In November 2016, one of the local newspaper presented the Georgian Manganese company with an award for complying with the highest standards of workplace safety and ecological norms. That year, hardly anything in the country could compete with the irony of this event.
I have worked as a journalist for the past seven years and, for seven years, I have been writing about the misfortunes of Chiatura. Leaving aside the aspect of workplace safety, for me, precisely Chiatura is the first thing that comes to mind when environmental pollution is mentioned.
The Kvirila River is black, there is a dust cloud covering the town, the underground springs that supply the town with drinking water become polluted when quarry mining us under way, during mining, humus is not being preserved for future re-cultivation, and this is only some of the problems encountered by the Chiatura population and environment for years while practically nothing is being done to solve them.
Georgian Manganese mines manganese in Chiatura. The company owns all of the mines, and the small enterprises which carry out makeshift quarry mining for manganese, sell the raw material to the same company.
The Ministry of Environment audited the company activities in April 2014 and imposed a fine amounting to approximately 350 m lari for the damage to the environment. The company filed a lawsuit. It has not yet paid the fine.
An alarming state of affairs has taken shape in the Rgani village – home to 600 families – of Chiatura [District] due to both open and underground quarrying there; the surface creep has occurred, which forced many people leave the village. In addition to Rgani, there are 10 more villages that are in a difficult situation.
In general, for me Chiatura is one of the strangest towns in Georgia. As soon as you make a turn from Sachkhere, you suddenly find yourself in a town between two rocks where the time has stopped.
The first thing that catches the eye are tall Soviet buildings, black and dilapidated, seemingly abandoned but, in reality, they are operational plants where raw material is washed and sorted. Because the walls are in ruins, a large part falls out of the building and right into the river.
Small companies often wash the mined raw materials right in the river. As a result, the black Kvirila is in full harmony with battered, blackened buildings, rusty cableways and ancient equipment of this old and gothic town.
Despite all of this, there is a small environmental organization in this small town, struggling for years to change the situation with regard to the environment in Chiatura. The local authorities are unable to do anything, the central government is not interested. Finally, the organization decided to work with school students.
By sending numerous letters and staging small rallies, the children managed to achieve purchasing the air-cleaning equipment for the town – a small step forward in a big struggle
I am trying to write a lot about this issue but it is very difficult to stir up interest in environmental issues among the readers unless the problem does not have a significant and noticeable effect on their lives.
I do not think – and this is the real state if affairs – that one specific government or company is to blame for Chiatura’s environmental disaster. For years, governments have changed, the companies have changed too but nothing has changed for the environment and is unlikely to change until the economic situation in the country improves and until there is a generation that will think about benefiting from the environment more by harming it less.
This will take a while. When I was a child, my father set an example for me: when men from our building played cards eating sunflower seeds in the yard, my father would collect the shells in his hand and put it in the garbage bin. I have never seen him throw as much as a tiny shred of paper on the ground.
But a couple of days ago I was walking in the underground passage when a woman came out of a shop and placed a plastic bag full of garbage in the middle of the passageway.
When the woman from the shop takes the garbage to the garbage bin, the company will stop polluting the river and I will work to resolve other problems.
Nowadays it's difficult to attract public opinion towards environmental issues unless the problems directly impact their daily lives. .
For years, Chiatura has been struggling with ecological problems. Almost no results!.
Old factory buildings have long been left without rehabilitation. Both washed and unwashed ore end up in the river Kvirila.
Companies change, governments change. This small city with huge industrial impact does not change. It is on the edge of disaster.
“I have never considered becoming an environmentalist, it is pointless, nothing will change anyway,” Mishiko Shavdatuashvili, 10th-grader from Ateni village, said. Despite the fact that he frequently participates in cleaning up the school and its adjacent areas, he has never thought about cleaning up the river.
I was born in Tbilisi but I should have been born in the village, closer to the soil, to my village. As a child, I spent every summer there: I would accompany my neighbor for herding, we would build a small tree-house in a mulberry tree, make up stories to frighten each other, run around, ride bicycles. In the fall, we would participate in rtveli – the harvesting and crushing of wine grapes, but we would never swim in the river, ever. We did not have a river; more precisely, we did but the locals used it as a waste dumping site.
Ateni village is part of Gori District. Many people go there in the summer, including foreign tourists. The nature in Ateni is remarkable. The 7th-century Sioni Church of Ateni is exceptionally beautiful. The views around it are wonderful. The village is famous for special varieties of grapes. The Ateni wine is one of the best in Georgia.
Nevertheless, the river is a dump!
The source of the Tana River is located on Jamjama Mountain. The river flows through the entire 40-km-long Ateni Gorge and finally meets the Mtkvari River. Years ago, the water from Tana was used as drinking water, but then the locals connected their sewage to it, dumped household waste and garbage, which resulted in such a degree of the river pollution that using its water is not advisable even for irrigation.
There are 1,014 families living in Ateni, about 4,000 people. The village has only about 30 garbage bins and the garbage collecting truck comes once every four days. I do not want to bore you with numbers, but this means that about 133 people use one garbage bin every day. So…
The river is a dump!
The young people are concerned by this problem. “There is no place for us to swim, we have to go upstream in the summer (crossing over to another village) where water is relatively clean. You cannot fish in this river either, and if you accidentally fall in, you will be disgusted,” 12th-grader Kakha Jaoshvili told me. Turns out, he frequently cleans up the river bank together with his classmates, but to no avail. “If there were many of us, the results of our work would have been more visible, but very few of us are concerned with the pollution of Tana.”
I have seen people come out and clean the area, I have seen the children clean up the river bank so that they can play there but, unfortunately, these are all one-time actions. The Tana River is a mountain river, it often swells, bringing waste from other villages as well. This is precisely why cleaning it locally is not enough, it must be cleaned as a whole.
