Donor countries and international financial institutions pledged USD 4.55 billion to help Georgia in post-war recovery following the August 2008 war with Russia. A major part of these funds was earmarked for infrastructure and energy projects. Vaziani-Gombori-Telavi Road Rehabilitation Project was one of those projects, which the Georgian Government submitted for donor funding. According to the Georgian Finance Ministry, it was decided to take a USD 60 million loan from the World Bank to implement the project.
In July 2009 the Georgian Roads Department published Vaziani-Gombori-Telavi Road Rehabilitation Project’s draft Environmental and Social Impact Assessment report and announced about the launching the public hearings. According to the project, the road was starting at the Vaziani settlement, running through the villages of Ujarma, Paldo, Otaraant Kari, Sasadilo, Gombori, Kobadze and Tetrtsklebi and ending in the city of Telavi. At a 45 kilometer it was crossing the Gombori Pass at a height of 1620m. The entire length of the road was 66 kilometer. The width of the road corridor was 20 meter, while the road bed – 10.5 meter. The project envisaged the construction of four new bridges with a total length of 348 meter. According to the World Bank project categorization system, the project was granted category A (significant environmental and social impact).
Significant social and environmental impacts would be unavoidable in case of the project implementation in its proposed form. In particular, road widening would require involuntary resettlement of several families living near the roadside. At the same time, the compensations offered due to resettlement were extremely scarce and unfair. Furthermore, road widening would also trigger the destruction of a part of forests and other ecosystems, as well as agricultural plots. The proposed project envisaged replacement of the asphalted road by concrete cover that would require extraction of a great amount of inert materials from the river beds.
Green Alternative studied the project documentation, conducted field visits and studied the project compliance with the World Bank requirements. It was revealed in the process of monitoring that the project was prepared with serious procedural violations (the procedures set for the World Bank’s category A projects are meant). Neither was the need of implementing the project in its proposed form justified (road widening, construction of four new bridges, use of concrete technologies).
The project-affected communities had extremely scarce information about the project. They learnt from the representatives of Green Alternative that they had an opportunity to submit their opinions concerning the project. The representatives of Green Alternative met with local population numerously and explained about their rights and the means of protection of these rights. After these meetings locals expressed their willingness to participate in public hearings; although the representatives of local government tried to exert pressure, a part of the local population expressed their opinions and attitude towards the project in written and submitted it in a form of a joint statement to the Georgian Roads Department. Green Alternative submitted a copy of the statement to the World Bank representatives.
Simultaneously, Green Alternative submitted its own project-related comments to the Roads Department and the World Bank. A series of meetings were held with the representatives of the Roads Department and the World Bank.
Green Alternative had the following position: the project would be acceptable only in case if the road would not be widened on the sections running through the villages. This solution had the following positive sides: involuntary resettlement of the rural communities would be avoided; the need and respectively the amount of compensations would be reduced; the scale of environmental impacts and the volume of eco-compensations would be reduced too. As a whole, the project cost would decrease and road safety would increase on rural sections. It should also be taken into consideration that Vaziani-Gombori-Telavi road passes through geologically very sensitive Gombori Pass, which falls under extremely high risk of geological disasters. Because of difficult character and depth of landslides, surface stabilization is actually impossible there. Thus, the wide road constructed through using expensive technologies would be damaged shortly after its construction because of landslides. In the opinion of Green Alternative, it would be expedient to rehabilitate the road by using the simplest technologies to ensure that annual repairs, which would be unavoidable, cost inexpensive.
The World Bank shared the position expressed by Green Alternative and local population. As a result, the Bank refused to finance the project in its proposed form. The Georgian Roads Department withdrew its project documentation submitted to the Service of Permits and Licenses of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources for obtaining a permit. Later, the Department prepared essentially a new project, under which the road was rehabilitated without widening, through using asphalt technology.
As a result of advocacy campaign, involuntary resettlement of the rural communities was avoided, while the construction had a minimal impact on forest ecosystem. By decision of the World Bank, the amount of a loan for the project was reduced twice compared to the government’s proposal and constituted USD 30 million. The quality of the project-related public hearings has to some extent improved.
Thus, duly unveiling of project shortcomings and discrepancies, goal-oriented lobbying and active involvement of the population brought tangible results in terms of improving the project’s environmental and social aspects and increasing its cost efficiency.