EMC calls on the Georgian government to suspend its aggressive policy of maximizing the exploitation of water resources and not to use the current crisis to accelerate the adoption of the policy.

Unfortunately, in light of the coronavirus crisis, the state still prioritizes the construction and deployment of large hydropower plants projects, which is critically evaluated by the experts in terms of economic, legal, environmental and human rights violations. The accelerated issuance of the environmental permit for the Oni Cascade project on March 17, 2020, without proper public consideration, as well as the statement made by the Prime Minister on the importance of Nenskra, Khudoni and Namakhvani projects for the economic development of the country, further proves the high political priority of the issue.

According to the Ministry of Economy, as of February 2019, about 200 memorandums of understanding have been signed with investors, and construction works on over 120 hydropower plants are underway; however, the state still does not have either an overall energy security strategy or a national hydropower development plan, which would articulate the vision and relevant standards for the development of the country's water resources. Due to this, all attempts to exploit hydrological resources are fragmented and have not been researched in the context of the country’s unified energy needs.

The World Bank's 2018 study, which examined the economic consequences of planned hydropower projects, confirms the problematic nature of the current state policy regarding Georgia’s water resources. The research examined the economic outcomes of the planed projects, and concluded that in several major investment projects, which include Nenskra and Namakhvani HPPs, guaranteed procurement contracts fail to provide optimal power supply at minimal cost and create excessive fiscal and tariff burden.

It should be noted that access to even the most basic public information regarding the hydropower plants poses a significant obstacle. Most of the agreements with investors are granted the status of commercial secrets, therefore, the public does not have access to them and they are left beyond the public control. Only fragments of the content of these agreements, which gets leaked to the media, becomes available to the public. The secretive nature of these documents raise legitimate questions in the public regarding the rationale of the agreement and risks of arbitrary decisions and corruption.

Furthermore, from January 1, 2018, based on the Environmental Assessment Code within the country, the procedure of screening and scoping has been defined as a necessary step to obtain an environmental permit. This regulation, in accordance with the EU directives, on the one hand, serves to place the activities subject to environmental assessment in a strict legislative framework and to fully process the aspects to be examined for the preparation of EIA reports, and on the other hand, to involve the public and stakeholders in the decision-making process. Despite clear legislative regulations, screening and scoping procedures, due to their arbitrariness, remain only as formal procedures. The environmental decision issued for Namakhvani HPP is a clear illustration of the formality of the process. Instead of ensuring the involvement of the public stakeholders, a public hearing on the project was held in the Tskaltubo Municipality City Hall, almost 50 km away from the project site, where relevant and critical questions from the public remained largely unanswered. Moreover, on February 28, 2020, the Ministry issued a positive environmental decision, despite the fact that the Namakhvani HPP developer did not carry out the mandatory scoping surveys of the Namakhvani HPP. This example clearly emphasizes the formal nature of the mandatory procedure and highlights the problem of proper enforcement of laws.

In turn, the primary purpose of the Environmental Impact Assessment Report is to assess the impact of the planned activities on human life and health. Any operator is obliged to fully and comprehensively examine the possible impact of the activity on the rights of the local population, including the impact on both environmental and economic benefits or harm. The degree of impact, its mitigation or remediation measures should be assessed and a complete picture of the local context should be presented in the report. The state should make its final decision only after careful analysis of the provided information. Although the Environmental Assessment Code establishes important criteria and standards for issuing environmental permits, practice shows that both developers and the state often ignore these standards.

Environmental impact assessments for the construction of HPPs are characterized with significant shortcomings. Reports superficially assess the impact of their projects on the fundamental rights of the local population and lack appropriate mitigation and social security measures. For example, large-scale projects such as Nenskra HPP and Khudoni HPP have a significant impact on the right of local residents to use public resources. In the light of the fact that the EIA reports themselves acknowledge the intensive use of forest and land resources by the local population in the project area, and when access to these resources is temporarily or, in many cases, permanently lost by the local population, the loss of access in the reports is assessed as “insignificant”. Consequently, appropriate mitigation measures for negative impacts are not provided. There is also no proper assessment of traditional ownership forms, community plots and impacts on forests.

It is also common for the state and companies to restrict fair protests by locals through various mechanisms. For example, illegal dismissal of three anti-construction activists of hydropower plants in Svaneti by official authorities in Mestia Municipality, most likely due to their confrontation with the hydropower plants. If one of the state's priorities in terms of economic development at the post-crisis stage is the development of water resources, the risk of harassment and pressuring of locals, dissatisfied with the construction of hydropower plants and hydropower plants, will increase.

Georgia’s water resources and the civilians effected by the infrastructural projects become particularly vulnerable in the face of opaque practices, lack of public involvement, disregard for national legislation and international standards, and a lack of a strategic energy development plan.

Today, in the context of the crisis related to the spread of the new coronavirus, when the government is under fiscal pressure, there is a growing risk that it will use natural resources, through policies of privatization and aggressive development, for short-term stimulation of the economy. Therefore, considering the circumstances, it is especially important to keep in mind that the country's natural resources should be managed according to the principles of long-term sustainability, social justice and universal well-being. It is inadmissible to question the long-term stability and self-sufficiency of the natural environment and resources for short-term fiscal stimulus.

In view of all the above, we call on the Government of Georgia and the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia to:

  • Not exploit the existing crisis to force the deficient policy of maximum utilization of hydroelectric resources;

Furthermore to:

  • Develop a systematic approach and strategy for the development of renewable energy, including hydropower;
  • Eliminate faulty and opaque practices of HPP construction planning and pre-agreements with companies;
  • Ensure proper involvement of the population affected by HPP construction projects and other stakeholders in the decision-making process;
  • Ensure the protection of the rights of the population affected by the HPP projects.

Footnote and Bibliography

[1]https://emc.org.ge/ka/products/hesebis-mshenebloba-svanetshi-da-misi-zegavlena-adamianis-uflebebze

[2] https://1tv.ge/news/giorgi-gakharia-yvela-biznesmens-visac-sheudzlia-sheqmnas-adgilobrivi-warmoeba-titoeuls-me-da-mtavroba-daudgeba-gverdshi/

[3] https://emc.org.ge/ka/products/gantskhadeba-namakhvanis-hesebis-kaskadis-proektis-garemoze-zemokmedebis-shefasebis-angarishis-sajaro-gankhilvis-kanondarghvevebit-chatarebis-shesakheb

[4] გარემოსდაცვითი შეფასების კოდექსი, მუხლი 2, ნაწილი პირველი, „ა“ ქვეპუნქტი

[5] გარემოსდაცვითი შეფასების კოდექსი, მუხლი 2, ნაწილი პირველი, „დ“ ქვეპუნქტი

[6] https://emc.org.ge/ka/products/emc-m-saghlianis-sakme-saapelatsio-sasamartloshits-moigo