Life on the Edge

Photo: David Khizanishvili/UNDP
Photo: David Khizanishvili/UNDP

For those living in crisis areas, life is marked by a constant sense of insecurity. Disappointed in the present and distrustful of the future, such crisis-affected persons can find it difficult to hold onto hope that things will ever change for the better.

Niels Scott, Head of the United Nations in Georgia

  • While any political settlement of the conflict is still a challenge, the United Nations focuses on people and their economic and social needs to help those displaced and host communities to rebuild their lives and sustain livelihoods.

Dozens of villages in the Shida Kartli region of Georgia that border the conflict divide with South Ossetia have spent over two decades waiting on the edge of peace and war, desperately hoping for stability and development. This ethnically mixed population of Georgians and Ossetians suffers from a range of problems including security, decaying infrastructure, poor social services and growing poverty. 

Lela Khatiashvili and her family. Photo: David Khizanishvili/UNDP
Lela Khatiashvili and her family. Photo: David Khizanishvili/UNDP

Lela Khatiashvili, 40, lives in the village of Abano next to the conflict divide. Abano, translating to “bath” in Georgian, is one of the oldest villages in the country, known since the 16th century for its healing thermal water springs. With the country opening up for tourists, Abano could have been a prime candidate to become a tourist hot spot, complete with a spa resort and blooming local economy. But its close vicinity to the conflict area has made this impossible, instead transforming the village into one of the poorest in the region.

Assistance in Numbers

  • 17 villages in Shida Kartli receive assistance from UNDP, UNHCR and the European Union.
  • 3,000 people have benefited since 2012.
  • 12 villages at the conflict divide and two settlements for IDPs.

Lela’s seven kids keep her busy at home. With no day care in Abano, she has been unable to find a job for the last several years. Lela is looking forward to the opening of a new kindergarten in autumn 2016, however. She is confident that this will create prospects for employment and more an active life-style.

“We will have a kindergarten at last! This will change life not only in our village but in three neighbouring settlements as well. Mothers with young children will be able to use day care and even find employment,” Lela says. 

The rehabilitated kindergarten in Dvani. Photo: Vladimer Valishvili/UNDP
The rehabilitated kindergarten in Dvani. Photo: Vladimer Valishvili/UNDP

A kindergarten in Dvani, another village adjacent to the dividing line, was fully rehabilitated in 2014 to serve up to 50 children in two villages. The neat and bright building is nicely furnished, is equipped with solar panels for heating and hot water, and has a regular water supply – a matter of pride for kindergarten Director, Inga Kopadze.

The Voice of Beneficiaries

  • Inga Kobadze, Kindergarten Director: "Our children are really in need of some extra care. Some of them have witnessed the war and are still going through psychological trauma. We should do whatever we can to let them have a happy and careless childhood."

“Lack of running water is a real problem in Dvani. But at least we can make children comfortable in the kindergarten,” Inga says.

“Our children are really in need of some extra care. Some of them have witnessed the war and are still going through psychological trauma. We should do whatever we can to let them have a happy and careless childhood.”

Abano and Dvani are two of the seventeen villages that receive assistance from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations High Commissionaire for Refugees (UNHCR) and European Union.

Since 2012, infrastructure and water projects, farmers’ cooperatives, vocational training and demonstration plots have benefitted up to three thousand people in seventeen different communities, including for the twelve villages at the conflict divide and two settlements for Internally Displaced Persons. 

Tariel Munjishvili in his fruit garden. Photo: David Khizanishvili/UNDP
Tariel Munjishvili in his fruit garden. Photo: David Khizanishvili/UNDP

Tariel Munjishvili, 61, from Kvakheti, is one of the most successful farmers in his village. His family members and even neighbours rely on his managerial skills. Tariel leads a successful agriculture cooperative which specialises on growing fruit – apples, peaches and plums. According to Tariel, the key to his success is his hard work, as his life philosophy is to do as much as possible to succeed.

Assistance in Numbers

  • Over 700 small farmers received technical assistance for their fruit gardens and orchards.
  • Over 130 farmers attended vocational training in milk processing and bee-keeping.
  • 500 farmers benefited from on-site consultations in horticulture.

“If you live in the countryside you should have a land and you should work it. Many people have ruined their orchards because they lost confidence and were lazy. But we are not afraid of hard work and that is how we get things done,” Tariel says.

Recently, Tariel began using the services of the Farmers’ Consultation Centre in Gori. With the newest microscopes, soil thermometers, PH metres and other modern equipment received with UNDP assistance, the Centre can now examine soil and water in the villages and provide recommendations about plant diseases. Soil analysis helps Tariel to choose the right treatment for his fruit trees and increase fruit harvest and quality. Tariel is convinced that a modern-day farmer cannot succeed without new technologies and good education.

“The agriculture lab is a great help. Some people still do not believe in modern technologies. They do not see any need in soil analysis, for example. That is why they get the wrong fertilisers or use more than is actually needed,” Tariel explains.

“You give your trees what they deserve – water, sunshine, nourishment and, of course, your work, and only then will they respond with great crops.”

Drinking water supply in Saribari restored after a 20-year break. Photo: David Khizanishvili/UNDP
Drinking water supply in Saribari restored after a 20-year break. Photo: David Khizanishvili/UNDP

Some of the villages in Shida Kartli have lacked access to drinking and irrigation water for the past 20 years due to pipelines and reservoirs going out of order and water channels being cut off by the conflict divide. The rehabilitation projects in Karaphila, Saribari, Zadiaantkari and Sakorintlo restored the supply of drinking water, significantly increasing the prospect of reviving the struggling farming practices there.  

The Voice of Beneficiaries

  • Tariel Munjishvili, farmer: “We are not afraid of hard work and that is how we get things done.”

In order to promote sustainable and consistent development in the region, UNDP initiated a Study of Sustainable Livelihoods in 2015. This research examines agriculture potential, provides social and economic profiles of the population, and assists local authorities to consider specific needs of the vulnerable villages in their regional development strategies.

“The increased economic activity brings back hope for stability and better future. While any political settlement of the conflict is still a challenge, the United Nations focuses on people and their economic and social needs to help those displaced and host communities to rebuild their lives and sustain livelihoods,” says Niels Scott, Head of the United Nations in Georgia.

Over 700 small farmers in Shida Kartli received technical assistance for their fruit gardens and orchards, including for seedlings and fertilizers. Over 130 farmers attended vocational training in milk processing and bee-keeping, while 500 benefitted from on-site consultations in horticulture. Twenty-one demonstration plots and eleven greenhouses assist farmers to grow tomatoes, eggplants and berries. A milk collection centre has been established in the village of Akhalubani to serve three neighbouring villages.

Shida Kartli is still one of the most vulnerable regions in Georgia, but now, thanks to the coming assistance and their own hard work, hundreds of small farmers stand a chance of finding a way out of economic devastation and poverty. 

April 2016

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