Nenskra HPP Construction Works Did not Cause Natural Disaster in Svaneti.
As a result of landslip and heavy rains on July 5 the river Nenskra overflew the banks and seized several villages, flooded Tchuberi and residential houses, demolished bridges and part of the motorway.
Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze has named arbitrary logging as one of the key reasons behind natural disaster in Tchuberi.
«According to early estimations, naturally, heavy rain has caused natural disaster, but we should also note that arbitrary and unsystematized logging has also considerably triggered the natural disaster and we will definitely disclose people engaged in this process.
Spontaneous logging is inadmissible. This is my answer. But this is a specific case, as specialists say and we have all sign for this. Nobody can prevent heavy precipitation, but, for similar cases, we should have valuable urgent response and early notification systems. We have two ones in Georgia, but wee need these systems everywhere”, Bakhtadze noted.
The Caucasus Business Week (CBW) has inquired what factors could cause natural disaster in Tchuberi and whether this fact may be related to Nenskra HPP construction works.
As to natural disaster reasons, the HPP construction company released a statement for media that starting January 2018 all preparatory works had been suspended and the ongoing works were only to rehabilitate the existing roads and bridges.
Environmental expert Nino Chkhobadze, head of Georgian Greens-Earth Friends nongovernmental organization, noted that Svaneti natural disaster is not related to Nenskra HPP construction works. Any construction project may comprise certain risks in terms of environment impact, however, at this stage, Nenskra HPP construction process had not reached the phase that could case the flood.
Nenskra HPP project could not affect and cause natural disaster, but the Nenskra HPP project implementing company was strictly recommended several times that they have not thoroughly examined geological aspects, Chkhobadze said.
Irakli Macharashvili, conservation program coordinator at Green Alternative nongovernmental organization, says that it is difficult to identify exact logging scales in Georgia: “Real logging is much more overwhelming than official statistics sys. Global Forest Watch has a special map with deforestation information. Satellite map is also available, however it is impossible to detect each fact of chopping. Real situation is worse”, Macharashvili noted.
Over the past years the most damage was inflicted by those companies which were engaged in logging for their own business expansion, he said.
“ RMG Gold company has annihilated vast space of woodlands in Dmanisi, Bolnisi and Tetri Tskaro. Large-scale logging was also recorded in Svaneti, before and after Nenskra HPP construction project inauguration. I know from local residents that illegal logging was carried out near Nenskra HPP construction site and Interior Ministry knew about this, however, nobody was punished. Large-scale logging is also recorded in Racha, where Bidzina Ivanishvili’s several companies own licenses and are engaged in legal logging”, Macharashvili said.
Rezo Getiashvili, representative of Caucasus Environmental NGO Network (CENN), says that according to early reports, large-scale logging is one of the key reasons behind natural disaster in Tchuberi over the past period. These cases should be examined to collect specified information, Getiashvili noted.
Everybody knows that uncontrolled logging was practiced in Tchuberi. Moreover, this fact is clearly seen in video materials from natural disaster zones, where we see that the river carries thousands of cubic meters of wood, which could not be unrooted by the natural disaster. Seemingly, these woods were chopped, he said.
“Maybe, there were stored wood. Part of them could be annihilated bio mass that remains in forest after logging. These details are evidently seen in video materials. Moreover, in spread information and video materials local population frequently mentions sawmills, tens of cubic meters of wood carried by the river that belonged to one of the families. So, this is a real problem in this region and both our society and the Authorities know about this problem”, Getiashvili noted.
In general, natural disaster are caused by a combination of provoking factors, he said. Therefore, only logging could not provoke natural disaster. We have a complex problem, including natural factors. Therefore, woodlands would have been protected with care in the zones with the mentioned provoking factors, Getiashvili pointed out.
Wood materials are made in Tchuberi and local residents are engaged in this process. Logging used to intensify through 2016, when no certificate of origin was required for transportation of materials. Later this document became mandatory, but other channels were found and illegal logging continued again, Getiashvili said.
In response to the question whether local and central governments had fostered illegal logging, Getiashvili abstained from making comments. This is a heavy accusation and it requires investigation. Probably the Government has not fostered, but the fact is that the Government has failed to prevent illegal logging in Tchuberi, Getiashvili said.
“When the Government took efforts to curb the mentioned process, local residents started conflict. Our population remembers very well when local residents did not enable supervision service to execute official functions”, Getiashvili noted.
In all other regions of Georgia logging is carried out for only collecting firewood, Getiashvili said.
“It is dramatic situation, when our citizens have to chop trees because of 60-70% energy deficiency. Our government has to turn blind eye to this process, because restrictions amid absence of other alternative sources will leave our population without vital resources.
As a result, these villages are expected to get depopulated. This problem exists for many years. We have not a joint systematic approach to this issue and Ministry of Economy has not engaged in the problem resolution. We cannot point fingers at Environment Ministry and Agriculture Ministry. In similar situation we should consider firewood as a mean of heating”, Getiashvili noted.
Georgia needs 2.4 million cubic meters of firewood a year, while the Government allocates only 600 000 cubic meters a year, he added.
According to Geostat, national statistics service of Georgia, timber exports grows on annual basis.
In 2012, Georgia exported wood materials of 9 516 300 USD, 2013 – 11 730 600 USD, 2014 – 11 331 000 USD, 2015 – exports slightly declined to 10 937 200 USD, 2016 – exports started rising and equaled 13 612 000 USD, 2017 – 16 799 100 USD, 2018 – 289 600 USD.
According to Global Forest Watch statistics, in 2001-2017 Georgia lost 9 700 hectare woodland. Major volume of chopping was recorded in 2014 – 1.97 hectares.
The Global Forest Watch report also shows that major deforestation was recorded in 5 regions in 2017, namely Samtskhe-Javakheti – 1.9%, Tbilisi – 0.8%, Kvemo Kartli – 0.52%, Kakheti – 0.32% and Imereti – 0.27%.