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International Grant Spent Ineffectively

10.08.2010

Madona Batiashvili, Kakheti Information Center

After the break down of the Soviet Union, thousands of tones of poison chemicals were left in Georgia poisoning people, causing cancer and inborn defects, polluting the water, food and air. The most dangerous region is Kakheti where the international society actively fights against the expired poison-chemicals. The project eliminating the risk factors of the expired pesticides is sponsored by the Netherlands government, but Georgian side practically failed to implement it.

In the frameworks of the Stockholm Convention, in 2003, the program regarding the elimination of the organic contaminants and controlling the polluted areas was launched.

According to the explanations made by the specialists, the organic contaminants are especially dangerous because of their distinctive steadiness and endurance; the natural processes can disperse them far from their place of origin; they accumulate in the living organisms, mainly, through the polluted food, water and air. They poison the people and other living organisms, affecting them in a wide range. Even the smallest portion of some representatives of organic contaminants, (dioxins and furans) can damage the whole system of the living organisms (first of all – immune and reproductive systems).

The government of Netherlands helped Georgian government to perform the duties undertaken in the frameworks of the Stockholm Convention. In 2005, the government of Netherlands gave 1 500 000 US dollars for eliminating the risk factors of the expired pesticides in Georgia, Moldova and Armenia. The project was implemented by Netherlands international non-governmental organization “Milieukontaqt International.”

Kakheti was chosen to be the region of priority since it’s most negatively impacted by the expired pesticides. Because of ignorance or negligence of 1990 years, the danger of pollution by poisonous substances is increasing.

The project concerning the elimination of risk-factors of the poisonous pesticides was implemented in 2006. Netherlands organization “Milieukontaqt International” chose the non-governmental organization “The Prioritical Direction for Overcoming Poverty” for implementing the project. “Milieukontaqt International” sent a specialist of controlling the expired pesticides Ian Bethlehem for making inventorization and conducting the relevant works. Inventorization took place in March and April of 2006.

While making a journalistic inquest, we addressed the non-governmental organization “Prioritical Direction for Overcoming Poverty” according to the address indicated in the agreement of the project implementation: #68 A Kostava St, Tbilisi, where we were told that this organization has stopped working there 5 years ago. The founder and the manager of the organization is Khatuna Akhalaia, who also works as a chief specialist of chemical remains and substances in the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources. Khatuna Akhalaia was a Ministry official in 2006 as well and simultaneously held the post of a founder and manager of the non-governmental organization which was implementing the risk-factors of the poisonous pesticides. It should be noted, that since the February of 2010 till the July of the same year, despite many requests, Environmental Protection and Natural Resources Ministry never presented the report of inventorization. The Ministry declared that this kind of a report doesn’t exist at all. Finally, we managed to obtain the report, using non-official ways.

According to the report, 26 storehouses were found in Kakheti which included approximately 300 tones of expired pesticides.

“Many storehouses are in terrible conditions and endanger environment and the lives of people. In one of these storehouses, the unwrapped wheat grain is kept, which is used by people. According to the scheme established by FAO, 5 prioritical storehouses presenting the highest risk in terms of endangering lives of people and environment were determined. These are: Saqobo, Yvareli, Achinebuli, Kvemo Alvani and Vachnadzeani. The cleaning of these pesticides considerably eliminates the risks of the expired pesticides in Kakheti region,” – states the report. The consultant Ian Bethlehem notes that the phytoremidation or the restoration of the polluted soil is necessary since according to the results of the inventorization, the half of the expired pesticides is a polluted soil. “It should be noted that it’s impossible to determine the exact size of the polluted land. In some of the storehouses the buried pesticides have been discovered. Most of the discovered pesticides are not wrapped at all or just half wrapped. Most of the times, their name and chemical consistence is unknown,” – notes the report.

Tina Tsiklauri, the former specialist of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources Kakheti Regional Agency: “Saqobo storehouse preserved the chemicals like the ground, colloidal and moist suphur, cene, betanil, dioxin and dendrobate, which are dangerous for human health. The situation worsened from the beginning of 1994, when the storehouse stopped functioning, got robbed and the pesticides were left with no care. Several years later, the fire started in the territory of the storehouse burned the part of the chemicals. The fire was so strong that the smell of the burned chemicals was felt in the whole region. For years, the pesticides were spreading from the destroyed storehouse, dispersing approximately at the 1 hectare land territory. While raining, the chemicals would melt and pour into the soil and water canals, from where it would stream into Alazani irrigating canal, then into the river of Alazani. This polluted the water. Consequently, the water poisoned the harvest. People living in the surroundings of the storehouse territory are massively ill with different diseases, basically allergies and asthma. Many young people died with blood and lung cancer. Often, the dead and invalid children are born. The project aiming for collecting, carrying out and cleaning the territory had a huge meaning.”

