Georgia

Georgia: Floods Emergency Appeal No. 05EA011

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Appeal
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In Brief

THIS EMERGENCY APPEAL SEEKS CHF 461,253 (USD 388,915 OR EUR 300,002) IN CASH, KIND, OR SERVICES TO ASSIST 16,000 BENEFICIARIES FOR SEVEN MONTHS

The situation

Heavy rainfall, warm temperatures and a sudden onset of the seasonal snow melt resulted in floods in the western Georgian regions of Racha-Lechkhumi, Lower (Kvemo) Svaneti, Imereti and Samegrelo-Upper (Zemo) Svaneti on 25-26 April 2005. On 27-30 April the eastern regions of Inner (Shida) Kartli, Lower (Kvemo) Kartli, Mtskheta-Mtianeti, Adjara and part of Samtskhe- Javakheti were also affected. Landslides and mudflows have occurred in many mountainous areas. While fortunately there has been no loss of human life, the damage to already poor infrastructure, residential buildings and agriculture has been extensive.

Populations from a number of villages have been relocated due to fears for their safety. Families from damaged or destroyed houses have mostly found temporary shelter with relatives, friends, or neighbours. Transport infrastructure has been heavily affected. Many bridges and kilometres of road have been washed away isolating some of the villages. On 28 April 2005, the government appealed for international assistance.

On the same day (28 April 2005), the Federation launched a minor emergency alert to inform the international community on the disaster and the Red Cross plans. CHF 50,000 was allocated from the Federation's Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF).

Since most of the damage occurred in remote, mainly high mountainous villages with a poor communication infrastructure, information on the damage and needs was scarce and fragmented. In fact, it lacked the cohesion to allow a clear analysis of the situation and an appropriate response to the disaster. This prompted the Federation to immediately deploy a Field Assessment and Coordination Team (FACT) to collect information, identify the needs, recommend on Red Cross action and initiate an appropriate response to the disaster. This emergency appeal is based on the findings and recommendations of the FACT.

The Federation FACT team comprising six members arrived in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, on 30 April 2005. A number of meetings were held with representatives of the authorities at central, regional and municipal levels to obtain official statistics on the damage and the needs. The FACT visited over 20 per cent of the families whose houses and/or farmland were reported to be damaged by the floods. The attention was directed towards assessing the damage to households (as opposed to infrastructure), overall health situation of the affected communities (morbidity/mortality trends, water and sanitation), food security and availability of safe potable water. As such the assessment and this appeal should be seen as complementary to the efforts of the Georgian government which has been largely focusing on the damage to infrastructure.

The Red Cross Society of Georgia, the Federation and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have worked in close coordination. Georgian Red Cross representatives were an active part of the Federation assessment efforts. The ICRC provided logistical (vehicles, drivers, accommodation in Zugdidi) and technical support. Their advice on security and administrative issues has been excellent and has been very much appreciated.

FACT findings

A striking aspect of this emergency is that the areas affected by the floods and landslides are geographically dispersed and embrace the regions in the east, west and north of the country. All were included in the Federation's assessment, namely:

  • Gardabani in Kvemo Kartli, eastern Georgia.

  • Akhmeta, and Lagodekhi districts in the Kakheti region, eastern Georgia.

  • Tskaltubo town and Zhoneti and Opurchkheti villages in Imereti region.

  • Tsageri, Lentekhi and Oni in Racha-Letchkhumi region.

  • Mestia town and Tsvirmi, Ipari, Latali and Becho villages in the Upper Svaneti-Samgrelo region.

  • Khulo in Ajara region, western Georgia .
The FACT found damage and destruction across the range of areas visited. In Upper Svaneti (Mestia district), Oni, Khulo and surrounding villages, the team saw many severely damaged and even fully destroyed homes. The damage to households was lesser in Imereti (Kutaisi and Tskaltubo districts), Inner Kartli (Gardabani district), and Kakheti (Akhmeta, and Lagodekhi districts). The impact to farmlands and infrastructure, however, has been significant there too.

