During spring this year we walked around the villages surveying the local attractions in order to create a tourist map and cultural guide service. During our tour we discovered how beautiful our valley was and the wealth of attractions it offered for tourists to see and experience, but sadly we also found there was a serious problem in all villages along the river banks where piles of waste was dumped.
This problem of neglect has grown due to the increase in population and consumption but also due to ignorance and lack of education, awareness and social consciousness. Most of the litter we found consisted of plastic and glass bottles and metal cans for alcohol and soft drinks, as well as plastic wrappers, clothes, nappies, household waste, food, glass and other materials some of which are toxic and hazardous. We felt embarrassed to see this mess on our own doorstep.
The responsibility to collect the rubbish along the river is not undertaken by the regional administration that only collects waste from the large bins situated near shops and homes along the only main road. A stony road runs parallel to the main road from Duisi along the outskirts of the villages next to the river bank and has access lanes for the refuge collection trucks to get too and from the rubbish dumps from the main road on the western side (Duisi, Jokolo, Birkiani and Dvibakhevi). The road on the eastern bank of the Alazani River (Kvemo, Shua and Zemo Khalatsani, Dumasturi and Omalo) is in good condition and refuge collection trucks operate along it.
Rubbish dumps create many problems including environmental pollution of land and water, and air when plastics are burned. More than just an eyesore the piles of rubbish left by local people can harm the children who swim and play nearby, and dangerous to grazing cows, sheep, horses and turkeys, as well as birds, fish and other wildlife and plants. The Alazani River provides drinking water and is used by animals and there are trout and other species of fish that thrive in it.
If we accept that we would not throw litter in our own homes and gardens then surely it would be irresponsible to litter our natural environment which is our home too.
The garbage problem in Pankisi and across Georgia exists because there is no efficient recycling and waste management infrastructure and lack of accountability by the state and its citizens to protect and care for our environment. Locally, we felt there was a need to educate members of the community particularly children and young people who tend to litter more and this was a good starting point. We conducted our first clean-up activity in Pankisi Valley on Sunday 23rd November 2014 in Jokolo.
We discussed the problem of waste management, environmental protection and awareness building projects to promote a clean environment with Giorgi Gobronidze from the Institute for Regional Development and Cooperation who stayed as a guest. He managed to attract a dozen students from Georgian American University to assist in this project. These young volunteers from Tbilisi joined a small group of school children from Jokolo to help us with the clean-up operation. Local people also assisted when they learned what we were doing and police officers attended and helped to transport the heavy bags of waste in their jeeps and deposit them in the large refuge bins situated on the main road. The event was also attended by journalists from different Georgian TV, radio and newspapers. It was a cold winter day and everyone was wrapped up warm.
At the start Giorgi introduced the university students to the local school children and explained the aims of the project activity and plan. The volunteers were divided into smaller groups and each group concentrated on cleaning up sections along 200 metres along the Alazani River near Jokolo. Each group was equipped with gloves, plastic bags and brooms. There was a lot of rubbish to clean up at this location and took several groups a few hours to achieve. The results were spectacular making the area a pleasure to look at and walk around.
In total a group of 25 people collected 30 large bags of rubbish in 4 hours. If each village organised this many people once a month they could also clean-up areas close to them. The exercise created a buzz around the village and many people commented it was positive but embarrassing seeing people from outside the valley coming to clean up their area. We are hopeful more people will join in future activities. Our next step is to involve the schools and Mosques to educate young people and provide opportunities to participate as volunteers in clean-up activities in their village.
This activity was good chance for local children get to know each other, make new friends and learn interesting things. After the work the school children had an opportunity to ask questions. Giorgi explained the importance of the need for everyone to protect the environment by keeping it clean of rubbish. The children were enthusiastic and said they would be happy to take part in future clean-up projects.
After the clean-up I invited the group to my guest house for refreshments and to relax before going on to meet Khaso Khangoshvili the local historian and member of council of elders in Duisi. He is also the curator of the Ethnographic Museum located in Duisi. The group then met Makvala Margoshvili, the renowned leader of Pankisi’s female Sufi ensemble ‘’Daimokhk’’ before returning to Tbilisi.
I would like to say special thanks to all the volunteers, Giorgi Gobronidze and his organization and students from my university, Jokolo school children and community members, as well as the police, who were involved in clean up.
We welcome new volunteers next year in Spring 2015 so please join in.
Nazy's Guest House
Republic of Georgia