While carrying out the pesticides the project requirements were not met. For example, from Sakobo storehouse only those pesticides put in the sacks were carried out. These sacks were lying in 10 meters from the storehouse at the wall of Lida Dudaeva’s house. There are still different colored poisonous chemicals dispersed at the territory of the storehouse pouring into the water drains during the rain. Also, the territory has become bogged up in several places and the harsh smell of pesticides prevails. In the east of the storehouse, in approximately 40 meters, there is a pile of soil.

Mikheil Begiashvili, the resident of Signani Region, village Sakobo: “The workmen worked only for two days. They took out only what was in the sacks. Then they brought the tractor, dug a hole and stuffed the left poisonous chemicals in it and covered with soil. Who cares about the restoration of the soil, they have not even collected the poisonous chemicals left on the ground. No matter what time of the years, the harsh smell of pesticides prevails. Especially, it’s hard to live there in summer. We can’t even get out because of the smell. It’s been 10 years I’ve been living in this district. I’m 55 years old now, and since we lived here, my wife and I constantly had headaches and breathe problems. Everybody is like this in this district. Tumor diseases are common. Young people are dying from the blood and respiration pathologies.”

Maiso Varamishvili, the resident of the village Sakobo: “I live in 12 meters from the storehouse. The workmen showed up 2 days ago. They collected the pesticides that were already put in sacks. And do you see that pile of soil? The tractor worked for about an hour. All the poison chemicals left on the ground, now are stuffed under that hill.”

According to Marina Kvirikshvili, an oncologic doctor from Signai Region, village Sakobo, many young people living near the storehouse has died from the lung cancer: “we’ve never conducted a special research and don’t have exact statistic data, but think that the growth of oncologic illnesses is connected to this storehouse.”

In couple of meters from the former pesticides storehouse, there’s a new building being constructed. According to the signboard of one of the walls, Limited Liability Company “Agro Group” is building an alcohol factory partnering with Turkish company.

Zita Imanova, the regional manager of the project “Eliminating the risk-factors of the expired pesticides in Kakheti Region:” “The project course covered the testing of the soil. We tested the soil and sent the results to the Ministry of Environmental Protection. When the analyses was hard to conduct because of the lack of the necessary tools, the patterns of the soil were sent to the Netherlands where it was determined on what level is the soil polluted. According to the results of the analyses, the place was cleaned. Some objects were polluted shallowly, for some places we had to go in ten centimeters deep. Unfortunately, I worked only in the beginning of the project. Then I moved to another job, but I know that Kakheti got cleaned from the pesticides and there are some territories where after the cleaning, the planting of greenery took place.”

Like Sakobo storehouse, only pesticides kept in the sacks are taken out of Telavi, village Sopkimia situated in the Achinebuli territory. We observed the storehouse territory, where the poison chemicals are still dispersed and the harsh smell of pesticides prevails. There is no fir tree planted in this territory.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources was supposed to accept the foreseen results of the project. The Ministry  was supposed to control the timely and proper implementation of the project works. Also, the Ministry was responsible for future patronage of the project.

No Documents Found in the Ministry of Environmental Protection

On December 3rd, 2008, the following information was located in the website of the Ministry in relation with the international day against pesticides: “The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources, in the frameworks of the program “the collecting, wrapping and temporal secure locating of the expired and useless pesticides in Georgia,” is implementing a program, the basis of which is the performance of the duties undertaken according to the article 6 of Stockholm Convention. As Alverd Chankseliani, the director of the agency of remains and chemical substances stated, the project has been implementing in Georgia since 2007. 100 thousand dollars were provided from the budget for it. In different regions, Kvemo kartli, Mtskheta-Mtianeti, Shida Kartli and Imereti, 12 storehouse objects and about 45 tones of expired, useless pesticides were collected, wrapped and securely located in the temporal storehouse, specifically built in Sagarejo Region, village Badiauri. The certain number of these pesticides are organic contaminants endangering humans and other living organisms, causing toxic impact, tumors and other chronic illnesses. Last year, by the financial support of the non-governmental organization “Milieukontaqt International” the Ministry of Environmental Protection implemented works in Kakheti Region,” – states Chankseliani.

On February 8th, 2010, we addressed the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources in the written form and requested the acquaintance with the project “Eliminating the Risk-factors of the Expired Pesticides in the Regioin.” Also, we requested the information regarding the implemented works in the frameworks of the project. On February 19th, the Ministry provided us with the list of those works that have been implemented in the frameworks of the project. This letter says nothing about the project.

