Georgia’s mountains are priceless resources, but residents need targeted investment and support to combat depopulation and underdevelopment. This was the overarching theme of the celebration held in Tbilisi today to mark International Mountain Day. Under the slogan “#MountainsMatter,” the event was organized by the Government of Georgia in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the European Union (EU) and Austria, Sweden and Switzerland. The main idea was to raise awareness of the needs of mountain communities while saluting the contributions of those who live there.
“Today, we salute custodians of mountains, people who work hard to preserve our unique natural resources and cultural traditions,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Regional Development and Infrastructure, Maia Tskitishvili. “Nearly half of settlements in Georgia are in high mountainous areas, but only nine percent of Georgians live in the highlands. We need to improve services and expand education and employment opportunities to ensure a brighter future for all highlanders.”
Nine families from high mountainous settlements received “People of the Mountains” awards at the event in recognition of their personal struggle to prevent depopulation of Georgia’s highlands. In addition, Georgia’s cherished poet, Besik Kharanauli, and a renowned photographer, Natela Grigalashvili, were also recognized for their work documenting life in remote mountainous villages. The awards were presented by an array of ministers, Parliamentarians, diplomats and heads of international organizations.
“Georgia is defined by its mountains,” said UNDP Head Louisa Vinton in handing over the prize to the Gabejishvili family from the village of Gona in the Racha highlands. “But it’s important to temper romanticism with realism. Highland residents face high rates of poverty and the devastating weather extremes that come with climate change. It is reassuring to see such a strong coalition of forces, both national and international, joining hands to help provide the support needed to preserve the mountain way of life.”
Georgia adopted a Law on the Development of the High Mountainous Regions in 2016, paving the way for systemic policy efforts to address the challenges faced by the country’s highlands. In 2019, with assistance from UNDP and the governments of Switzerland and Austria, the Government endorsed the country’s first four-year Strategy on the Development of the High Mountainous Settlements, committing new funding of GEL 700 million (USD 240 million) to promote economic development, improve social welfare and expand access to services for the 300,000 people who live in Georgia’s highest mountain regions. Since 2016, more than 1,700 settlements have received high mountain status and many have benefitted from projects implemented by UNDP in partnership with Switzerland and Austria that aim to support local entrepreneurship, renewable energy, waste management and environmental tourism.