Georgia

Humanitarian aid for the most vulnerable people of Georgia victims of the frozen Abkhazia conflict

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Location of operation: GEORGIA
Amount of Decision: EUR 2,000,000
Decision reference number: ECHO/GEO/BUD/2006/01000

Explanatory Memorandum

1 - Rationale, needs and target population.

1.1. - Rationale:

Despite the fact that Georgia has a democratically elected government which has embarked on a clear reform path and receives significant funding from the EU, the US and other donors, it is still plagued with two unresolved conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and, linked to this, a very difficult relationship with Russia, its neighbour. The violent Abkhaz conflict of the early 1990s continues to have humanitarian consequences for the population in the Republic and for the 200,000 people who had to flee Abkhazia and sought shelter in precarious conditions in other parts of Georgia.

While these frozen conflicts had softened in recent times, over the past few months relations between the Georgian government and Abkhaz and South-Ossetian authorities have deteriorated significantly, as has the relationship with Russia. Tension with Russia reached its latest peak when Georgia arrested four Russian servicemen and accused them of espionage. Although Georgia handed them over to Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and they were returned to Russia within a few days, Moscow retaliated by putting in place a drastic sanction regime : Russia suspended air, railroad, road and mail connections to Georgia, closed several Georgian businesses in Moscow, started checking registration of Georgians living in Russia (including children in schools) and deporting those without registration and threatened to suspend remittances from Georgians(1). These measures were taken in addition to previous bans on the sale of Georgian wines and mineral waters which have affected Georgia's already fragile economy harshly, as Russia is the country's first export market.

This latest standoff is only the culmination of a two-year confrontation. Relations between Russia and Georgia have seriously deteriorated since the election in 2004, after the "Rose Revolution", of Mikhail Saakashvili, a nationalistic President who has embarked on a resolutely pro-Western, pro-NATO and pro-US path and who makes statements about the negative role of Russia and Russia's desire to destabilise Georgia in order to keep it under its sphere of influence. The current confrontation also coincides with the decision of NATO to establish an "intensified dialogue" with Georgia, a prelude to its integration into the organisation and a prospect which Russia is not favourable to.

Background on the two conflicts

The Georgian-Ossetian armed conflict ended in June 1992 with a cease-fire agreement and the set-up of a Joint Control Commission (JCC) in charge of monitoring the cease-fire and the demilitarisation process. The JCC comprised of a Russian, a Georgian and a North Ossetian battalion. However, in practice the North Ossetian battalion was manned by South Ossetians. In 1994, the JCC was transformed into a quadripartite mechanism with the official participation of South Ossetia. The OSCE also participates in the activities of the JCC. So far, the JCC has failed to deliver any concrete results on a settlement of the conflict.

The conflict which erupted in 1992 in the breakaway republic of Abkhazia led to the displacement of over 250,000 people and devastated what once was a thriving touristic and agricultural region. A UN-brokered agreement was signed by the Georgian and Abkhaz parties in 1994 putting an end to the fighting. Compliance with the Agreement is since then monitored by the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Peace-Keeping Forces (essentially composed of Russian soldiers) and the United Nations Military Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG).

Despite the signature of this agreement, there was never a real peace process and few Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) returned to Abkhazia. Those who eventually did, returned only to the Gali district of Abkhazia, an area populated by non-Abkhaz people, close to the dividing line with Georgia. Tensions remained very high, with again a deterioration of the situation in the Gali district in 1998, which resulted in a new displacement of 30,000 people, many of whom had returned there with the assistance of the humanitarian community. Since then, the Gali district has remained an insecure area and humanitarian organisations virtually stopped their assistance programmes in areas of return until 2005. However, it is now estimated that about 40,000 persons have recently returned from Samegrelo, in Western Georgia, to Gali. Slowly, several humanitarian organisations are now returning to some parts of Gali, but with caution due to security constraints.

Since the unilateral declaration of independence by the de facto Abkhaz authorities, and in spite of the efforts of the international community, the conflict remains unsolved and prospects of a quick political settlement have now disappeared with the current standoff between Russia and Georgia.

Both conflicts cannot be solved without the cooperation of Russia. Russia is, and has always been since both conflicts erupted in the early 1990s, an active backer of Abkhaz and South Ossetian independentist leaderships. Apart from recent interventions in local elections and the direct presence of Russians within the two "governments", Russia supports both Republics militarily and economically. It has distributed Russian passports en masse to citizens there and has even started paying Russian pensions to Abkhaz citizens holding Russian passports last year. South Ossetia and Abkhazia survive only thanks to Russian support which lately, particularly in the case of Abkhazia, resembles economic annexation. In addition, despite its lack of neutrality in both conflicts, Russia provides a large part of the peace-keeping forces present in South Ossetia and in Abkhazia.

Georgia accuses these forces of not fulfilling their peace mandate and Russia of not being an honest broker. The Georgian Parliament asked for their removal last summer and Georgia would like to see them replaced by an international presence, which seems rather unlikely for the time being. At the same time, President Saakashvili, who has put the restoration of Georgia's territorial integrity high on its agenda, has presented its own plans for a settlement of the conflicts and stated that a military intervention was not the option. Despite these verbal assurances, tension remains very high in both regions.