Some families lost all their belongings since their houses have been destroyed by debris slides. The number of families involved, however, is too low to call for the distribution of non-food items since the normal solidarity mechanisms have provided these families with the necessary commodities. The main floods induced damages at the community level are the loss of agricultural land, pasture land, fodder and sometimes, livestock, which will have a long-term impact on the food and economic security of the affected households. Many families in the higher areas have also lost seed, primarily potato seed, needed for planting before the end of May. In Svaneti, potatoes are the main cash crop that provides most of the income needed for the purchase of the wheat flour and other essential food and non-food commodities. Even moderate damage has therefore had a catastrophic effect to people.

This situation is aggravated by the heavy saturation of soils and thick layers of debris that cover the large part of farmland especially on some of the higher elevations, which may make planting for this year unfeasible. Many households who had already planted have lost their crops and last year's harvest savings. The window of time to provide seeds to the affected areas is very short, as any planting must be done by the end of May, and if no measures are taken on time population might face a harsh winter of increased food insecurity. It is noteworthy, that five of the most affected villages around Mestia were also hit by floods and landslides in July 2004 and the effects of the last year's disaster, causing the loss of potato crops, have not been eliminated yet. It is feared that people whose health will be under stress by the lack of food, will be vulnerable to infections.

Access to safe drinking water emerged as a top priority need in most regions. In some places, the water system was physically damaged due to the floods. In Oni, for example, the recent floods, totally demolished a water collector and part of the pipeline system. As a result, currently, only 45 per cent of the population there is supplied with a sufficient quantity of water, which is running through a very old gravity-fed system. Others are using natural springs.

In other places, however, such as Khulo and the Mestia district, there are serious concerns about the quality of the water because existing filtration and purification processes have been inadequate since long. The E.coli index there has increased after the floods. In Mestia town, for example, it stands at 65-120/100 ml, which is high. Water contamination with the consequent risk of diarrhoeal disease outbreak is, therefore, perceived a real threat calling for an immediate assistance in water purification and chlorination.

While no major outbreaks of wate r borne diseases have been reported since the floods, the negative impact of the high E.coli levels on the health of young children, the elderly and other vulnerable groups, might easily remain undetected especially taking into account the limited community outreach and health surveillance capacities of the public health services in the affected areas. That impact should, however, not be underestimated. In Latali village of the Mestia district, for instance, several cases of diarrhoeal disease and hepatitis were reported over the last years, which gives an indication that the risk of new outbreaks exists.

Poor sanitation also raises concerns. Most of the toilets seen by the FACT are of a very basic latrine type and not well maintained. Some families did not have separate latrine constructions at all. In Dekanashvilebi village of Khulo district, for instance, families are using a hole in the floor of their balconies as toilets. Faeces fall directly on the ground underneath posing a real threat of infectious disease spread. Immediate measures should be taken to promote a more hygienic behaviour and ensure safe excretal disposal.

The recent floods and landslides caused substantial damage to residential buildings too. In some areas, such as in Upper (Zemo) Svaneti and Racha- Lechkhumi, a significant number of families have been relocated temporarily to nearby villages, and have been absorbed by relatives or neighbours. Many, however, continue living in geologically high risk areas. Floods and landslides in these locations are recurrent. There is concern that in a number of the affected regions, the combination of more seasonal rain in the coming weeks of May-June, combined with a higher than usual amount of snow in the mountains which still has to melt, will cause more severe mud and debris slides that could lead to fatal outcomes. Lack of maintenance of dams and river banks and a weak follow-up to the preventive recommendations provided by the geologists after last year's floods has aggravated the situation.

