Georgia has been an independent nation for nearly two decades, following the collapse of communism in the USSR in 1991. In June this year, municipal elections went smoothly in Georgia, with balanced television coverage for opposition candidates and a new electoral code.
But despite its burgeoning democracy, Georgia has suffered from a great deal of turbulence since independence. With strong separatist movements in the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, there have been periods of civil war and violence during the last two decades.
The latest outbreak of unrest was in August 2008, when Georgia fought a five-day war in South Ossetia with Russia and over 2000 people were killed. Afterwards Russia announced it was unilaterally recognising the independence of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions and tensions in the region still exist.
The effects of these territorial disputes are greatest on the ordinary people, more than 200,000 of whom were forced to leave their homes in the past two decades. In a recent report, Amnesty International raises concerns that more needs to be done to provide housing, jobs and health care for those who fled the fighting and settled elsewhere. The report states that 42% of people displaced by the wars in Abkhazia and South Ossetia are still living in public buildings such as nursery schools, hospitals, hotels or barracks. Often the accommodation is squalid and lacking in adequate sanitation facilities for all the families residing in these buildings. It is also proving hard for the internally displaced people (IDPs) to improve their situation by gaining employment and many suffer from social exclusion.
One aid organisation, Oxfam, has reported some success in its work to help families in the region of Abkhazia. Made homeless by the fighting, Oxfam has been supporting some of the IDPs with financial aid to help rebuild their lives. For example, with Oxfam’s support, one farmer, Dodo, was able to build a greenhouse when she moved into an abandoned house. This allowed her to grow tomatoes and cucumbers to sell in local markets. The area in which she lives now has natural hot springs, so free heat for the greenhouses was available once Oxfam supplied the necessary underground piping. Having secured a living, Dodo has been able to send her daughter to university and her son is employed by other local business people to manage further greenhouses.
The Georgian government has made great progress in building roads and providing electricity for its people. But more direct help is needed by those families who lost everything during the periods of fighting and have had to begin their lives all over again.