Friday, August 29, 2008

Environmental consequences of the conflict

Military operations that took place in Georgia during the past two weeks directly and/or indirectly have affected the six countries of the Caucasus region as well as the courtiers of the Black Sea and Caspian Sea basins. The consequences of the armed conflict have to be evaluated after returning of Russian military troops to the positions as of August 6, 2008.

Assessment of the impact of the given armed conflict on the environment and consequently on the social and economic spheres goes far beyond simple calculation of hectares of burnt forests or the level of pollution of the Black Sea and transboundary rivers of the Caucasus.

Assessment of the impact of the conflict on the environment and perspectives of sustainable development can be grouped according to existing risk factors, expected/potential risk factors (since although so-called cease-fire agreement has been signed the military forces have not yet returned to the pre-conflict positions), and thematic risk factors:
  1. Loss of biodiversity, habitats, landscapes and forests

    • Military operations in South Ossetia, Kodori, etc.;

    • Aviation raids into the Oni district, Kodori, South Ossetia, city of Poti located in immediate proximity to the Kolkheti National Park;

    • Use of heavy weaponry in South Ossetia, Kodori and on the 1/3 of the Georgian territory, including the Kolkheti National Park famous for its wetland ecosystems;

    • Bombing of the forest massifs of the Borjomi gorge including Pan-European Park of Borjomi-Kharagauli with flammable substances and destruction of 230 ha of unique centuries old forest cover and its ecosystem took place after cessation of military operations at a distance of 100 km from the conflict zone;

    • Bombing of the forest massifs of the Ateni gorge rich in cultural heritage with flammable substances. The state of the cultural heritage of Georgia is not yet known.

  2. Threat to agriculture includes:

    • Interruption of the cycle of agricultural activities and burn out of agricultural lands. According to preliminary information, as a result of military operations the number of IDPs reached about 200,000, the majority of which were residents of rural areas of South Ossetia and Shida Kartli. Thus, the cycle of agricultural activities has been violently interrupted on about 40% of the territory of Georgia. The period needed for restoration of the given cycle is not clear yet, since mane villages are burnt out. Therefore, in the long run this risk factor will affect the state of cultivated cultural landscapes and their productivity;

    • Pollution of soil and irrigation water resources with fuels, military waste generated as a result of military operations, massive destruction of military ammunition will also affect agriculture.

  3. Damage of infrastructure includes:

    • Damage and destruction of water supply systems as a result of aviation attacks, military operations, etc. in South Ossetia, Shida Kartli, Kodori, city of Poti, etc. unavoidable will cause pollution of drinking water which consequently will affect agriculture and human health;

    • Damage and/or deliberate destruction of railroads, bridges on main motor roads of the Caucasus, pipelines, road infrastructure, ports (Poti), aerodromes, factories (for example: concrete factory in Kaspi), etc. Along with the blow on the economy of the whole Caucasus region, such actions cause pollution of rivers the majority of which belong to transboundary watersheds, as well as pollution of marine environment, soils and underground waters, complicate distribution of humanitarian aid to affected people thus aggravating the humanitarian catastrophe. Since operation of main oil and gas pipelines was suspended major regional environmental disasters as a result of aviation attacks has been avoided.

  4. Pollution of marine environment:

    • Explosion of vessels within the area of water of city of Poti will cause pollution of marine environment of the Black Sea as a result of oil spills and disposal of military waste in the water area of the city.

  5. Pollution of soil and destruction of topsoil:

    • About 40% of the territory of Georgia is under this risk factor as a result of improper disposal of military waste, destruction (explosion) of military ammunition, use of heavy weaponry, military operations, etc.

  6. Threat to human health and outbreak of epidemics:

    • In the context of the environment the human health can be affected by any of the listed risk factors, however the damage of water supply and sewerage systems, i.e. deterioration of sanitary conditions can be classified as the main risk factor.

  7. Use of land mines:

    • Considering the level of preparation of the sides of armed conflict and the previous experience of withdrawal of Russian military troops from Georgia it can be hardly predicted which territory and what facilities will be mined. Therefore the damage caused by such actions to infrastructure, human health and the environment can not be determined in advance.

  8. Humanitarian catastrophe:

    • Humanitarian catastrophe taking place within and outside the conflict area is a result of the aggregate of all the above listed. Humanitarian catastrophe aggravates each of risk factors and can not be resolved only through satisfaction of basic needs of thousands of IDPs in food, shelter and clothes;

    and finally,

  9. Deterioration of the order of regional concepts of spatial development as a basis for economic and social development and human well-being in the region.

Assessment of the environmental damage and impact on perspectives of sustainable development shall be and may be done only after returning of military forces to pre-conflict positions. As for long-term impacts of the mentioned risk factors, they can be assessed only in a perspective. All risk factors are interlinked between each other and a factor having the strongest impact on others can be hardly identified – these are usual consequences of military operations.