Life on the edge in Georgia

Lela Khatiashvilli with some of her children at home in the village of Abano. Photo: David Khizanishvili/UNDP Georgia

Lela Khatiashvilli’s seven children keep her busy at home, and with no day care in her village of Abano, she has been unable to find a job the last several years.

Abano, one of the oldest villages in the country and known for its healing thermal water springs, could have been become a tourist hot spot with a blooming local economy. But its close vicinity to a conflict area has made this impossible, and instead the village is one of the poorest in the region.

Abano is one of dozens of villages in the Shida Kartli region of Georgia that border the conflict divide with South Ossetia. Lela and other villagers have spent more than two decades waiting on the edge of peace and war, desperately hoping for stability and development. The ethnically mixed population of Georgians and Ossetians suffers from a range of problems including lack of security, decaying infrastructure, poor social services and growing poverty.

So Lela is looking forward to the opening of a new kindergarten, confident that this will create prospects for employment and a more active lifestyle.

Highlights

  • The project has benefited 3,000 people in seventeen different communities.
  • 700 small-scale farmers received assistance, including seedlings and fertilizers.
  • 130 farmers attended vocational training in milk processing and bee-keeping.
  • 500 farmers benefitted from on-site consultations in horticulture.

“We will have a kindergarten at last! This will change life,” Lela says. “Mothers with young children will be able to use the day care and even find employment.”

The new building will be equipped with solar panels for heating and hot water, providing a regular water supply – something that’s not guaranteed in this part of the country. The clean and bright environment will be a benefit to the local children, who could use some extra care.

Some of them have witnessed the war and are still going through psychological trauma.

Abano is one of the villages that receive assistance from UNDP, UNHCR and the European Union. Since 2012, infrastructure and water projects, farmers’ cooperatives, vocational training and pilot agriculture plots for demonstrating modern farming practices have benefitted up to 3,000 people in 17 different communities. This includes the 12 villages at the conflict divide and two settlements for internally displaced persons.

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 people can find it difficult to hold onto hope that things will ever improve.

In the Shadi Khartli region, access to agricultural land and pastures is an issue due to the changing dividing lines. Some villages are losing land; this makes it difficult for farmers to stay motivated knowing they could lose everything they have in one day.

Tariel Munjishvili, 61, is one of the most successful farmers in his village and leads a thriving agriculture fruit cooperative. His life philosophy is to do as much as possible to succeed, despite the circumstances.

“Many people have ruined their orchards because they lost confidence…But we are not afraid of hard work and that is how we get things done,” says Tariel.

Recently, Tariel began using the services of the Farmers’ Consultation Centre.  With the newest modern equipment received with UNDP assistance, the Centre can now examine soil and water in the villages and provide recommendations about plant diseases and increasing harvest and quality. Tariel is convinced that a modern-day farmer cannot succeed without new technologies and good education.

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

UNDP also initiated research to examine agriculture potential, provide social and economic profiles of the population, and assist local authorities to consider the specific needs of vulnerable villages in their regional development strategies.

Over 700 small farmers in Shida Kartli received assistance, including seedlings and fertilizers. 21 demonstration plots and eleven greenhouses increase farmers’ ability to grow tomatoes, eggplants and berries. Over 130 farmers attended vocational training in milk processing and bee-keeping, while 500 benefitted from on-site consultations in horticulture. 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 thousands of people are beginning to see and work towards long-term prospects.

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