It must be stressed that the overall level of vulnerability of the population is far higher than could be expected from the size of the recent events. Indeed, the current emergency only adds to existing deficits in the health, water and sanitation services as a result of at least a decade of economic decline the country has been undergoing. Georgia is among the poorest countries of the former Soviet Union. It faces daunting challenges as it is suffering from the side effects of a full-scale economic transition from a highly centralised planned economy as part of the much wider former Soviet economic community to a market economy as an independent country in its own right. Economic and social conditions remain dismal. Basic services function poorly or not at all. There are 300,000 internally displaced people in Georgia who live in deprivation. Many are not able to meet their basic food, health and shelter needs. The state welfare allowance barely provides for a loaf of bread each day. The situation in the country is dominated by crushing poverty, high unemployment and rising prices. 52 per cent1 of the population live below the poverty line. Sadly, after a decade of independence, much of Georgia continues to depend on assistance from the international community.

The needs

The needs are diverse. Some should be addressed urgently to prevent the deterioration of health of the communities exposed to food insecurity and a real threat of an outbreak of infectious diseases that could be triggered by poor water and sanitation conditions in the floods affected towns and villages. Immediate actions should include the distribution of basic hygiene items, jerry cans and purification tablets and targeted health education and hygiene promotion for the local population. Communities should be also involved in a participatory process (PHAST) to identify improvements needed to the existing sanitation facilities. Few model latrines should be constructed to encourage villagers to replicate the standards in their homes.

Other needs, however, are rather chronic and more related to a lack of maintenance over the years. They call for a structural intervention and fall beyond the scope of an emergency operation. For instance, there are massive needs in rehabilitation of roads and infrastructure. The agricultural land that is covered by debris should be cleaned too. Although no direct health impact has been identified, it should be noted that the existing health system is in a precarious condition due to a lack of maintenance and resources. Health sector infrastructure exists and staff is available in most places, but often essential medicines and medical supplies are lacking especially in mountainous villages. According to some parents, interviewed by the Federation's FACT team in the floods affected regions, the immunization of children has not been done for the last several years.

Almost all rural areas affected by the floods and debris slides need assistance to improve their water treatment and provision schemes. Most of the problems identified were, however, clearly pre-existing to the floods. Indeed, deficits in the quality or quantity of water in Khulo, Akhmeta and Mestia district are equally related to an overall lack of maintenance of the system than of direct damage induced by the recent floods. They call for a long-term engagement and exceed the capacities of a humanitarian actor. The only feasible intervention that will have a rapid impact and can be managed by the Red Cross is a repair of the system in Oni.

The Federation also strongly believes that most of the severely damaged houses should not be reconstructed. The families living in geologically high risk areas, such as the Becho village in the Mestia district of Upper Svaneti region and parts of Khulo in Ajara region, should instead be urgently relocated, at least temporarily until a more durable solution, acceptable to all involved, is found. It is simply too late to implement any conservatory measures this year as rains continue and there is still high snow in the mountains which is feared will cause further floods and debris slides, confirmed by the Georgian geologists. A large number of families have indicated that they are afraid of staying in their homes. Indeed they often spend nights with their relatives and would prefer to move to safe places provided they remain in the same region or receive what they perceive a sufficient level of compensation from the authorities. The issue is complex and highly sensitive but it is important that the dialogue between the government and the population to find a durable solution continues. The Red Cross will be advocating to the government on the importance of examining how best to address the situation of persons living at high risk. This will be combined with a risk awareness campaign for the population. The campaign is deemed to be important since most people while acknowledge the threat, do not realise its speed and force.

Pending the relocation, first aid courses should be organized, as an intermediary measure, to strengthen the population's capacity to respond to accidents in view of the risks of yet more landslides.

Shortage of seeds is another issue that raises concerns. Last year (July 2004) due to a severe hail-stone storm and flooding almost all the potato crops had been destroyed in Mestia town and four villages - Mulakhi, Tsvirmi, Ipari and Ieli. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has responded with a purchase of 1,500 kg of potato seeds to distribute to each of the 1,500 targeted households. The seeds are expected to arrive the last week of May 2005, i.e., right before the planting deadline. The FAO seeds, however, will be sufficient to meet only part of the needs as the number of families requiring support is far more this year than in 2004. Some retargeting of the originally planned distributions might be necessary too to ensure the seeds arrive at those locations where the soil is ready to receive them. The Federation realizes it might be too late to flag the issue as the window of time to procure and distribute seeds to farmers before the planting deadline is very narrow and it is virtually impossible to accomplish the task. But, if families cannot plant before the end of May, they will not have harvest before September 2006 because crops need three and a half months to yield to maturity and must be harvested before the temperatures drop below zero, which usually happens as of the month of October. If they do not have harvest, farmers will not have sufficient food to sustain their families. Nor will they have income (through selling part of the harvest) to compensate through purchase for the food deficits. They will then depend solely on external aid.

