Gali. (DFWatch.)

GALI, DFWatch–Under conditions that amount to a blockade, the population of Gali are finding ways of sorting out their daily life problems, such as how to receive pensions when they can’t get to a Georgian bank.

In spring, Abkhazia’s separatist authorities closed the only road connecting the Gali district with the rest of Georgia, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Locals told DFWatch they are unable to access benefits offered by the Georgian government, such as pensions and social benefits for internally displaced persons (IDPs).

“Old people constitute a large part of the local population who are eligible for a state pension and an IDP allowance. The pension for persons under 70 is GEL 220 (USD 67), and for those over 70 it is GEL 250 (USD 76). The social allowance for IDPs is GEL 45 (USD 13.70). These benefits are the main income for many here. When the road was closed, getting this money became a real challenge for most people,” a retired woman from the village of Tagiloni in the Gali district told DFWatch.

Added to this is the increase in the price of the commodities, as barriers to movement prevents imports of cheap food from Zugdidi, the closest town on Georgian-controlled territory.

“When you can’t go to Zugdidi, you have to buy everything in the Gali market. And here everything costs twice as much. For example, here [1 kg of] potatoes costs GEL 3-4 (USD 0.90-1.20). The Gali market itself was mostly supplied from Zugdidi, where food costs much less than in Abkhazia,” a middle-aged man from Saberio told DFWatch.

Asked in what way some of the pensioners manage to receive their pensions, an elderly woman from Saberio tells us that one of the ways to do this is assistance by personnel at Enguri hydropower plant, who are allowed to cross the administrative boundary line without hindrance.

“Those who can get to Enguri [bridge], ask Enguri HPP staff to carry credit cards to Zugdidi and take pension money from an ATM and bring it back. You have to see how the locals are waiting for this car [ferrying HPP personnel]. However, not all villagers can do this. “

The second way to get a pension is to give power of attorney to a person who can go to Enguri. DFWatch spoke to one of them.

“Several pensioners have given me a power of attorney via Skype. To do this one needs two witnesses in the notary’s office, one a relative, and the other a non-relative. You also need to pay GEL 61 (USD 18.50) once a year, i.e. the maximum term of the power of attorney is one year. I have the right to handle their bank account. I often go across, sometimes legally, sometimes using an illegal crossing. I claim the funds on behalf of those who have given me power of attorney and distribute it. This is how everyone helps each other, who can,” said a 34-year-old man from Gali.