UNDP and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are providing US$4.7 million for the five-year programme.
Bordering on Armenia and Turkey, the region is one of the country's poorest, with an economy based mainly on subsistence farming. Social services are limited, public infrastructure has deteriorated and government institutions function poorly.
The challenges in Samtskhe-Javakheti are complex and politically sensitive, Rolf Ekéus, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, told a recent conference on the region in Tbilisi, Georgia's capital, organized by his office and UNDP. "However, I am firmly convinced that we need to start tackling these challenges, especially in terms of concrete and constructive action," he said.
Support for integrated regional development of Samtskhe-Javakheti is very important, said Teimuraz Mosiashvili, the region's Governor, who called the programme "useful, broad and ambitious."
UNDP Resident Representative Lance Clark said the programme aims to facilitate the peaceful socio-economic and political reintegration of Samtskhe-Javakheti with the rest of the country.
The region's main ethnic tensions are between Georgian and ethnic Armenian communities. Georgia's negotiations for withdrawal of Russian troops from a military base that employs many ethnic Armenians in Akhalkalaki, the region's largest town, adds to strains.
More than 95 per cent of the population cannot speak Georgian, including many local officials and civil servants, which poses a significant barrier to greater integration with the rest of the country and limits participation in development activities.
Most villages have no telephone service and there is no local reception of Georgian TV, with many residents tuning in to Russian and Armenian programmes. Newspapers and magazines, which arrive sporadically, are mainly in Russian and Armenian.
The initiative seeks to improve communication, access to information and greater participation in national affairs by upgrading language education and promoting local independent publications and other media. It will encourage better relations between local governments and civil society, and boost economic development by increasing farm production and foster local businesses.
The programme will bring people from different ethnic groups together to plan and carry out community development projects. It will also help build better ties between local authorities and the central government, steps that will improve access to social services.
For further information please contact Keti Ghioshvili, firstname.lastname@example.org, UNDP Georgia, or Sandra Pralong, email@example.com,UNDP Regional Support Centre, Bratislava, Slovak Republic.