TBILISI, DFWatch–Opponents of the Khudoni hydropower project met in Mestia on Thursday to sound the final alarm before a massive dam floods parts of the unique Svaneti region, threatening an age-old cultural landscape.
The Svaneti region is a rare landscape among living European communities, where ‘the ways of the Middle Ages live on’, according to National Geographic in its October 2014 issue. The village Ushguli is a world heritage site.
If realized, the immediate impact of Khudoni dam will be thousands of people forced away from their homes. In the village Khaishi, where the church is to be flooded, locals have sworn to never abandon the graves of their forefathers.
But the plans, which were first developed during the Soviet Union, and later revived during President Saakashvili, will also create problems further upstream, and for the rest of the Svaneti region, according to speakers at the conference, which was organized by the Public Defender’s office and local NGOs.
Technical advisor for the Khudoni project, David Mirtskhulava, a former energy minister during President Shevardnadze, earlier this year held forth energy independence as reason for why the project should go ahead. In the beginning of 2014, 75 percent of energy in Georgia was imported.
But at what cost to the communities? This was the topic at the conference, which also had participants from locals authorities, the Romoanian and British embassies, representatives from ministries and invited experts.
They discussed the legitimacy of Khudoni plans, the rights of local communities, the property rights of locals, their right to a safe environment, the right of protection, and how to protect cultural heritage.
Participants agreed broadly that there are too many shortcomings and dangers in the memorandum of understanding about building the plant. In addition, so far there are no clear arguments that would support the importance and positive long-term impact of the plant to the country, some said.
It was also pointed out that the company which is building the facility, Trans-Electrica Georgia, was supposed to have started construction work half a year ago, by March 1, but so far it has failed to acquire the necessary permits to launch the project.
In addition, it was noted that Trans-Electrica Georgia so far has received 111 critical remarks from the ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Protection, but has’t produced a new revised version of the environmental impact assessment (EIA).
According to the Public Defender’s Office, there came no representatives from the Ministry of Energy to the conference, despite having been invited, and also no top-level officials came from the Environment Ministry nor the Regional Development Ministry.
Public Defender Ucha Nanuashvili said that it is of crucial importance to analyze the financial aspect of the project, to ensure its safety and keep the local population well informed. He also called on the government to include citizens in the decision-making process.
The conference KhudonHes: Human Rights and involvement of citizens in the decision-making process was supported by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.