As spring approaches, villagers in Chuberi, a mountain hamlet in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, hope that the harsh winter does not end. For once the snow melts, construction on the nearby Nenskra dam will resume, irreversibly altering the secluded community’s way of life.
They are the latest group to fall victim to something of a hydro-boom in Georgia. This small nation of 4.4 million has recently awarded more than 100 concessions for new hydro projects. With an output of 280 megawatts, the Nenskra hydropower plant is the jewel in the crown. At a cost of $1 billion, it is set to become the largest and most expensive hydroelectric endeavour since independence in 1991.
A joint venture between the state and a Korean utility, Nenskra has drawn interest from multilateral donors such as the European Investment Bank and London-based lender, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
Chuberi and the surrounding Caucasus mountains are rich in biodiversity and water resouces, and 35 hydropower plants are already at various stages of development in this region, which is roughly one-and-a-half times the size of Luxembourg.
The Georgian government is doggedly pushing the projects forward with one clear goal in mind: to generate enough power to meet high domestic demand in winter months, and export the rest to Turkey and the EU.
Malina Gerliani, a 47-year-old Chuberi resident, has watched with anxiety as the bulldozers enter the village. After losing her home during the conflict with Russia over Abkhazia in 2008, Malina faces displacement once again – her house and the surrounding fields are slated to give way to hydro-plant facilities. She says she has been kept in the dark about the planned resettlement. ‘They come, take pictures, never ask us what we think,’ she says. ‘They have no documents to show us. Sometimes they come without translators so we do not understand them.’
The villagers of Chuberi belong to the Svan indigenous group, who maintain their own language and traditional customs. Chuberi’s 300 households subsist on grazing animals and practise forestry on communally owned lands – both of which will be limited by the dam’s reservoir, and no compensation is in sight.
From an economic perspective, there is little in the Nenskra dam project for the local Svan community. For many like Malina, the short-term construction jobs promised by the company are not enough to counter the risks of landslides, flooding and the loss of the Svan way of life.
Without a sustainable hydropower strategy in place, the situation for Malina and others will only become more precarious.