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Fighting forest fires in Georgia – Soviet mentality vs. international cooperation

Estonian Rescue Association shares and applies the experiences of Estonian volunteer rescuers to the partner of the Borjomi region of Georgia.

The extreme weather conditions of recent years have caused extensive forest fires in the area. The fires reduce the natural biodiversity and are a threat to the inhabitants and visitors. We help to train local rescuers and equip them with the necessary equipment. The program includes training and seminars for Georgian stakeholders on voluntary rescue activities, procurement of prevention, automatic monitoring systems, ATVs, sets of radio phones, GPS devices with cameras, and watchtowers. As a result, forest fires on the ground should be brought to an end in good time and major natural disasters should be prevented.

We talked with the project coordinator from the Georgian side – Mikheil Lomidze.

Why is this project important for Georgia and for Borjomi municipality?

This project affects Borjomi municipality quite much. Wildfires in Borjomi are a huge problem for the local people. I remember a minimum of 10 wildfires for the last ten years.

This pilot project is very innovative for us. We are going to use the new approach (community-based interest raising and modern detection technology). If this project will be successful, then it can be implemented not only in Borjomi but in the whole country.

The project will not cover the whole municipality, but part of it as a pilot.

What kind of effects from the project do you see in the future?

In the future, I think we can build something bigger using today’s projects as a base. When we see a successful outcome, we can continue because the interest is quite high. Our goal is very important not only for our organization (Borjomi Local Action Group) but also for local government and local people.

I hope that the number of people involved will rise and the project will continue on a larger scale.

Are the Borjomi communities motivated to take part in voluntary rescue and prevention?

Communities are quite motivated. Local people are very motivated volunteers. I have seen the volunteers participating in forest firefighting.

When they experience a more developed approach they will be very interested. For that result we are going to implement information campaigns, to raise awareness for preventing wildfires.

What kind of mentality local people have? What might be challenging or even an obstacle when implementing the project?

Today in Georgia in Borjomi municipality there is some soviet mentality left. I’m not talking about the young people. It means, some people still don’t have a sense of belonging, some people do not realize that the forest and the whole area – this is their home, their property.

Forest belongs to Borjomi – I was born in Borjomi, my friends are born there so we understand that we need to take care of our municipality, but there are plenty who don’t understand that.

So we need to keep talking to the local community, raise interest, motivate and show international examples.

 

„Mitigating climate change by preventing and responding to forest fires in the Borjomi region of Georgia“
Project cost: 222,000 €
Support from Estonian Environmental Investment Centre: 113,191 €
Support from the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs: 86,610 €
Project implementation time: 16.04.2020-30.04.2022