1.2. - Identified needs:

As a result of the conflict, of the trade embargo and of the non-recognition of the selfappointed "de-facto" government, Abkhazia, which enjoyed the highest standard of living in the former Soviet Union, is now a devastated region. Houses, apartment buildings, roads and the whole infrastructure of the Republic have been largely destroyed. The population has shrunk from an estimated 500,000 people before the war to some 100,000 to 150,000 people, many of them considered as destitute by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and a high percentage of them elderly and isolated people.

Food security: In Abkhazia, with the disruption of the social infrastructure, the absence of real economic opportunities for the majority of people and the lack of a political settlement, the basic food and non-food needs of the most vulnerable people continue to be unmet. Despite a noticeable improvement in the local authorities' capacity to mobilise resources for the last year (possibly linked to the election of a new government), they still do not have the resources to provide a decent social safety net and current monthly pensions (EUR 3) and other social benefits do not cover the average food basket (around EUR 30). The situation is particularly difficult for those with no access to land, no agricultural skills and who are often elderly or disabled. These will continue to depend on assistance for their survival.

However, among current food aid beneficiaries, there are a number of households who could become self-sufficient if they were engaged in a food security/income generation programme. In 2005, the ICRC embarked on a very ambitious and quick programme of disengagement which consists of giving micro-grants (agro, trade and craft) to beneficiaries to help them become self-sufficient. ICRC started by targeting the least vulnerable of its food beneficiaries, those who received food on a quarterly basis, and they will now target those who received it every month. Other organisations are also engaged in small food security programmes at household level.

While there are still food security needs in the rest of Western Georgia, on the other side of the dividing line, it is estimated that these needs, which are less acute, can be covered by other, more development-oriented instruments, in particular budget lines of the European Commission which have started to be engaged in the region last year and have taken over some previous DG ECHO(2) programmes.

Shelter: In addition to food security, shelter for those who have returned to Gali in the last few years and who have decided to re-settle there permanently has emerged as the most urgent need. Gali is the only area where non-Abkhaz are currently able or willing to return. It is estimated that 79,000 persons had been displaced from the district (mostly populated by Mingrelians(3)) and that 45,000 persons have now returned spontaneously from the other side of the dividing line, most of them to heavily destroyed pre-war homes and without the means to ensure adequate living conditions. It has taken some time for the population to return to the area on a longterm basis because of the high insecurity in the region and of their experience in 1998, when having returned to the area they had to flee again following a resumption of hostilities. For several years, people returned to their lands only during the hazelnut or mandarine harvest season but kept on living in displacement on the other side of the dividing line.

With a noticeable improvement in the security situation, humanitarian agencies started last year to have access to areas of Gali which until then had not benefited from any humanitarian assistance. With DG ECHO funding, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) conducted a housing assessment in Autumn 2005 on housing rehabilitation needs in the district. The survey identified 4,431 damaged houses, which represents some 25% of all pre-war houses (18,000). The survey also highlighted that around 45% of the damaged houses were inhabited although they were found to be severely damaged and did not provide acceptable basic shelter for the returnees. This was confirmed by the DG ECHO HQ mission of September, which visited households living in appalling conditions either next to their destroyed house, in a makeshift shelter, or in the remains of their house.

On the other side of the dividing line, some 200,000 Georgians who have left Abkhazia are displaced within Georgia, half of them still living in collective centres. Around 50% of these IDPs are estimated to be concentrated in Western Georgia (excluding Abkhazia). As an example, they represent half of the resident population in Zugdidi district, bordering Abkhazia, which places a significant burden on the infrastructure of this region.

Roofing, heating, insulation, water supply or sanitation conditions are appalling in a number of collective centres for IDPs, many of which have been seriously damaged by years of poor maintenance. Although much of the infrastructure throughout Georgia is in need of repair, the extent of dilapidation in collective centres is much higher and the needs more urgent, as these are structures (schools, derelict sanatoriums) which were not meant for permanent housing. There are 319 collective centres registered in Samegrelo region, 110 in Zugdidi city alone. Programmes of basic rehabilitation were launched by UNHCR in 1993-94 and after the 2002 earthquake and currently a few organisations (ICRC, Norwegian Refugee Council, Danish Refugee Council) are working in this sector. But in many places, living conditions remain far below basic standards and essential repairs are urgently needed to bring living conditions back to minimum acceptable standards and improve the health and the psychological status of IDP populations who have been living there for 13 years.

1.3. - Target population and regions concerned:

  • The target population for the ICRC food distribution will be some 5,000 destitute people in Abkhazia.

  • The target population for the food security programme will be around 1,500 households in Abkhazia.

  • The target population for the shelter rehabilitation will be 1,016 IDPs in 5 collective centres in Samegrelo region and returnees (140 households) in private houses in Gali area.
Notes

(1) According to the Central Bank of Georgia, Georgians in Russia (800,000 to 1 million people) sent USD 220 millions during the first nine months of 2006, i.e. 5% of Georgia's GDP and 15% of its budget.

(2) Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid - ECHO

(3) An ethnic group close to the Georgians which is found in Western Georgia