On March 4th, 2010, we again addressed the Ministry of Environmental Protection and repeatedly requested the acquaintance with the project “Eliminating the Risk-factors of the Expired Pesticides in the Regioin’’ and the following information: the report of the foreign consultant on the first phase of the inventorization; the report on the implemented works; who monitored the implemented works and the report of the monitoring; who held the ultimate responsibility on the results of the project; On March 26th, 2010, the Ministry informed us, that the project was not kept in the Ministry; the activities carried out in the frameworks of the project and reached results are located in “Milieukontaqt International” website. The Ministry letter doesn’t say whether or not the information put in the website of “Milieukontaqt International” is available in the Ministry.

On April 12th, 2010, we addressed the Ministry of Environmental Protection again and requested the documentation on the preliminary inventorization conducted in the frameworks of the Stockholm Convention, also a copy of an agreement between the Ministry and organization “Milieukontaqt International.” We received a letter from the Ministry on April 27th. The director of Public Relations Service of the Ministry Ekaterine Bendeliani informs us on the basis of the letter of the director of the Department of Integrated Managing of the Environment Paata Chipashvili: “The information about the inventorization conducted in the frameworks of Stockholm Convention is located on the orhus website www.aarhus.ge  No agreement exists about the implementation of the project between the Ministry and “Milieukontaqt International.” No documentation exists about the selecting of the organization.”

No information about inventorization in the frameworks of Stockholm convention is found at the Orhus Center website. The supervisor of the Orhus Center in Georgia Khatuna Gogaladze explains that the Ministry never provided this information.

The fact that project “Eliminating the Risk-factors of the Expired pesticides” exists and is kept in the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources, is confirmed by several documents:

1/. The foreign consultant mentions the project in the inventorization report couple of times;

2/. The assistant of the Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources Sopiko  Akhobadze informs the director of non-governmental organization Ierfas Donner: “We are glad about your decision of prolonging the project of the expired pesticides. The project “Eliminating the risk-factors of the expired pesticides is a very important project and we are ready to continue working on it. The Ministry Legal Department is working on the new aspects of the agreement, we’ll let you know about it right when it’s completed.

Despite numerous allegations that the documentation should exist, the Ministry of Environmental Protection states that they have no document concerning the carrying out of the pesticides. To the question, why they don’t have such important information, nobody answers.

I will make you pay wherever I meet you again

 On July 29, 2010, after making an agreement with the Head of the Public Relations Department of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources, we met the head of the Integrated Managing Department Agency for Remains and Chemical Substances Alverd Chankseliani and the specialist of the same agency Khatuna Akhalaia. The project was assigned to this particular agency. The meeting took place in Orhus Center.

- Mr. Alverd, do you know what kind of a situation will characterize the target locations upon completion of the project?

Alverd Chankseliani: I’ve seen many of these places before and after the project.

- So there are no more pesticides in the so called “clean” territories?

Alverd Chankseliani: Where? Where is that?

Khatuna Akhalaia: No, there are not.

- Are you sure?

Khatuna Akhalaia: Yes.

- Madona and I went to Telavi, Signani, yesterday and saw that the poison chemicals are still there and that a terrible lofts in the air. Didn’t the project include remediation works?

Alverd Chankseliani: No.

- The project participants told us that the project included remediation works.

Madona Batiashvili: But you do know Zita Imanova? She’s been the regional manager of the project in Kakheti. In an interview she indicated that in order to restore the soil, trees were planted in Telavi to clean the soil of poisonous chemicals. We could not find any trees there.

Alverd Chankseliani: Then why are you coming to me? Go to people who have more information. Meet the managers, the coordinators.

- We already met them and now we want to know from you specifically, what kind of work has been implemented after completing the project?

Alverd Chankseliani: Is this some kind of an exam or what? I was in charge of the whole tracking system in Georgia before you were born. I need specific questions.

- You read our letter, where we wrote down our questions. Answer us on those questions. Give us the documentations that you have in the Ministry concerning this project.

Alverd Chankseliani: I already answered you on that.

- You said you don’t have any information. Is that an answer?

Alverd Chankseliani: We just don’t have it. That’s it.

- Why not? This huge project has been implemented under the guidance of the Ministry. The Ministry has been controlling the project course and you don’t have any documentation from the Ministry?

Alverd Chankseliani: No documentation was needed.

- But pesticides are still on the ground and what did you write there, that all is clean?

Alverd Chankseliani: What is on the ground? What? Do you even know what qualifies as a pesticide?

- Why are you yelling?

Alverd Chankseliani: You have sufficient and complete answers in a written form. If you have some questions, ask me?

Madona Batiashvili: When this project was starting, I remember that in Telavi, in the hotel “Alaznis Veli”, a meeting was held and you said that this project was being implemented with the Ministry. Now you are saying that the Ministry has nothing to do with it. Then why did you go to the meeting?

