Georgia

Georgia / Russian Federation: Three months later, the impact of conflict endures

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Three months after the outbreak of the armed conflict between Russia and Georgia thousands of people still need help. "Though the conflict that started on 8 August 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 currently 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, and therefore also our response, will increase over the coming months."

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, and it 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 persons 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 available to help local authorities to 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 station does not have supplies to help patients even with simple problems such as minor cuts or a headache," 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 localities 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 provide part of what is required."

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 though 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 to deliver 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 more than 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 collective 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 approaching. 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 with 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 Turkish Red Crescent Society has provided food packages, mattresses and kitchen kits;

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

- the Kuwait Red Crescent Society has provided baby food, beds, blankets and bedsheets;

- the French Red Cross has provided jerrycans and tarpaulins;

- the Swiss Red Cross has provided over 8,500 mattresses;

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

- the Italian Red Cross has served over 270,000 meals to displaced persons in the Gori area and in Tbilisi's collective centres.

For more information, please contact:

Maia Kardava, ICRC Tbilisi, tel. +995 91 600 689
Marina Tedeti. ICRC Tskhinvali, tel. +79 28 230 0583
Carla Haddad Mardini, ICRC Geneva, tel. +41 79 217 3226