Is Rain Safe in Tbilisi?
24 May, 2012

Unusual rain and mudflow coming down on Tbilisi on May 13, 2012 and taking five lives, shocked the public and embarrassed it with the question: Is rain safe in Tbilisi? Tbilisi City Hall assures rain is safe and the May 13 rain at issue, was a natural disaster that nobody could predict and manage. Environmentalists agree the rain was unusual but still believe the capital’s underground drainage system pumping water into the ground does not work smoothly.

A week has

passed but Tbilisi City Hall still did not provide the exact loss figures Tbilisi faced after disastrous flooding and mudflow in Ortachala, an Old Tbilisi district, destroying 11 private houses, taking lives of three adults and two children [one infant] and leaving 32 people roofless. City Hall promises to insure all the victims with housing and hospital treatment and claims that the loss would be much bigger if not all the rehabilitation works done to the capital’s underground water pumping system [largely called as water collectors’ system] including both rehabilitation of old collectors and construction of new ones.
Environmentalists argue disaster might have been avoided if due hydro-geological monitoring had been implemented in the city vulnerable to mudflow and flooding risks historically for its geographic relief: Tbilisi is a cave surrounded by mountains and hills all planted by forests and 10 small rivers and 52 ravines crisscross the town creating potential jeopardizes.
People still remember mudflows and flooding in Ortachala’s famous colorful bath district taking many lives by end of 60s as well as flooding in Vere creek in the center of city flooding Tbilisi Zoo by end of 70s.    
According to Emil Tsereteli, Head of Geological Risks and Geological Environment Management Department at the National Environmental Agency that closely monitors and assesses risks of natural and geological disasters in regions, this kind of service stopped working for Tbilisi 15 years ago due to budgetary austerity reasons, if their monitoring had been in Tbilisi too the 13 May disastrous could have been prevented as number of potential similar disasters were already prevented in regions.
Today the only body responsible for Tbilisi safety is City Hall that runs collectors’ system proper working in fact. It took the system off Tbilisi WaterCanal in 2010 when the enterprise was privatized and claims that there was no repair work done to the system for about 20 years and it is impossible to streamline the network at one stroke.
Nino Chkhobadze, a head of the non-governmental Green Movement-Friends of the Earth, assures the reason is bad canalization system plus overgrown ravines and creeks that used to be cleaned off big trees in the past to prevent disasters.    
Giorgi Kochiashvili, head of Municipal Infrustructure Development Departmnet of City Hall, assures the capitals’ water collector system works smoothly but nobody can handle with the natural disasters that came to Tbilisi on May 13.
“I have heard complains that it was rain and we could not handle with it but it was a natural disaster in fact against which no country can insure itself whatever good management it would have had,” Kochiashvili said in the interview with Georgian Journal.
According to him, precipitations fell-out in three hours on the fatal night was a two-month and a half norm to Tbilisi that caused terrible flooding and mudflow that exceeded the canalization system capacity by 100 times and it could not work.
“It is like if you fill a glass of water calculated on tap water stream from a fire-service large pipe that may break the glass. 93 mm precipitations poured down to Tbilisi that day in three hours while a monthly norm to Tbilisi in spring is 45 mm, it triggered huge tides in slopes surrounding Ortachala, Gulia street that was the disaster center and it swept down all trees, boulders and mud down to collectors. Collector with 4.5 meter in height and 7 meter in width that means it equals to a two-way car tunnel in size was full of huge trees thrown by roots and how  could they pump water down?” Kochiashvili elaborates.
There were speculations that a water reservoir up in Ortachala near embassies creacked and it caused the fatal flooding but Kochiashvili swears the reservoir is safe and protected by two big dums with a 3 story-building size in height that actually somewhat broke the mudflow tide but it was so strong that jumped over this dum and crushed down everything on its way and chocked collectors with trash.
Chichiko Janelidze, an environmental experts with the Caucasian Environmental Network of Non-governmental organizations (CENN), agrees that the rain was anomalous as about 100 mm precipitations fell out in 3-4 hours when annual norm is 700 mm that happens very seldom once in several decades and not only in Tbilisi but he still believes the canalization system does not work properly for even during usual rains Tbilisi streets are under water that did not happen before.
“I have spent 80 years in Tbilisi and do not remember in previous decades that a storm rain came down and streets were full of water like it happens these days when just 10-20 mm precipitations fell and streets are full that means that the canalization and torrent systems do not work properly, they would have dried up the flooding if thay worked [on May 13],” he said. 
Kochaishvili swears City Hall spent about GEL 8.6 million on rehabilitation collector system in 2011-2012, 34 and 34 collectors were rehabilitated in 2009 and 2010 in risky districts in outskirts of the capital Gldani, Temka and Mukhiani taking GEL 2. 3 million and 2.2 million respectively. More new ones are under construction at the moment. GEL 2 million is the budget for 2012 to this end. Besides, Tbilservice Group company winning the tender for cleaning collector systems operates as an everyday sanitary service cleaning the entire collector system by special technique. 
“That’s why other risky places escaped fatal outcome and the Ortachala  hot spot was completely dry in the morning and traffic was free,” He said adding that the riskier factor causing losses  is voluntary building of houses in risky creeks mushrooming in 90s when nobody cared for permissions and licenses and barracks were built  on collectors directly.
“You cannot find any risky house built recently or residential high buildings constructed by developers,” Kochiashvili assures meaning post-rose-revolution period. “Many-storied residential houses cannot be built over collectors for they need very deep foundation and collector can undermine them. It is small barracks built on collectors mainly.”
Janelidze knows some risky houses built recently. He points at two hotels on Makashvili street in the downtown where couple of weeks ago water undermined walls.
Special service delivering construction permissions should pay attention on risky creek factors not only on seismic and geological points he more so that the city get larger and people go to creeks too,” he said. 
Kochiashvili reiterates that rain in Tbilisi is safe but nobody is completely protected against natural disaster like May 13.
“Tbilisi is safe for rain, but it was not the rain,” he concluded.