Further to the letter addressed on 20 August 2008 by Ambassador Viktor Dolidze, Permanent Representative of Georgia to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), to Ambassador Marc Perrin de Brichambaut, Secretary General of OSCE, and to the request of H.E. Mrs. Ekaterina Tkeshelashvili, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, to the OSCE Permanent Council on 28 August 2008, and the official requests to the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme from the Minister of Environment, Mr. Irakli Ghvaladze, the OSCE organized with the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) a joint technical mission to assess the environmental impact of the recent conflict in Georgia.
The Joint OSCE/UNEP Mission took place from 29 September to 3 October 2008 and was led by the Co-ordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities (CO/EEA) Bernard Snoy and the Director of the UNEP Regional Office for Europe Christophe Bouvier. Under their leadership, the Mission has aimed at listening to the widest possible range of views on the environmental impact of the conflict and at providing recommendations for remediation of identified environmental issues, including possible-confidence-building measures. The Mission benefited from the strong political and logistical support of the OSCE Mission to Georgia and is particularly grateful to Ambassador Terhi Hakala in that respect. The list of the members of the Mission in Annex I.
The Joint Mission assessed in particular the damage caused by forest fire in the Borjomi area. It visited several zones that were affected by the recent conflict, particularly the so-called "Grey zone", adjacent to South Ossetia. However, the Mission was not given access to South Ossetia and could not assess the extent of environmental damage there.
The mission included meetings with a wide range of stakeholders:
- High-level Georgian government representatives, including Prime Minister Vladimir Gurgenidze, Minister of Environment Irakli Ghvaladze, State Minister of Reintegration Temur Iakobashvili, Deputy State Minister for Euro-Atlantic Co-operation Tamar Beruchasvili;
- Technical experts from a number of Georgian Government Ministries;
- Members of the Parliament of Georgia, in particular Mr. Akaki Bobokhidze and Mr. Zaal Gamtsemlidze, respectively Chairman and First Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Environmental Protection and Natural Resources;
- The Governor of the Shida Kartli region (around Gori), Mr. Lado Vardzelashvili;
- The Head of the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park and officials of the national forest administration in the Borjomi area;
- Representatives of NGOs, Academic and Business communities;
- Inhabitants from the Gugutiant-Kari and Nikozi villages in the Grey zone, bordering South Ossetia;
- Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the area of Gori; and
- Representatives from international organisations active in Georgia (United Nations, European Union, World Bank, EBRD, etc).
A full list of the persons met by the Mission is provided in Annex II.
The Mission has been building upon the findings of and avoided duplication with the recent Joint Needs Assessment (JNA) conducted by the United Nations and the World Bank. The JNA report, which will provide the basis for the Donors Conference scheduled to take place in Brussels on 22 October 2008, concentrated on the economic impact of the conflict. It includes also, however, a section reviewing "the key environmental impacts that were reported to relate to the conflict". The Joint OSCE/UNEP Mission endorses the key conclusion of the JNA report as concerns the environment and natural resources in Georgia, which was formulated as follows: "Environmental damage was found to be of concern, but localized in nature. Environmental damage is variable in its extent and scale, but comprises of damage to forests; damage to habitats and infrastructure in several protected areas; coastal and marine pollution; pollution from several terrestrial oil spills: and hazardous waste issues associated with infrastructure damage. However, possibly significant future environmental damage can be expected if various mitigating actions are not put in place quickly. In the medium term, as Georgia moves into a post-conflict recovery period, economic growth will be enhanced by adopting a robust framework for environmental regulation and pollution control... Further, increased clarity is needed in the forestry sector, to enable the sector to meet its full potential."
The Joint OSCE/UNEP Assessment Mission has sought to bring added value to the review of environmental impacts carried out by the JNA, particularly in the following areas:
- By assessing more in depth the environmental damage associated with forest fires in the Borjomi area and formulating more detailed recommendations for damage mitigation and rehabilitation, drawing on the expertise of Professor Dr. Johann Georg Goldammer, Director of the Global Fire Monitoring Centre and Co-ordinator of the UN-International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) of the Global Wildland Fire Network. This is the object of Section II of this report.
- By assessing environmental issues that have arisen in the so-called Grey Zone, relating mostly to access to and quality of water, availability of firewood or other sources of energy ahead of the winter season, waste disposal and other environment and security issues and by formulating proposals for measures, projects or programmes addressing these issues, including confidence building measures and measures requiring cooperation across the lines of conflict. This is the object of Section III of this report prepared by the UNEP.