Georgians demand action to save their homes from oil pipeline. Official complaint to IFC reveals shocking BTC negligence

Residents of Rustavi, Georgia’s third city, have today submitted an official complaint to the International Finance Corporation (IFC) concerning the potentially disastrous construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline only 250 metres from a settlement of high-rise buildings.[1]The residents are taking this step following a prolonged period of uncertainty for them and their homes, a lack of information and response from officials in Georgia and violent intimidation from the regional police force.

In November 2003, the IFC, the World Bank’s private lending arm, agreed to provide a USD 250 million loan to the controversial BP-led BTC project. The residents’ complaint alleges that World Bank Group policies and procedures have not been complied with on four counts. [2]

In January this year, people in Rustavi learned for the first time exactly how close the pipeline would come to their homes when heavy construction equipment and pipeline workers arrived without warning. There was no mention of such proximity (180-250 metres) in the available project documentation and maps. The BTC Company (BTC Co) indicates in its project literature that there should be a 500 metre ‘security zone’ around the pipeline. It turns out that the pipeline will run along the nearby Mtkvari river bank, a high level erosion zone, with potentially destructive impacts on the most affected homes and the 700 families living there.

Since learning of their plight, the Rustavi residents have sent letters to and attempted to engage in dialogue with all the relevant parties – the mayor of Rustavi, local representatives from BTC Co. and the IFC – and have also taken their case to the Georgian parliament. Their appeals have been either ignored or dismissed on the grounds that the pipeline will comply with the highest western standards.

Merabi Vacheishvili, one of the residents named in the complaint, said, “We are told to shut up, stop wasting the company’s time and trust the high standards of the project promoters. Yet local people have been kept completely in the dark about this pipeline. How can we start trusting now?”

Frustrated by officialdom, last month 400 residents took part in a demonstration that interrupted the pipeline construction for one hour. The demonstration, consisting mainly of women and children, was violently broken up by the police. A police representative declared that the orders had come directly from the government.

Eleonora Digmelashvili, another resident, commented, “We have applied to the IFC Ombudsman as a last resort. There needs to be an independent expert analysis of BTC impacts on our homes as well as strong guarantees for our and our children’s security. If there are no such guarantees then the pipeline route must be changed or we should be resettled.”