Demonstration against hydro-electric plant escalates in Georgia

A new demonstration against the implementation of a hydropower plant escalated in the northeastern Pankisi Gorge region in Georgia. On Sunday, the 21st of April, the around 300 residents of the mountainous area gathered together in the Birkiani village to demonstrate against the controversial dam project. Pictures show angry villagers, among them elderly women, throwing stones on over equipped police forces.

The construction of Khadori-3 power plant restarted recently after an interruption and is only one among many others in the country. Series of reforms in the early 2000s opened the ownership of numerous plants to the private market, making them flourish all over the country and more operational. Over 70 hydropower plants actually supply more than 80 percent of Georgia’s energy, making it pretty much self-sufficient and almost entirely green. Those implementations allow the country to be less dependent on gas importations from Russia, which is especially important since the relation has always been tense since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Enguri Hydro-plant 

Foreign investments coming especially from the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (ERBD) and other foreign investment banks have developed the hydro-based capacity up to 3.500 MW. Mountain regions of the Caucasus as Svaneti, at the northern-west border to Russia, Mtskheta-Mtianeti (northern-east border) or Samtskhe-Javakheti (Turkish-Armenian border) have become Georgia’s principle energy supplier. But since hydropower is a renewable energy, where’s the catch about it?

Georgia is about the size of Switzerland and has a very low demographic density with its 5 million inhabitants. Most of its population lives in the bigger cities in the plains, as in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, where you will find around 1.1 Million of them. A few hundred live in very small villages in the isolated mountainous regions up north and south. You would find there ancient traditions and a hard way of life, but all of it surrounded by an unique and rich biodiversity. Villagers have been living of agriculture and shepherding for centuries, but that heritage is under great threat.

The construction of the plants have begun regardless the led impact studies, in which villagers and environmentalists have expressed their disapproval regarding the damage on local agriculture, water quality  and the living ecosystems. For instance, about 93 hectares of natural habitats got destroyed in Anjara during the building of the Shuakevi hydroplant. Last Sundays’ David vs Goliath situation led to a lot of destruction and damage. 55 people got injured, among them 17 civilians et 38 police officers, building machines were on fire.

The situation calmed down after negotiations between the interior minister Giorgi Gakharia and Pankisi’s Council of Elders. The constructions are held and will continue only if 90% of the population supports the project, states the minister. A first victory for the locals in this very controverted project.

Location of the Pangisi Gorge

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