Fires in Georgia

Fires in Georgia

26 August 2008

The following information is based on reports from the UN Country Team and humanitarian partners in Tbilisi and North Ossetia, as well as information received from countries involved in the response.

1.0  General Humanitarian Overview

1.1 Humanitarian partners continue to have access to Gori as well as locations in western and eastern Georgia. However, as of 25 August there is no humanitarian access to South Ossetia from the south.

1.2 Since 24 August, a significant amount of spontaneous and organized returns have taken place, including an estimated 10,000 IDPs returning to Gori. During a visit by UNHCR to eight collective centers in Tbilisi, it was found that a total of 25 buses were waiting to transport those wanting to return to Gori and nearby villages.

1.3 A UNICEF assessment in western Georgia reported that according to local authorities, UN agencies and local NGOs, there are approximately 15,000 IDPs ? including an estimated 5,000 children – displaced in the western regions of Adjaria, Guria, Imereti and Svateni.

1.4 Regarding concerns of forest fires burning in the Borjoni forest reserve, UNEP is monitoring the situation closely both through contacts on the ground and remote earth observation satellite. The satellite images collected to date show no evidence of any fires inside the Borjoni forest reserve and seem to indicate that a fire located approximately 9 km away from the park boundary has subsided. UNEP is in contact with the Georgian Ministry of Environment to further refine the quality of information and is in the process of obtaining higher resolution satellite images to validate these preliminary findings.

1.5 The Russian Federation’s Ministry of Emergency Situations (EMERCOM) reports that it has so far delivered a total of 3343.35 MTs of humanitarian assistance to Tskhinvali in South Ossetia. This includes 1317.7 MTs of food, potable water, 32.6 MTs of medicines, 6 MTs of baby food, 29.6 MTs of medical equipment, 1223.85 MTs of construction materials, 101.1 MTs of disinfection and washing materials, 260 large tents, 850 beds, 45 generators, 21 water  purification units, 1 mobile gas station, and 80 gas cylinders.

1.6 The Russian Federation has also sent two airmobile hospitals to Tskhinvali, to provide medical assistance and conduct surgery. In total, 558 persons have received medical treatment and 79 surgeries have been performed. Three food, water, and medicine distribution points for the affected population have been established and water purification units installed. A recovery assessment mission has been deployed to Tskhinvali, and is focussing on repairs to the city’s water and gas pipelines, electricity networks, schools, and hospitals. The sewage system and the main water pipeline have already been repaired. De-mining teams are clearing UXOs, with 1146 disposed of so far.

1.7 EMERCOM reports that since 12 August, 19,255 people have returned to South Ossetia from displacement locations in the Russian Federation, as the situation has stabilised. 4,023 displaced persons remain accommodated in 49 temporary shelter facilities in the south Federal District, including 1,850 children, and are being provided with food, sanitary facilities, basic medical aid, and psychological counselling. EMERCOM reports that the remainder of those displaced (10,665 people) are staying with relatives in North Ossetia. 6119.17 MTs of relief items have been delivered by EMERCOM to North Ossetia, including 2166.7 MTs of food, potable water, 53.95 MTs of medicines, 29.6 MTs of medical equipment, 11.3 MTs of hygiene kits, 58 generators, 2234.6 MTs of construction material, 717.7 MTs of fuel, 26 water purification units, 748 large tents, 850 beds, and 212.6 MTs of other humanitarian goods.

1.8 UNHCR airlifted a total of 15.2 MTs of relief items (jerry cans, blankets, kitchen sets, mattresses) to Vladikavkaz on 19-20 August. Other in-kind contributions to the humanitarian response operation in North Ossetia include 9 MTs of relief items from Kazakhstan, 63 MTs of NFIs from Belarus, 31 MTs of relief items from Uzbekistan, and clothing and psychological support for children funded by SDC.

1.9 In line with an agreement reached by WFP with the Russian Federation authorities, WFP began food distribution for the displaced population at two distribution points in North Ossetia yesterday. A total of 200 MTs of food will be distributed, in coordination with EMERCOM and local authorities.

1.10 ICRC and the Russian Red Cross have supported over 1,000 displaced persons at 10 collective centres in North Ossetia, particularly through the distribution of hygiene items.

Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

A trail of destruction greets returning IDPs
25 August 2008

Russian occupiers are gradually departing from the territory of Georgia, leaving behind bombs, ruined buildings and devastated infrastructure and ecology. They still maintain several military checkpoints near Gori and refuse to leave the port of Poti, claiming this is a “necessary measure for ensuring free distribution of humanitarian aid.”

Due to Russia’s procrastination the Ministry of Internal Affairs has imposed restrictions on free movement of transport in the direction of Gori and western Georgia, although Tbilisi city municipality has organized the safe and systematic return of refugees to Gori and adjacent villages. As Governor of Shida Kartli Lado Vardzelashvili stated, there is now traffic in the city again, markets have been reopened and the registration of damage is underway so compensation can be paid. According to his statement, several construction companies have already expressed interest in participating in the restoration of the city infrastructure, while the Mayor of Tbilisi Gigi Ugulava stated that the Tbilisi City Municipality will finance restoration works on two residential apartment blocks which have been totally annihilated.

Georgian state police first restored their control over Gori on August 23, after 10 days of its occupation by Russian troops. Civilians are returning to their homes, but police have warned them to be very careful as mine clearing operations are underway. On the morning of August 23, mine clearing operations began all over the formerly occupied territories. After the mine clearing is over, the MIA will make an official statement about the resumption of movement towards the Shida Kartli Region. Reportedly the whole territory has been mined by the Russians – railway bridges, military bases, highways and forests.

Russian still maintains several military checkpoints near Gori and in western Georgia. They also still operate illegal checkpoints in the Samegrelo region, in Chkhorotskhu, Tsalenjikha and Khobi, and remain on the strategic heights they occupied during the invasion.

The withdrawal of the Russian forces is being accompanied by heavy environmental damage all around the country. Areas flown or driven over by Russian troops are being set on fire. As a result, several acres of forest are burning in Borjomi Gorge, as is a kilometres-long stretch of wheat across the Shida Kartli region. On August 24 two explosions took place. Arms and shells the Russians took away from Georgian military bases exploded in Tskhinvali and a gas transport train suddenly caught fire along the Gori-Khashuri sector of the Georgian Central Railway. The police have been unable to say what caused the fire, but according to one version, splinters of the land mines detonated on the military base beside the railway reached the train and when hitting the oil caused the fire.

In parallel with the Russian withdrawal, the organized return of IDPs from Gori and Shida Kartli region has been organized by the Tbilisi Municipality. Up to four hundred special buses a day are carrying refugees back to their homes. As MP Koba Subeliani, responsible for the return programme, stated, “IDPs should carry all their belongings (food, clothes, blankets and mattresses) with them and in case of misunderstanding immediately contact the hotline to the Mayor’s Office.” Reportedly, unknown persons have been demanding that IDPs leave everything received as humanitarian aid behind.

According to the latest information the term of every Georgian school and kindergarten would begin, arguably, by the end of September. Mr. Ugulava said there was no necessity to alter the academic year, as in general schools have not been damaged during the Georgia-Russia conflict. As for those which have been damaged, in the conflict zones, both pupils and teachers will find shelter in neighbouring schools.

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Media reports since 18 August 2008:

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