IRC Increases Aid Effort in Georgia; Repairs Broken Shelters Housing Thousands of Displaced
This week, the International Rescue Committee increased its efforts to assist the thousands of people displaced by the conflict in Georgia. The IRC’s emergency response team in the Georgian capital Tbilisi has started to repair plumbing and other water and sanitation facilities at 11 sites housing nearly 2,000 people. Working with a local aid group, the IRC has continued to distribute hygiene kits containing mops, buckets, bleach and soap so that the displaced are able to keep communal toilets and bathing areas clean. To date, roughly 6,000 people have received kits.
Nearly 160,000 people have been displaced since the war over the Georgian enclave of South Ossetia erupted between Russia and Georgia on August 7. The situation is in the country is still very uncertain, placing a significant part of the population at risk, according to Eric James, the emergency coordinator overseeing the IRC’s efforts in the country.
“Although there is an official cease-fire, there is still insecurity and military operations underway which is leading to further displacement,” James explains. “Until all sides fully observe the agreement and international norms, people will be at risk.”
This week, the IRC’s emergency team visited the war-damaged city of Gori to get first-hand knowledge of current conditions. Approximately ninety-five percent of Gori’s population fled as the city was shelled and bombed by Russian forces.
“We saw light damage to an estimated 5-10 percent of the buildings and a lot of broken glass from the concussion of the bombs,” said Jason Snuggs, an IRC environmental health specialist.
“We met with municipal authorities who said that the city is expecting the imminent arrival of thousands of ethnic Georgians who are being pushed out of South Ossetia by Russian troops.”
In Tbilisi, the conditions that the displaced are living in are terrible, with broken toilets and decrepit water pipes posing serious public health risks. Snuggs explains that some sites will require only minor work such as connecting toilets and sinks, erecting partitions between toilets and installing doors in the cubicles. Other sites require more extensive work including replacing some toilets with showers, installing water heaters, emptying sewers and connecting the sites to the mains water supply.
“We also plan to construct temporary latrines and showers, where there is insufficient space,” Snuggs adds. “These temporary facilities can also be dismantled and transported to other sites as the situation and needs change.”
Those displaced who have remained in Tblisi or joined the displaced in Gori are the most desperate, according to Maury Mendenhall, an IRC emergency child and youth specialist in Georgia.
“They have lost their homes - everything. One woman showed me a photo sent by her neighbor via mobile phone of her destroyed home. There is so much uncertainty. People worry that the violence will continue. They still seem in shock.”
“At the same time, I have been extremely impressed by the host communities' support of the displaced, particularly children and youth,” Mendenhall says. “Many displaced have settled in schools and kindergartens. In one school that I visited, the director had called the sports teacher and school psychologist back from vacation to organize activities for the children and youth. The school directors in Tbilisi and Gori insisted that the families would not be forced to leave when school starts later next month. They will make room for them until they can return to their homes and rebuild. And the IRC is going to give the host communities the support, resources and encouragement that they need to continue to do this to the best of their abilities.”Learn More
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