GOOD NEWS FROM PANKISI GORGE
30 December, 2010
GOOD NEWS FROM PANKISI GORGE

According to the recent report by Susanne Murray-Jones, the United Nations refugees’ agency (UNHCR) representative in Tbilisi, this organization has joined forces with the UN Development Program (UNDP) to launch a project that should ease the social and economic integration of Chechen refugees in the Pankisi Gorge region to the benefit of their host communities.
UNHCR has been helping Chechen refugees in Pankisi since 1999, when about 8,000 people fled to the valley from neighboring Chechnya, saving

their lives from the attacking Russian Army. Most have either returned to Chechnya or moved to Western Europe, but about 800 remain in the area, where they live alongside Georgian Kists. “It is now time to start responding to the needs of everyone who lives in this picturesque but impoverished valley in the north-east Georgia, and not just the refugees,” said Peter Nicolaus, who has just completed his tour of duty as UNHCR representative in Georgia.
Due to an agreement between the two organizations, UNHCR will phase out individual assistance and UNDP will make it easier for locals and refugees in Pankisi to attend schools where they can receive structured training and develop professional skills. UNDP support will focus on local development and on boosting employment prospects. Plans include development of carpentry, sewing and bee-keeping. “There is a market out there, beyond our valley; we just need help to capitalize on it,” said Ramzan, who wants to set up an association with other bee-keepers to sell their quality product. Zurab, who hires six people in his carpentry workshop, also has ambitious plans. “We would like to expand and we are ready to provide on-the-job training,” he said.
Farming is also important, especially the raising of cattle and sheep. UNDP’s training centers will teach refugees and locals about keeping a healthy herd of dairy cows as well as training people to become vets. Farmers will learn new agriculture technologies and more effective ways of farming while agricultural value chains and infrastructure will be established. “Our work in Pankisi is an example of how United Nations agencies complement each other for the benefit of the people,” according to James McGoldrick, the UN resident coordinator in Georgia. “Thanks to its assistance to the refugees, UNHCR kick-started the economic development of the valley. UNDP is now stepping in to expand those activities to a larger-scale economic and social development program.” Their expertise can develop and strengthen strategies for promoting sustainable economic growth, encouraging new ways of involving business in national development.
The development organization will also carry out disaster risk reduction initiatives to help manage environmental threats, such as flash floods, in the region. Earlier this year, when flood waters threatened 200 households in the valley, UNDP helped the local authorities to clean the Alazani River channels in order to protect people’s homes and farms. This so-called transitional solutions initiative could become a model for UNHCR and UNDP to apply in other countries where integration is seen as the best solution for refugees and other displaced people. Next year, UNHCR and UNDP hope to expand their programs to help internally displaced people living in other parts of Georgia.

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