Georgia/South Ossetia: Remote areas lack food, proper access to health care

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In an effort to assess the overall humanitarian situation in rural South Ossetia and to provide assistance, the ICRC recently visited the Akhalgori/Leningori area, mostly populated by ethnic Georgians, and Ossetian villages such as Khetagurovo, Avnevi, Khodabula and Didi Tskhiata.

Latest report on ICRC activities in the field

The ICRC is one of the few humanitarian organizations working in the region. "Even in areas where there were no active hostilities, residents have been and remain adversely affected by the conflict," said René Boeckli, head of the ICRC office in Tskhinvali. "In villages from which most young people fled, older people stayed behind. Now winter is approaching and they have to face it on their own."

Regardless of their background, villagers face similar problems: lack of security, isolation and limited access to food and health care. "An atmosphere of fear and anxiety pervaded the villages we visited," said Boeckli. "This makes it much harder for people to resume their normal lives." Last week, the ICRC provided village residents, the elderly in particular, with food parcels, blankets and candles. The situation in the more remote localities was particularly bleak. In the Tsynagar area, mostly populated by Ossetians, the ICRC responded by delivering one tonne of wheat flour. "Traditional links that existed between the Tsynagar area and Gori have been severed. Because of poor roads, people are isolated from the rest of South Ossetia and their access to services and humanitarian aid is limited," said Aslan Tukhuzhev, an ICRC delegate who specializes in economic security. "We see important needs and the help that we can provide is only a small portion of what is required."

Many residents have not seen relatives since 7 August, when the hostilities started, and they fear they will be completely isolated during winter. "My sister and I decided to stay here. Many people left, and most of them lost their homes," said Tamara, a 68-year-old resident of Avnevi. "It is extremely important for us know that we have not been forgotten and that there is still hope that some day everything will return to normal." The ICRC recently distributed food parcels, hygiene kits and clothing in Avnevi and other villages.

Access to food and quality health care remains a problem in rural South Ossetia, particularly for the elderly. Medical facilities are dilapidated. A delayed harvest and the poor roads translate into high prices at local farmers' markets. Many residents doubt that they will be able to prepare adequately for the cold winter months. Harsh weather conditions may indeed soon render many of the villages visited by the ICRC inaccessible. "We will go on delivering food until winter arrives," said Tukhuzhev. "We hope that this will help people cope with the difficult months ahead."

Tskhinvali: General situation

The situation in Tskhinvali itself is gradually stabilizing. Grocery stores and markets are selling food. The power supply has been restored. Full access to central heating is expected to be restored in the coming weeks. The authorities have started to repair public buildings. Many private residences damaged during the conflict are still in need of repair, even though the owners have received compensation from the authorities. Residents whose houses were damaged or destroyed have been contacting the ICRC every day, desperately seeking practical solutions to the problems facing them as they prepare for the rigours of winter. The ICRC has responded by distributing over 1,200 tarpaulins in Tskhinvali and nearby villages. It will also distribute glass and building materials in rural areas. While these supplies will enable residents to better prepare for the hard winter ahead, they will not solve the housing problem over the longer term.

The ICRC continues to provide support for health-care facilities in Tskhinvali. Last week, it delivered generators to the main hospital. It also supplied electric cooking stoves to enable hospital staff to prepare hot meals for patients. Furthermore, in response to numerous requests, the ICRC is now supplying insulin to Tskhinvali's central pharmacy on a monthly basis.

Restoring family links remains a priority

Restoring family links between people separated by the conflict remains a priority for the ICRC. In its role as a neutral intermediary, the ICRC has helped to reunite families in Tskhinvali, Gori and Tbilisi in cooperation with all parties. Since 30 August, over 250 persons have been reunited with their relatives under ICRC auspices.

Raising awareness of mines and other explosives

Mines and other explosive objects remain a danger. The ICRC has distributed over 10,000 leaflets and 2,000 posters in and around Tskhinvali as part of a campaign which aims to inform children in particular of the danger of explosive devices. The leaflets were distributed in affected communities through local newspapers. The posters were placed on display in public areas. At the request of several organizations involved in mine clearance operations, the ICRC has also supplied signs that are used to mark contaminated areas.

Visiting detainees

From the onset of the hostilities, the ICRC has taken steps to ensure that it can visit prisoners of war and other persons arrested in connection with the conflict in order to assess their treatment and conditions of detention. The organization maintains confidential dialogue with the authorities concerned to secure access to all persons deprived of their freedom in South Ossetia.

The ICRC in South Ossetia

Since 20 August, the ICRC has been steadily increasing the scale and reach of its operations in South Ossetia. Over 50 staff are currently employed in its Tskhinvali office.

For more information, please contact:

Marina Tedeti, ICRC Tskhinvali, tel. +79 28 230 0583
Simon Schorno, ICRC Geneva, tel. +41 79 251 9302