The Story of Floods

By Nino Tsintsadze, UNDP in Georgia

Shoreline protection with rock boulders near the village Sajavakho. Photo: Vladimer Valishvili/UNDP

The torrents of cascading water, mud and rocks flattening houses, sweeping away roads, lands, cars and farm machinery — thinking of an opening scene from a Hollywood blockbuster, probably directed by some well-known king of enviro-disaster movies?

Hate to break the news, but this is a very real story of human encounter with the severity of a natural disaster, set in the Rioni river basin, one of the most flood vulnerable regions of Georgia.

Manija Kardava, one of the eyewitnesses of the flood, recalls the disaster of several years ago:

“Around 5 o’clock in the evening the water hit river banks. It was just like a horror movie. We were running away and water was chasing us. We barely managed to escape.”

Being home to over 200 thousand people of six municipalities, the basin of western Georgia’s key river is susceptible to various extreme climate events in the country. As a result of climate change, floods and flash floods are common occurrences here posing immediate threats to lives and properties, hindering farming practices.

“Our village used to be flooded every year,” says Oleg Shanidze from the village Sajavakho. ”Water would flush out our backyards and would take our land away.”

More than four years ago, the Adaptation Fund and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Georgia teamed up with the Georgian Government, municipal authorities, researchers and civil society organizations to introduce modern approaches in flood management, and bring on climate resilient economic practices and adaptation measures.

We address climate change by protecting a shoreline, reinforcing river banks, and introducing new technology to monitor water levels,” says Niels Scott, Head of UNDP in Georgia.

Shoreline protection, agroforestry and meteorological monitoring on Rioni river banks. Photos: Vladimer Valishvili, Anka Gujabidze/UNDP

Tangible results of this work make a real difference to the lives of 200 thousand residents of the Rioni river basin.

Newly built flood defense structures bring safety and arable land back to the community in 10 high-risk zones, up-to-date equipment and technologies make early warning, weather index based insurance scheme and 24-hour river monitoring possible.

“Now we have a solid flood defense structure. We don’t need to check the water level when it rains. We feel safe,” says Manija Kardava.

The new dam in Sajavakho allowed for building in the areas which used to be covered by water. Trees and shrubs were planted for the river bank reinforcement and soil drainage.

Local farmers, including Oleg Shanidze, learned how to reinforce river banks and make them resilient to floods by using agroforestry — planting the right types of trees and bushes. After fencing and planting, they now look after saplings knowing that in the long run those are the trees that will reduce their vulnerability to natural disasters.

“Such projects play an important role in elaborating policy models. They help us transfer positive experiences to the other high-risk zones”, says Gigla Agulashvili, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Protection of Georgia.

With the project coming to an end in 2016, successful practices and models tested in the Rioni river basin will be expanded to the other regions of Georgia to reduce the risk of floods, protect livelihoods and make lives more stable and secure.