Alverd Chankseliani: Don’t ask me for explanations, ask me questions.

Madona Batiashvili: Isn’t the Ministry obligated to check the results of project implementation?

Alverd Chankseliani: Of course, the government hopes for good results from this project. I’m a director of the structure. All these decisions have been made according to mutual agreements. We did whatever we could accomplish within the realms of the project.

- The Sakobo locals told us that holes were dug in the ground and poisonous chemicals were dumped and then covered with soil.

Khatuna Akhalaia: Who said that? Oh my god… You instigator… I’ll hit you in the face… You made me lose control you idiot… you liar…

- don’t hit me, get off.

Khatuna Akhalaia: I’ll do worse. Light a candle when you go out!

Alverd Chankseliani: You’re sick son! You need some treatment.

Khatuna Akhalaia: Your job is nothing more than to stir up trouble.

Alverd Chankseliani: I will make you pay wherever I meet you again.

Conflict of Interests

In the first phase of the project “Eliminating the Risk-factors of the Expired Pesticides in Kakheti Region” (January and April of 2006), Khatuna Akhalaia, the manager of the non-governmental organization implementing the project “The Prioritical Direction for Overcoming Poverty,’’ who also works as a chief specialist in the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources Agency of Remains and Chemical Substances, participated as a chief specialist in the project. On the second phase of the project implementation, since May 1, 2006, Khatuna Akhalaia was appointed as a manager of a project. Her monthly salary in the frameworks of the project was 540 euro, but she continued working as a chief specialist in the Ministry and receiving the monthly salary there. Besides, Khatuna Akhalaia was provided with the office, stationery, travel, techniques, food and other finances. As we indicated above, Akhalaia never had an office indicated in the project documentations.

According to the explanations of Young Lawyers Association lawyer Tamar Kordzaia, according to the paragraph 2 of article 13 of the Law on the Conflict of Interests and Corruption in the Public Service, public official doesn’t have a right to perform any paid job, except for scientific, pedagogic and creative work. This implies that on the second phase of the project Khatuna Akhalaia violated the law requirement.

Violations

According to the ultimate report of “Milieukontaqt International” consultant Ian Bethlehem regarding the pesticides inventorization, the wrapping material should be certified by the UN specifically for the pesticides.

The requirement of wrapping the pesticides in the special material is confirmed by the former official of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources. She was the participant of this project was supposed to monitor its implementation, although she worked only on the first phase of the project.

“When the ultimate agreement was made and Kakheti was selected as a prioritical region, Netherlands Ministry sent the final version of the project, where it was written that the pesticides should be collected and wrapped in special wrapping paper which was not available in Georgia and it had to be brought from one of the foreign countries. Then, according to international norms, the wrapped chemicals should have been located in a safe and protected place. The most important part of the project was the remediation-restoration of the soil since the pesticides were dispersed in the surrounding territory of the storehouse and was mixed with the soil. About one hectare of each object was covered with pesticides. The restoration of the soil was needed. Unfortunately, I was soon expelled from the project and I don’t know if the requirements were met,” – says Madona Pirvelashvili.

Tatia Jokharidze, the member of the working group of project: “The project consisted of three phases. First phase concered the inventorization or description of the relevant objects. The second phase covered the collecting of pesticides and cleaning territories, and the third phase concerned the carrying out of the remains. I worked only on the first and second phases. I didn’t attend the third phase. Not because I didn’t have time or worked somewhere else, no, just because the project coordinator Khatuna Akhalaia never informed us about the start of the third phase. The working group consisted of 7 members, so overall we were 7 experts. None of the experts were presented at the most important phase. They didn’t even give us the salary in the recent period. When I asked Akhalaia why we were expelled from the project, she didn’t respond. So, I don’t know how things were performed. I know just one thing, the pesticides should have been wrapped in the special material, that should have been brought specifically from England. But this material never came. I don’t know the reason for it. But I know one thing for sure, that the pesticides were stuffed in the flour sacks bought in one of the store of Tsnori village. I myself drove Akhalaia to buy the flour sacks when I accidentally met her in Sakobo. One sack cost 45 at that time.

The certain number of the pesticides, still lying in the so-called cleaned storehouses and of Kakheti and surrounding areas, according to specialists, represent the organic contaminants and endanger humans and other living organisms.

The article is prepared in the framework of the project: “Journalistic Investigation Group in Kakheti” – financed by the Eurasia Partnership Fund in the framework of the project financed by EU “Strengthening of the Media as a Controlling Institute in Georgia.” The content of the article doesn’t represent the opinions and views of the EU and Eurasia Partnership Fund. The full responsibility on is imposed on Kakheti Informaton Center.

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