19/06/2012 – Batumi, Georgia: Petite, dressed in black from head to toe, the copper colored hair tousled by the wind, Suliko Zoidze is beaming with energy. ‘Without the result of the DIPECHO project, we would not have made it safely through the winter’ says the teacher who is already in her late sixties. ‘It was a long winter with a lot of snow and heavy rains, putting our village at risk from avalanches, landslides and mud flows’.
The “result” Zoidze is pointing at is 5 drainage channels, one in parallel to the main road leading into the 500 household village of Chvana and connecting it to two smaller village, and 4 more which cross that road. The 20 to 50 cm wide channels made of concrete don’t look very impressive to the untrained eye, but made possible the collection and deviation of the water from the rain and snowmelt, which would otherwise have led to floods. These floods would have carried away the soil and led to landslides and mudflows, and would have cut off the village probably destroying fields and even houses. Even on a hot day in June when temperatures reach over 30 degrees like today, the earth is still gorged with water which is dripping into the irrigation channels.
The picture postcard landscape of the Adjara region, with its steep mountains covered by forests, sprinkled here and there with small villages, corn or potato fields, with its cliffs, waterfalls, and quick flowing creeks and streams at the bottom of the valleys, is one of Georgia’s most disaster-prone areas. Avalanches, landslides, mudslides, floods are frequent, mainly in winter and spring. It has therefore been included in ECHO’s disaster risk reduction programme DIPECHO, which was launched for the first time in Georgia in 2010. In less than 18 months it grew into a success story for this world-wide programme.
While listening to Grigori Datusani, Oxfam ‘s Humanitarian Progamme Officer, one of DIPECHO’s implementing partners, it quickly becomes clear why. ‘We set up village emergency teams , which participated in training sessions in first aid, evacuation, search-and-rescue, but which also developed maps indicating the natural disasters putting the village at risk‘ he explains ’The teams then prioritized the risks and decided on a small infrastructure project to reduce the impact of the most menacing natural disaster . For this village, the drainage system was the first priority. But under DIPECHO, we could provide only €2000 to build it. So the villagers learned how to write a proposal to the authorities and to lobby them in order to obtain additional funds, which they did! They also decided to cover the road with concrete thanks to a contribution of 1 Lari (€ 0.5) per family.’ Datusani stresses that ‘authorities who were only response-oriented until 2 years ago have understood the importance of preparedness and are now making funds available for preparatory measures‘
Ketevan Lomsadze, ECHO’s programme officer in Georgia adds :’With the methodology and funds made available by DIPECHO we can kick off quite a number of measures and contribute to preparedness-oriented behaviors, but it is only thanks to the commitment of the communities and the cooperation of the government that our initiatives become sustainable.’
Suliko Zoidzeis is very much involved in the village emergency team. She finds the training provided by Oxfam very useful and encourages other women to join in. ‘That’s why my nickname is “first aid”‘ she laughs.
Seventeen year old Abeli Amaglobehl and Rolandi Kartamadzex are like Zoidzeis – part of the village’s emergency team. Wearing decisively uncool bright green uniforms, they declare to be proud to be part of the team they joined one year ago: ‘We want to help ourselves, our neighbors, our village’. They are joined by a 26 year old young woman, Makvala Amaglobeli, also a member of the emergency team, who believes that it is important that there are men and women in the emergency teams because they can help in different ways and have different skills. She is as motivated as the boys. The only thing she does not want to do: evacuate and accompany a dead body.
ECHO’s Disaster Risk Reduction Programme DIPECHO was launched in the South Caucasus in April 2010 for a first phase of 18 months. The emphasis was on community-based prepared ness and the introduction of disaster risk reduction in the education system. The second phase of the programme has been launched in spring 2012
By Heinke Veit
Regional Information Officer, Amman