Rebuilt water and sanitation systems help heal scars of conflict in Georgia
By Guy Degen
GORI, Georgia, 3 August 2009 – Tortiza Village School near Gori still bears the scars of the 2008 conflict in and around South Ossetia, Georgia. One of the main school buildings is blackened by fire and stands in ruins.
In the rest of the school, however, UNICEF and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) have installed a new water system and improved sanitation with flush toilets. The upgrades are part of the post-conflict reconstruction effort here.
The Tortiza school was closed for nearly three months last year, as education authorities waited until the buildings were safe to reopen and displaced people living in them had found alternative accommodations.
Natia Sirbiladze, 9, is one of many pupils who feel their school is much better than it was. "I’m very happy now that we have a water tap," she said. "Before, we had to go to my classmate's house to bring water. I’m also very happy that we have now the toilet."
Good hygiene for good health
Schoolchildren in Tortiza are also receiving training in good hygiene practices from the IRC – information they can share with their families at home or in centres for the displaced.
"Our awareness about various infectious diseases has increased. We also learnt what causes diarrhoea," said student Tamar Akhalkatsi, 14. Before the improvements, he added, "we didn’t have a proper toilet or water to wash our hands or to drink. Often, we had to miss classes to go to nearby houses for water."
During the conflict last summer, UNICEF played a leading role in coordinating the emergency response in the area of water, sanitation and hygiene. Together with its partners, the agency provided hygiene supplies and basic family water kits to more than 100,000 displaced people.
Providing safe water
Beyond its work at the Tortiza school, UNICEF is improving local water systems in the Gori region to prevent outbreaks of water-borne diseases.
For example, UNICEF helped the authorities in the city of Gori to obtain an excavator, which was needed to replace old water pipes as well as pipes damaged during the conflict. The water supply for Gori and surrounding communities is now regularly treated with chlorine, providing safe water for more than 50,000 residents.
Repairing older reservoirs and water pumps is also helping to provide safe drinking water in remote villages.
"It's essential, in a conflict or a natural disaster, that UNICEF and its partners ensure that every child and family has access to safe drinking water, basic sanitary conditions and the supplies needed to maintain basic family hygiene practices," said UNICEF Deputy Representative in Georgia Benjamin Perks.
Georgia is a country where water is plentiful. As people affected by the conflict rebuild their homes and lives, UNICEF will continue working to boost hygiene and sanitation – and to ensure that all communities have access to safe water supplies.