In 2004, the World Food Programme (WFP) distributed food supplies to the families, whose farmland had been destroyed by the floods and landslides last year. This helped them survive through the winter. This year, the needs, however, are far greater and the Federation appeals to the international community to support any request for food by the Georgian government and the WFP.

Coordination

A government working group has been formed under the leadership of the Prime Minister to assess the flood damage as well as coordinate receipt and distribution of international humanitarian assistance. Almost all ministries are represented in it. The UN system has been coordinating through an enlarged Disaster Management Team (DMT), which was established in 1996. The Federation and the ICRC are regularly attending the DMT meetings together with other international organisations involved in disaster management. The main function of the DMT is to help ensure adequate and effective international assistance to complement the actions of the Government. The FACT team has been regularly attending the DMT meetings to share findings and coordinate action. Other actors, involved the floods operation include: WFP, Food and Agriculture Organisation, CHF, World Vision, ACH, UMCOR and Unicef.

WFP has been working in Georgia for a long time and has been focusing primarily on food for work programmes implemented through ACH and World Vision, which they intend to continue in the flooded regions this year too. They are also planning to distribute food commodities from their contingency stocks to 28,000 worst affected people to cover their daily food requirements for two months. A number of small NGOs and local political parties are also planning or have started food distribution.

The FAO has procured 150 tonnes of potato seeds, a variety that rapidly yields to maturity (class A that can be reproduced in the following years), to distribute to 1,500 families in villages of the Mestia region, that was affected by a hail-stone storms and severe flooding in 2004 (Ipari, Tsvirmi, Mulakhi and Kala). CHF is planning to support the procurement and distribution of additional 35 tonnes of potato seeds and at least 29,200 litre of diesel for Upper Svaneti region and a total of 138 tonnes of potato seeds, 2.6 tonnes of maize seeds and 1 tonne of beans for Lower Svaneti/Racha-Lechkhumi regions. There are concerns, however, if the seeds can be de livered to the farmers until it is too late for planting.

UNICEF has confirmed that they will cover immunization and distribution of medical kits to floods affected families.

Through the DMT, the Federation has been collaborating with the Government on actions related to this emergency. The FACT team members have been in regular contact with the Emergency Situations and Civil Safety Service (ESCSS) of the Ministry of Interior, which also maintains an Operations Coordination Center in Tbilisi and has focal points in each of the affected regions. The FACT has been also in regular contact with the Local Governance and Regional Policy Service under the President's Administration, to share information collected from regions.

For further information specifically related to this operation please contact:

Mr. Giorgi Gigiberia, Secretary General of the Georgian Red Cross; phone +995 32 961 534; Fax +995 32 953 304; email ggigiberia@redcross.ge

Mr. Ashot Sargsyan, Federation representative in Georgia; phone +995 32 922 248; Fax +995 32 922 249; email ifrcge01@ifrc.org

Ms. Sylvie Chevalley, regional officer, Federation Secretariat, Geneva, phone + 41 22 730 4276 email sylvie.chevalley@ifrc.org

For longer-term programmes, please refer to the Federation's Annual Appeal.

All International Federation assistance seeks to adhere to the Code of Conduct and is committed to the Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response in delivering assistance to the most vulnerable. For support to or for further information concerning Federation programmes or operations in this or other countries, or for a full description of the national society profile, please access the Federation's website at http://www.ifrc.org

Footnote

1 Source: World Bank 2002.

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