Floods swept away her cattle and chickens - with UNDP help, Eteri Shavladze is fighting back

A flood defense wall in Chalistavi, Georgia
The construction of flood defences protects farmland and provides jobs in a region where the unemployment rate is twice the national average. Photo: Ivane Tsiklauri/UNDP Georgia

Having watched more than half her land wash away, Natela Benidze is determined to keep the rest intact. Natela is a farmer in the village of Chalistavi, on the banks of the Rioni River in western Georgia.

The Rioni River basin has been identified among the regions of the country that are most vulnerable to climate change, susceptible to various extreme weather events. Floods, landslides and mud torrents are increasing in both intensity and frequency causing extensive damage to agriculture, forests, roads and communications infrastructure.

Highlights

  • The Rioni River basin is one of the most environmentally insecure regions in Georgia, exposed to a range of extreme weather events.
  • Flooding and erosion have washed away more than 10,000 hectares of arable over the last 10 years.
  • UNDP works with the government and local communities to build capacity in effective flood management.
  • The project aims to help more than 200,000 people in the Rioni River basin become more resilient to flooding and other natural hazards.

Soil erosion is a major environmental challenge, according to scientists, costing the world 10 million hectares (about 38,000 square miles) of cropland each year. Erosion strips farmland of the moisture and nutrients needed to support a healthy harvest. Eroded soil can also contaminate rivers and lakes with chemical fertilizers, pesticides and other pollutants.

In Georgia, more than 10,000 hectares of agricultural land fell out of use in the past decade due to hydro-meteorological disasters. This is all the more painful in a country where the average land plot size per person is a mere 0.14 hectares.

Natela’s family is one of those hit hardest by the flooding and landslides. She and her relatives once grew corn and other crops in the fertile soil by the river. But flooding and erosion have carried away nearly 0.5 hectares of their land, leaving the family with just 0.2 hectares to support themselves.

Natela’s husband, Badri Saginadze, says the floods have been increasing since 1985. Originally, his family lived closer to the mountains, but due to landslide risk, the settlement was relocated to the riverside.

With resources from the Adaptation Fund and technical support from UNDP, the Government of Georgia is helping Natela, Badri and other villagers cope with the flooding and eventually reverse the environmental damage. The strategy focuses on introducing realistic and effective flood management measures.

Eteri Shavladze, resident of Chrebalo villageRecent floods swept away Eteri Shavladze’s cattle and chickens and left barren land where her orchard and vineyard once stood. Photo: UNDP Georgia

Residents have learned innovative practices, like how to use vegetative covers to improve water saturation and transmission and how trenching, terracing and re-plantation can protect villages from incoming water. Deep root bush and shrub zones, nut tree and tea plantations have been introduced to reduce the risk of flooding.

Eteri Shavladze lives in nearby Chrebalo village and has also experienced the consequences of an increasingly hostile climate. Recent floods swept away her cattle and chickens. She is now left with barren land and large stones where her green orchard and vineyard once stood.

Eteri also believes that the flooding has intensified in the past 20 years. Currently she and her neighbours experience flooding twice a year, with the water coming in as far as her cellar.

The introduction of flood prevention measures is slowly improving prospects for Eteri and others in her community. Using local labour, a 900 metre flood defence wall is being built in Chalistavi to protect 25 hectares of farmland. The flood prevention works offer an additional source of income for villagers, a huge benefit in the region where the unemployment rate is an estimated 33 percent, double the national average.

“We work with people directly in the regions vulnerable to floods,” says Nino Antadze, Environment and Energy Team Leader at UNDP Georgia. “Our approach is integrated and people-centred. It brings together key elements of flood risk management. Knowing your risks, adaptation and innovation are the pillars of our assistance.”

The project is also working to establish an early warning system to improve the preparedness of the local population. In the long-run, the goal is help about 200,000 people in six municipalities along the Rioni River to become more resilient to flooding and other natural hazards.

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