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First Adaptation Fund project in Georgia: its success and challenges

Blog post by Mariam Devidze, Green Alternative, May 2020
The riverbanks of the Rioni River were reinforced as part of the Adaptaiton Fund project in Georgia (Zarati village).

The riverbanks of the Rioni River were reinforced as part of the Adaptaiton Fund project in Georgia (Zarati village).

In Georgia, the Adaptation Fund (AF) provided a grant to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to implement a project on climate-resilient flood management. Green Alternative, a Georgian NGO and member of the AF NGO Network, talked to various stakeholders and visited the project site to assess the project. The AF intervention is generally considered a success, which resulted in the project recently being scaled up with the financial support of the Green Climate Fund. This article reviews some of the project's positive practices as well as its drawbacks and gaps to generate important lessons learnt. Those lessons learnt should be carefully taken into consideration when implementing future adaptation projects in Georgia funded by the AF or other international climate funds.

Diversity of climate zones in Georgia require diverse adaptation approaches

Georgia is located in the west of the South Caucasus region, bordering the Russian Federation in the north, and the Republics of Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan to the south. Georgia is well known for its diversity of climatic zones and landscapes, which means that from an adaptation perspective, Eastern and Western Georgia require different approaches. Western Georgia is characterised by water abundance, while Eastern Georgia is characterized by its scarcity. The various processes of desertification, increased glacial melting and flooding, combined with rising sea levels and erosion, make it essential to target location-specific adaptation activities in Georgia.

AFN Rioni River Ambrolauri

Construction of gabions at the Rioni River, Ambrolauri village.

The AF has to date financed two projects in Georgia: The project “Developing climate-resilient flood and flash flood management practices to protect vulnerable communities of Georgia” was approved in 2011 and has already been finalized. Another project on the Adaptation Component of Dairy Modernization and Market Access was recently approved but has not yet started implementation. Both projects are implemented by a multilateral intermediary organization as Georgia has not yet accredited a national implementing entity with the AF to access the Fund's resources directly.

The Rioni River project increases the resilience of vulnerable communities

The Rioni River climate-resilient flood management project was implemented by UNDP and had a funding volume of 4.9 million USD.  It targeted the country’s second largest river basin on the Rioni River, which is currently experiencing both the impacts of climate change and anthropogenic pressure from existing hydropower projects.

This project aimed to increase the resilience of highly vulnerable communities and regions to climate-related hazards, such as flooding and flash floods. It has supported six municipalities in the Rioni Basin to protect local communities from floods, with concomitant benefits for various parties, including the Georgian National Environment Agency (NEA) and local municipalities. This has enabled parties to predict and react adequately to hazards through:

  • the creation of an early warning system;
  • the rehabilitation of a hydrometric monitoring network on the existing stations, in total adding 35 hydro-meteorological stations/posts in the basin;
  • the creation of hazard and inundation maps, geological hazard zoning maps and cadasters of geological processes; 
  • and the creation of flood risk socio-economic models for selected municipalities.
Agroforest in Laneti village.

Agroforest in Laneti village.

The project also included infrastructural activities, such as coastal fortification and the construction of gabions at 10 points along the rivers. These coastal fortifications protect the population and the villagers now feel more secure after the reinforcement of the riverbanks. Further interventions included community-based adaptation measures such as bank terracing, vegetative buffers, brash bundles and tree revetments.

Local beneficiaries and authorities consider the project a positive example

The governor of Zarati village mentioned that in previous years he received at least 50 complaints annually from locals from one section of the village regarding river flooding risks, but he had received no complaints after the fortification process.

Local project beneficiaries, local authorities and experts all considered the project to be an important and positive example for future orientation in Georgia. As a result, the Green Climate Fund supports the upscaling of the Rioni River Basin AF intervention and approved the project “Scaling-up Multi-Hazard Early Warning System and the Use of Climate Information in Georgia” in 2018, that covers the 11 largest river basins in Georgia. This scaled-up project emphasizes the importance of assessing not only the benefits of the previous AF intervention, but also to learn the lessons and address any problems revealed during project implementation.

