and rain, and eventually leading to flash flooding and strong winds (up to 100+ mph). While this was a medium size disaster, the impacts were large, devastating the agricultural sector, ripping roofs off homes, schools, and health facilities, and damaging community infrastructure. Georgia’s Minister of Finance reached out to the World Bank and UNDP, requesting support in conducting a government-led Joint Needs Assessment of the disaster impacts. As a result, World Bank Country Director for the South Caucasus Region, Henry Kerali, assigned Ahmed Eiweida, ECSDD Sector Leader, to serve as team leader for the World Bank engagement, and he in turn engaged the ECA DRM Team and GFDRR to provide surge staffing for the joint assessment.
I deployed to Georgia, along with Sergio Dell’anna from the ECA Region and Grahame Dixie from Agriculture and Rural Development, to provide assistance with conducting a rapid assessment of the disaster in order to understand the impacts and the short, medium, and long-term recovery needs within the affected sectors. Under the leadership of Ahmed and Inita Paulovica of UNDP our job was to assist the government: (1) in mobilizing and conducting a multi-sector assessment; (2) integrating the findings of sector teams into a comprehensive overview of the disaster, with concrete recovery actions that both government and its partners can take to support resilient recovery and reconstruction; and, (3) in the development of a Recovery Framework that can align partner efforts for an effective recovery process that also helps Georgia adapt to the climatic changes occurring in the Caucuses Region of Eurasia.
Please tell us some highlights from your mission.
Victoria: When I walked into the first Joint Assessment Team meeting, the room brimmed with smart people from the Governor’s office of the most impacted region, and the Ministry of Finance, national and international NGOs, the World Bank, UNDP, other donors, For every DRM topic that we at GFDRR seek to promote and strengthen through our work - gender, Climate Change, DRM Mainstreaming, CSO involvement in recovery and reconstruction, safe schools - there was a Georgian at the table that was a champion for the issue. For every sector of the Damage and Loss Assessment, there was a Governor’s office or a Government Ministry taking full ownership of gathering disaster impact data and completing the information matrices that are instrumental to the Joint Needs Assessment. Consequently, for me a constant highlight of the mission was working with people brimming with passion and capacity to make a difference in the lives of those who were suffering due to the impacts of the disaster.
Another highlight was the warmth and welcoming nature of the Georgians we met both in Tbilisi and in our field work. For example, while assessing the impacts of the disaster on flood infrastructure, my colleague Sergio ended up meeting an elderly lady whose property had been badly impacted by flash floods. She spoke no English. He spoke no Georgian. In their efforts to communicate via the translator, his questions about whether or not she had potable water to drink came out as him being thirsty – quite the opposite from his intention. She apologized profusely that she had no drinking water for him, as she had lost access to this basic life necessity in the storm. He tried to give her the water that remained in his plastic water bottle, but she kindly refused. The Georgian sense of hospitality knows few limits, and even in this difficult circumstance she wanted to do something for the Italian guest, and began to insist that in lieu of a cup of water, he take with him one of her chickens to cook at home for dinner.
While my field visit with the Agriculture Team was not quite as poignant, during our survey of the impact to the grape vines and wine production, the owner of the vineyard we visited did insist the Joint Assessment Team try some of his great Georgian wine.
What were the lessons learned from the mission?
Victoria: Climates are changing and Georgia will need to confront its existing hazards as well as prepare for the future ones. Many studies have been conducted on the climatic changes happening in the Caucuses Region. The findings of this PDNA, and realization that a medium size disaster can cause disproportionally large impacts – served as a wakeup call to many involved in the assessment, and really highlighted the need to invest in Disaster Risk Reduction and a stronger hydro-meteorological system. For example, Georgia does not presently have a radar system in place that can predict weather with enough detail to allow families and business owners alike to quickly act and prevent losses.
Georgia has many opportunities to take decisive and productive actions at many levels of government. For example, in Kakheti, the most impacted region, a Regional Development Plan will soon be developed with support of GIZ. Integrating climate change adaptation and DRR measures into regional and local plans is one of the best ways to get all levels of government, citizens, private sector, and other stakeholders working together to jointly plan and implement actions towards sustainable development that is also resilient to the variety of external shocks that can make communities vulnerable. The fact that this type of participatory planning process is getting underway is very promising for the level of resilience that can be jointly cultivated.
What were the results from the mission and next steps?
Victoria: My final day in Georgia, I was asked to present initial findings to the Minister of Finance and international donors on behalf of the Joint Assessment Team. Following the presentation, the Minister of Finance thanked donors and the PDNA team and suggested donors support the medium to long term recovery plan, as the government addressed almost all immediate repair needs. In particular, he asked the international partners to explore how they could help Georgia with:
· Flood control and flood plain management;
· Modernizing and commercializing their agriculture sector and making it resilient
· Disaster risk reduction
These priorities will inform the Recovery Framework that is currently under development.
After interviewing Victoria, I also had the chance to speak with Ahmed Eiweida, ECSDD Sector Leader for the South Caucasus Region, regarding GFDRR support and next steps for the overall project. Ahmed shared that ''the ECA Sustainable Development Department and Georgia Country Unit are truly thankful to GFDRR for being able to mobilize quickly sufficient resources and staff to address the Government request. The work was done with high level professionalism, involving almost all donors and international NGOs active in Georgia. I hope the Government would be able to mobilize sufficient resources from budget and donors to implement the medium to long term recovery plan so that affected regions become more resilient to future climate change events''.
Content and images courtesy of Victoria Salinas, the ECA DRM Team and Christina Irene, The World Bank. For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.