Second UNHCR airlift plane flies to Georgia, aid distribution in Tbilisi
Thursday, 14 August 2008
GENEVA - UNHCR flew its second humanitarian flight to the Georgian capital this morning, bringing in 32 metric tons of vital aid supplies for distribution to thousands of people displaced by the crisis in the breakaway region of South Ossetia.
The UNHCR-chartered Boeing 707, loaded with tents, jerry cans, blankets and telecommunications equipment from the agency's central emergency stockpile in Dubai took off early this morning and landed in Tbilisi at 0745 hours local time.
The relief items flown in over the past four days cover basic needs for up to 40,000 people and will augment UNHCR's existing supplies in the region.
Meanwhile, UNHCR continues to call for free and unhindered humanitarian access and safe passage for uprooted civilians and the aid workers trying to help them. That need was underscored Thursday morning when two UNHCR vehicles were hijacked at gunpoint on the outskirts of Gori, some 60 kilometres north of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.
The UNHCR team was on an assessment mission in the Gori region to identify areas of displacement and to assess the immediate needs of people forced from their homes by the conflict which erupted last Friday.
The team was stopped just outside Gori, where people in unmarked uniforms threatened the two UNHCR staff members and forced them at gunpoint to leave their vehicles and hand over the keys. The two later made it safely back to Tbilisi. Later, authorities called from Gori to say they had recovered the vehicles.
Despite Thursday's incident, UNHCR is moving ahead rapidly with field assessment missions and the distribution of assistance in other areas of Georgia. Some 2,000 people have now received aid from UNHCR, which began large-scale distributions on Monday to the most needy people in and around the Georgian capital. On Thursday, some 1500 displaced people from South Ossetia, living in a former hospital building in Tbilisi, received a delivery of blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans. During the weekend, UNHCR and its partners provided aid supplies to some 300 vulnerable Georgians from South Ossetia who had been transferred from Gori to Tbilisi. The agency also provided tents and other supplies to partners in Gori for use by the displaced.
The needs are great, especially for the most vulnerable such as children, women and the sick. There are newborn babies and women in advanced pregnancy among the displaced. Immediate needs include medications for people suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Sanitation and hygienic items as well beds and mattresses are in great demand.
A third UNHCR airlift flight is scheduled to land in the Georgian capital on Friday morning. In addition to the humanitarian airlift to Georgia, UNHCR is scheduling two flights to Vladikavkaz, in the Russian Federation, next Tuesday and Wednesday. A UNHCR-chartered Antonov-12 is scheduled to bring mattresses, kitchen sets, water tanks, blankets, jerry cans and soap for displaced South Ossetians.
According to the latest figures provided by the two governments, the total number of people uprooted in the conflict is approaching 115,000. Russian officials in North Ossetia indicate some 30,000 people from South Ossetia are still in the Russian Federation. Georgian officials report that up to 15,000 people have fled south into Georgia proper from South Ossetia. In addition, some 68,000 people are displaced in Georgia proper, including most of the population of Gori - which is just south of the boundary with South Ossetia.