“Once a week, sometimes twice, a car would come with water, and we stood in a line with our vessels. We might have got water, or maybe not. The water was arriving in cisterns for 28 years and was very expensive. Moreover, we had to carry water from far away to wash clothes or dishes, and this was actually damaging our health”, says Rita Beridze. Rita is one of the ‘ecomigrants’ who had to endure these conditions in Marneuli Elevator Settlement in Georgia.
The ecomigrants were relocated to the former vocational school building in 1991 after the earthquake in Sachkhere. Many years have since passed, but they still have to cope with intolerable conditions even today. They started using drinking water and natural gas recently. Rita tells us that water issues have been creating sanitation problems in the settlement for years, and this changed only after the launch of the ‘Water to Eliminate Poverty’ project. This project made it possible to supply water to the building: “Now we have water in the rooms. Water supply is scheduled, but there is no comparison to before. We have created wet rooms, as previously having bathrooms and toilets was pointless. We even had to bathe in the rooms, the toilet was far away, and we had to live in very harsh conditions due to the lack of water”.
The ‘Water to Eliminate Poverty’ project has been implemented by the Caucasus Environmental NGO Network (CENN) since 2017, with financial support from the EU. The main goal of the project is to improve health and living conditions in socially vulnerable multiethnic communities in Georgia. The project is implemented in Kvemo Kartli and Kakheti regions.
To understand the importance of the project, Ann Inasaridze, Project Manager, reviewed the conditions in the regions of Georgia, and says that supply of clean drinking water, as well as ordinary water, is not properly regulated. “The problem is even more relevant in the ethnic settlements that often lack management of sanitation and hygiene. Finances allocated by the state are insufficient. The project has demonstrated that the society is not well aware of the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) issues, and their direct relation to health and education. In particular, these are mostly socially vulnerable groups that are incapable of defending their rights to health and proper living conditions”, explains Ann.
Mariko Tsikoridze, Project Coordinator in Kvemo Kartli region and a representative of the ‘Water to Eliminate Poverty’ partner organisation ‘Kvemo Kartli Women’s Association – Woman and World’, also talks about the problem of awareness among the population. “The lack of awareness was a barrier we encountered among the population. Apart from the fact that people were unaware of the severity of their rights having been violated, they were even scared to talk openly about this. They used to tell us: ‘We have been living in this way for years, we are used to drinking this water and nothing has happened to us.’ They were afraid to speak openly about their problems. We tried to find people in the settlements with some kind of authority, and with their help persuade others to defend their rights; and so, we managed to prove that speaking publicly about the problems was the way to get results”, says Mariko.
Women’s councils in local villages and WASH councils were established to raise awareness and engage local self-government representatives and young leaders. Different training modules were developed on water and sanitation, the importance of hygiene, water and human rights and other modules according to topics. Various events were held for students and school administrations. Informational brochures and flyers were produced, and a fairy tale was even created to teach pupils basic personal hygiene in line with WASH standards.
The result achieved in Marneuli Elevator Settlement was one of a number of successful cases implemented throughout the project.
Another successful example is the work undertaken in Marneuli Public School No. 6. Through the efforts of representatives of the project partner organisations – ‘Human Rights Centre’ and ‘Kvemo Kartli Women’s Association – Woman and World’ – the problems related to the toilets and sewage system at the school were resolved.
Nona Samkharadze, now an active member of the WASH council, describes the problems she witnessed at Public School No. 6: “This school is considered to be prestigious in Marneuli. I sent my child to this school. On the first day, he had to go to the toilet. But it was impossible to use water for cleaning the toilet, the tap and the sinks were out of order, there was even a danger of falling into it; it was impossible to close doors, wash hands, and often the children avoided using the toilets at all due to the smell. There were barrels in the toilets with a pipe for flowing water. The children had to take the pipe out of the barrel to their wash hands. Besides, tissues were never provided to their dry hands with”, says Nona, who wrote a public post about this on social media. Local media was interested by her post, and the problems of the school became known to the wider public. Nona was contacted by Mariko Tsikoridze, and in coordination with Mariko, Nona started fighting for change. This was not an easy task, as she tells us:
“At first, even the school administration and parents developed critical attitude towards me as I started to talk openly about the problem. However, despite the initial position of the parents who told that their children did not use the toilets and suppressed their physiological functions, after a certain period of time they expressed interest; they kept asking me about the status of the problem and its possible results, and about the timeline for changing conditions at the school. The project enabled us to achieve results through cooperation with the director and self-government. Today the wet rooms at the school are renovated, water pipes have been changed, and water and sanitation issues are no longer on the agenda”, Nona commented.
During the process of problem management at Public School No. 6, the NGOs CENN and the Human Rights Centre studied the sanitation and hygiene issues. The study revealed an alarming situation caused by dysfunctional sewage systems, which needed an immediate response. Regarding the school’s problems, the Human Rights Centre repeatedly appealed to the director of the school, Marneuli municipality’s Resource Centre and the LEPL National Centre for the Development of Education and Science Infrastructure.
After a memorandum was signed between the Ministry of Education and the municipality, the school problems became the responsibility of the municipal mayor’s office. The organisations involved in the project held meetings with the responsible representatives from the municipality. This resulted in an allocation of the budget financing for the rehabilitation of wet rooms, the sewage system and the schoolyard at Marneuli Public School No. 6.
“Despite the fact that several problems were identified in the first phase of the project implementation, I would in the first instance mention the factor of trust. The local population could not believe that advocacy was a way to solve water-related issues. Most of them thought that talking aloud about unresolved WASH issues could trigger problems with the local authorities. However, the project cooperated actively with the representatives of the local authorities; this formed the basis for co-participation and communication between various interested parties, which is one of the prerequisites for successful implementation of the project”, points out Ann Inasaridze.
The project ‘Water to Eliminate Poverty’ will be completed in June 2020. Until its completion, through EU support the CENN continues its activities to improve the living conditions of socially vulnerable multiethnic communities in Georgia and establish WASH standards among the population.
Author: Tamar Kuratishvili
Article published in Georgian by sknews.ge