Lack of scientific data, institutional memory and ownership challenged the project's sustainability

A major lesson learnt from the Rioni River Basin flood management project is the importance of ensuring proper project planning, follow-up maintenance of conducted activities and the generation and consideration of scientific data. As the project did not include adequate measuring equipment, it is currently still not possible to predict flooding on the Rioni River. More detailed scientific research is needed on the Rioni and its tributaries as both anthropogenic and climate pressures cause rapid changes. The limited scope of institutions for research and monitoring in Georgia decreases the state’s ability to promptly respond to the needs of the population in Rioni River Basin and develop adequate future adaptation plans.

This lack of scientific data is combined with a lack of institutional memory and insufficient ownership at municipal level. An assessment of project outcomes clearly shows that the project’s institutional capacity building process was not sustainable. The frequent staff turn-over in local municipalities and non-existent mechanisms for the transformation of personal knowledge into institutional knowledge was one of the major barriers. Taking into account the significance of these adaptation measures for Georgia, it’s important to ensure that not only the selected representatives are trained, but to focus on institutional knowledge building, ensuring embedded knowledge across authorities.

Municipal representatives must be involved in consultations and awareness-raising

Meteorological station in Ambrolauri village.

Meteorological station in Ambrolauri village.

One obstacle to municipal ownership was the fact that the local infrastructural and bioengineering activities did not impact on municipal balance sheets. Local authorities were presented with the project activities, without actually participation in the project. This made municipal staff less responsive to the maintenance of this infrastructure. With the best of intentions, UNDP project staff mobilized and consulted villagers. Unfortunately, this resulted in the undermining of local officials' role as the linkage between the implementing organization and the people. Local government representatives must be involved in mobilizing and awareness raising activities to increase their ownership and responsibility. Such involvement would create a more sustainable cooperation between all stakeholders involved in the project.

Wider public participation and the enhancement of local ownership is essential to ensure both the sustainability of the activities and the replication and maintenance of activities by local authorities. The Rioni River Basin flood management project aimed to address the most urgent needs of local communities. However, essential local needs were overlooked. Wider public participation during project planning and implementation would ensure that urgent needs of local communities are taken into consideration by project developers and address respective shortcomings in project design. In Zarati village, locals said that “the reinforcement of the critical zone of the village has not been completed and the same measures will need to be carried out along the constructed area for another 800 meters”. They believe that proper public participation at the start of the project could have addressed this concern.

Wider public participation will ensure proper consideration of all local community needs

In order to ensure accountability, project implementers must ensure a well-functioning grievance mechanism that is easily accessible for local people. This includes concrete awareness-raising activities on the existence and access to the respective grievance mechanism. In Sajavakho village, very few people have complained to the project implementers about actual damage caused to their property, which impacts negatively on their livelihoods: “A fence was damaged due to the moving machinery for the project and we cannot use the land any more, as cattle now goes inside and destroys the crops.”  The grievance procedures should be an integral part of the project, and such damages should be properly assessed and local communities compensated for any damage caused.

Hydrometric station in Ambrolauri village.

Hydrometric station in Ambrolauri village.

Increased participation also helps to increase local knowledge, as well as the formation of both local and professional expertise on climate change impacts. The consideration of such local knowledge could counter any risks from pure bioengineering solutions and strengthen the project's sustainability. This could avoid poorly selected locations and ensure that maintenance activities are properly planned. For example, in a few cases in this project, the tree planting near rivers did not prove to be a sustainable solution. In some cases the planted trees were washed away by the river and in other cases they died due to lack of watering. As the project paid locals to water the trees, they stop watering as soon as the payments were stopped. This again highlights the problem of a lack of ownership and understanding by locals about why these adaptation measures matter.

Overall the project “Developing climate-resilient flood and flash flood management practices to protect vulnerable communities of Georgia” has been a success. However, wider public participation both in terms of subject experts and at a community level must be ensured, in order to increase the involvement of local communities and authorities and their sense of ownership of climate change adaptation measures. The AF should encourage project implementers to consider models of institutional knowledge development at a local level, and introduce further awareness-raising requirements both for the promotion of planned activities and in relation to potential grievances.

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Mariam Devidze, Green Alternative