When I went to the river to take photos, it was -3°C, the river in winter is shallow and, as a result, littered places are more visible. Despite cold weather, the locals followed me around with great enthusiasm, showing littered places and asking to take as many photos as possible. For better perception of the reality. When saying good bye, they saw me off with many warm and encouraging words.
Two main problems can be identified in Ateni village: the way people treat the river and the lack of garbage bins in the village.
Both problems can be solved, can be worked on. It is important to set an example for the people living in Ateni, remind them of the severity of the problem and of the positive aspects of having a clean river.
The young people are ready to become involved, to accept novelties, do good for the village.
They simply need direction, they need more information, people must learn that
the river is not a dump!
The Tana River, Ateni Village, Gori District. The river that functions as a dump.
A cross-dome cathedral dating back to the first half of the 7th century is situated in Ateni Village, on the left bank of the Tana River.
Wine-making is the occupation of many residents of Ateni. The Ateni wine is one of the best in Georgia.
There are about 30 garbage bins in the village of approximately 4,000 people. A garbage truck collects garbage from Ateni once every four days.
The population dumps both domestic garbage and other kinds of waste into the Tana River.
The Tana River. Fish and birds alike feed in the polluted river.
“Is this a part of the wishing tree tradition, too?” Sandra asked me innocently. The 17-year-old Norwegian teenager was visiting the Caucasus for the first time. She felt ambivalent about a wishing tree, colorful ribbons adorning its branches, she saw outside of Mtskheta where she went a few days earlier. This time, however, we were driving along the Kakheti Highway towards Iormughanlo and she was pointing at a long row of trees covered in plastic bags… Georgians have many wishes, I joked awkwardly, and again shifted her attention to the mountains on the horizon.
In recent years, tourism was chosen as one of the priority components of economic development; both local and foreign travelers have become more active. However, they probably expect a lot more than landscapes littered with plastic bags from a nation that boasts 8,000-year wine culture. It becoming increasingly difficult to justify the garbage that we encounter along the way – clearly visible from the central highway, along a village backroad or in uninhabited mountains.
The services that humans receive from the ecosystem – forest, sea, river and so on, are of fundamental importance; these are water, air, quality soil. Protecting the environment from pollution is a rational decision rather than a matter of good will: there is a reason we have a saying about not taking a saw to the branch we are sitting on. Ecology is precisely the branch our well-being is hanging on like an apple.
A hiking trail leading to Davit Gareja and other natural monuments goes through seven villages of the Iormughanlo settlement. Beautiful views have been bestowed upon the villages but not garbage bins or garbage collecting mechanism. It is hard to distinguish between the garbage disrespectfully left by guests passing by or deliberately dumped by the locals.
While turning a blind eye to the aesthetic side might seem easier, it is much harder to ignore what we eat and drink. Uncontrolled dumping of garbage spoils more than just the view. Garbage left in the gorges with flowing rivers, in the mountains and near pastures stays there for years, and the soil and stream waters become polluted by various types of toxic components, which results in worsening sanitary conditions.
In 2013-2014, field work was conducted in some of the regions. In Kakheti, the analysis of samples taken nearby littered areas showed a high level of pollution. There were toxic elements and heavy metals found in the soil, while drinking water contained a number of coliform bacteria much higher than allowable level.
We do not live in a sterile world but the environment that does not get cleaned significantly increases health-related risks because we, as well as domestic animals, are active users of these two services of the ecosystem.
The world already has feasible encouragement mechanisms for cleaning and, more importantly, preventing the littering. In many European cities, you will find machines that will reward you with a few cents or feed stray dogs of you recycle used bottles. The Swedes have a special attitude towards waste: every cubic meter here is priceless as garbage is transformed into electric energy, biogas and organic fertilizers.
Cleaning up and looking after the environment is not a one-way road, it requires a complex approach. A smoothly running waste management system and processing mechanisms, including subjects about environment protection into the school program, nature-friendly education and awareness raising are of decisive importance. Perhaps, a Georgian version of European machines would encourage citizens’ involvement in cleaning up and refraining from littering. The machines would issue a khinkali for each plastic bottle fed to it and two khinkalis for a glass bottle!
Some prefer garbage bins, others – khinkali and others still – hiking. “What could be better than wild nature and untouched landscapes,” I said to Sandra, pointing at the immense Kakheti plateau. While the Norwegian teenager was taking photos, I silently put an empty, brightly colored potato chips bag sitting right there in the bush, into my backpack. I decided to do what I could to make nature look pristine again instead of making yet another awkward joke. After all, leaving the polluted soil, ecosystem and food chain temporarily aside, tidy looks better.
A hiking trail leading to Davit Gareja and many natural monuments goes through seven villages of the Iormughanlo settlement. Plenty of beautiful views and just as much garbage.
In Lambalo village, it is hard to distinguish between the garbage disrespectfully left by guests passing by or deliberately dumped by the locals. The absence of garbage bins contributes to unsanitary conditions.
The population, as well as domestic animals, are active users of two services of the ecosystem – soil and water. Littering increases the presence of toxic elements in both of them.
Livestock and garbage share the pastures around the village. Stockbreeding is a widespread activity, the meat is sold in the markets of other villages and cities too.
When it rains, the water that streams in the gorge flows into the irrigation channel and then into the Iori River. In nearby Sagarejo, there is a high concentration of coliform bacteria in the water flowing in the vicinity of a polluted area.
Education, mechanisms encouraging maintaining a clean environment, garbage bins, a smoothly running system of waste collection and processing – this combination could motivate the population to protect the environment