Thousands Displaced by Georgia-Russia War Still Lack Basic Services

Nearly 30,000 people live in precarious conditions one year after conflict.
Potato cooperative supported by ACF-Georgia, courtesy J. Austin

New York, NY—One year after the Russia-Georgia conflict over South Ossetia, nearly 30,000 people displaced during the fighting still lack sufficient access to potable water and adequate sanitation, according to the results of a joint study carried out by Action Against Hunger (ACF), UNICEF, and the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Continued unrest in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, roadblocks, the looting and burning of villages, and the destruction of crops and livelihoods have prevented the displaced from returning home.

As of May 2009, more than 18,000 individuals reside in new settlements for the internally displaced; nearly 8,500 live in temporary shelters such as converted schools and day care centers, and almost 3,000 stay in private residences.

“Despite a considerable effort by the Georgian government to relocate the displaced, a large number of people continue to subsist without basic necessities,” said Marta Val, Water and Sanitation Coordinator for Action Against Hunger in Georgia. “This population also faces isolation and a staggering unemployment rate, a problem exacerbated by the economic crisis.”

Approximately 138,000 civilians were displaced during the height of the hostilities between Russia and Georgia in late August and early September 2008, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Georgia Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation. Thousands fled South Ossetia and the Kodori Valley for centers for the internally displaced, principally in the Georgian capital Tsibilisi. No reliable data exist of those hurt and killed during the conflict, but estimates are that they number in the hundreds.

“The fact that the internally displaced have no land or other assets makes their integration into local communities complicated,” said Vincent Stehli, South Caucus Desk Officer for Action Against Hunger. “They are finding it increasingly difficult to support themselves, and Action Against Hunger has responded by helping generate income and provide needed services.”

Action Against Hunger is building and restoring water and sanitation facilities in shelters to help prevent outbreaks of disease and distributes food, clean water, and hygiene kits in centers for the internally displaced. In response to chronic poverty and high levels of unemployment, ACF also supports a variety of income-generating projects, including agricultural cooperatives and cattle rearing. With the goal of ensuring the sustainability of its programs, the international humanitarian organization offers technical training and skill development courses to local farmers and service providers.

During and in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 crisis, Action Against Hunger distributed emergency food, water, and hygiene kits in the province of Kvemo Kartli and in the cities of Tbilisi and Kutaisi.

ACF-Georgia Feature Article, NEED Magazine, 2009

NEED magazine profiles Action Against Hunger's humanitarian programs in Georgia, with photographs by Jeffrey Austin.