UNHCR begins aid distribution in western Georgia

News Stories, 20 August 2008

© UNHCR/C.Bruguera
A UNHCR-chartered Boeing 707 carrying 15,000 blankets, 3,000 kitchen sets and 6,000 jerry cans is unloaded in Batumi.

ZUGDIDI, Georgia, August 20 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Wednesday began distributing aid to thousands of people in western Georgia for the first time since the recent conflict. The aid was flown in on Tuesday because it was impossible to access the area by road convoy or train.

UNHCR trucks supported the first food distribution by World Food Programme (WFP) to vulnerable people scattered within a 100-kilometre radius of Kutaisi, Georgia's second largest city. Tomorrow, UNHCR will provide non-food items such as jerry cans, kitchen sets and blankets for some 3,000 people.

"UNHCR today chaired a coordination group on tomorrow's aid distribution, which will involve all relevant partners in order to ensure the maximum coverage on the ground," said Alessandra Morelli, head of an emergency team based in the western Georgia town of Zugdidi.

Initial assessments show that about 15,000 people are in urgent need of help, including those displaced earlier this month from the Georgia breakaway region of Abkhazia and internally displaced people from conflicts in the 1990s.

When the armed conflict over the other Georgia breakaway region of South Ossetia broke out on August 8, the area between Abkhazia and Georgia proper was a secondary flashpoint, triggering the flight of thousands of civilians.

They had not received any help until today because of the difficulty of accessing the area with large amounts of humanitarian aid. But on Tuesday, UNHCR flew in 200 tents, 15,000 blankets, 3,000 kitchen sets and 6,000 jerry cans to the town of Batumi. The agency has already distributed aid to tens of thousands of displaced people in the Tbilisi area, including on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, UNHCR has been working with its sister agency, WFP, and international aid agencies to try and identify the needs of the displaced and to differentiate between the old and newly displaced.

Swift delivery of assistance to IDPs in western Georgia will not only have an immediate beneficial impact for people in need but should also help prevent further movement towards Tbilisi, where facilities are strained. UNHCR teams have visited more than 550 collective centres in Tbilisi to assess the locations, numbers and needs of beneficiaries.

By Melita H. Sunjic in Zugdidi, Georgia