Saturday, October 5, 2013

Growing opposition against proposed Khudoni Dam in Georgia

Growing solidarity with local communities in Georgia puts Khudoni dam in
David Chipashvili
Bankwatch, October 4, 2013

We recently reported how local opposition against the Khudoni hydropower
plant project in Georgia is being stifled by government figures and how
people were intimidated to avoid negative reporting on the subject. The
native communities in the Svaneti region are protesting against the
project which would expel them from their land and way of living.

The dedication of the Svan communities has triggered solidarity across
the country. While protests against the Khudoni dam are becoming a
regular feat, many famous supporters have now joined the protests publicly.

Rallies against Khudoni took place on Tuesday, October 2 in Tbilisi,
Mestia (an important town in Svaneti) and Kaishi (one of the towns to be
flooded). In Mestia, representatives of different communities from
Svaneti and environmentalists gathered in front of the State Office and
demanded to stop the Khudoni dam project.

On a visit to Kaishi the Georgian Ombudsman reminded the government that
the majority of the local population is against the project as it is
planned right now. He highlighted the necessity of dialogue:

"It is very important for me that the opinion of each villager of
Khaishi and Svaneti will be taken into account by the government."

A group of almost all well-known Georgian writers have expressed their
opposition to the project. Lasha Tabukashvili even considers going ahead
with the project criminal and invokes Georgians' responsibility for the
future of their own country:

"If we do not fight against this project right now we will have to
apologise for not standing up against this criminal project and for our
future generations."

Locals affected by the Khudoni dam not only fear being resettled away
from the beautiful mountain region they call home. They also have no
reason to trust the government's promises that "resettlements will be
conducted according to highest possible standards in the world" (Ilia
Eloshvili, Deputy Minister of Energy, Source [KA]). Land rights have
only very weak protection in Georgia and authorities have blocked Svans
from registering their property in recent years. Many land plots that
were under customary use by the Svans have been sold off for one dollar
to the Khudoni investor Transelectrica, a company registered in a tax haven.

In addition, the Minister of Energy Kakha Kaladze has been criticised
for a potential conflict of interests since he has invested in Georgia's
energy and natural resources sector before joining the government one
year ago.

Father George, a local priest of Chuberi and Khaishi expressed the
powerlessness and anger of the local population:

"We are asking Minister Kaladze, do not think that you are the
owner of everything here, including nature, otherwise the pain that we
Svans are experiencing will move over you."

Already more than 200 people took an oath against the project. Manana
Saghliani, one of the villagers even threatened to commit suicide by
self-immolation at the project site should the project proceed.

While protests are ongoing, the Ministry of Energy has so far not
indicated to change course regarding Khudoni.

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