Fortunately, we have no casualties in Itkhvisi. At the end of March, when the landslide started and cracks appeared in the village, families living in the Megrelishvili and Gogatishvili districts took refuge with relatives. During the day they would return to the village and watch their houses, after years of construction and improvement, swallowed by land. In two or three days, Giorgi Megrelishvili's two-storey house was completely demolished and buried, 6 houses were demolished, up to 20 homes were tilted. The plots where the crops were grown were cut off from each other, collapsed, and the wire fences hung in the air. It is cracked everywhere - the depth is more than 12-15 meters. It deepens every day and digs this part of the village into the ground.
Chiatura City Hall rented out 26 families and housed them in buildings in the city. Those who have cattle and save themselves by this, return to Itkhvisi every morning, take care of the cattle and arrive in a rented apartment in Chiatura again late in the evening. They pay 3 GEL for each trip. It is no longer possible to live in this area of Itkhvisi, it is dangerous, but if it does not rain, sometimes they still dare to stay overnight, still in a surviving storeroom or in an empty house next door. They do not know how long it will last.
Why is it essential to find out what caused the processes in Itkhvisi? According to the Mayor of Chiatura Municipality, Givi Modebadze, the Ministry of Social Protection has been entrusted with taking care of the resettlement of the affected families: The mayor did not mention the activities of the company "Georgian Manganese", which may be the main cause of the disaster in Itkhvisi.
If families are resettled due to geological processes such as landslides, avalanches, landslides, rockfalls, mudslides, riverbanks, etc., Internally Displaced Persons, Ecomigrants and Livelihood Agency should buy houses for them. This issue is regulated by the 779th Order of the Minister of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees of Georgia of November 13, 2013.
According to the document, the decision on the resettlement of eco-migrant families is made by a special commission. In case of a positive decision, the family is given one month to select the house to buy and submit the information to the agency. The agency pays a maximum of 30 thousand GEL for house. The rest must be covered by the buyer himself.
If the evidence, for example, a geological or other expert report, confirms that they were harmed by the activities of "Georgian Manganese" in Itkhvisi, then the victim has the right to seek full compensation for the damage to the company and, in case of refusal, to sue. The houses that have already been completely demolished in Itkhvisi and the ones that are being demolished now, with the exception of two or three houses, cost much more than 30 thousand GEL. In addition to houses, the victims have been or remain without plots of land, orchards and are forced to change their place of residence.
What is written in the report?
The geologists of the National Environment Agency, Maisuradze, Dogozashvili and Chotashvili, visited Itkhvisi on March 31 and April 1 to study the extremely complicated processes.
"Mtis Ambebi" requested a written geological report from the Ministry of Environment and Agriculture, as well as the National Environment Agency, on April 14. The document was concealed from us by both agencies.
We still obtained the report. The suspicion that the state might try to evade responsibility for "Georgian Manganese" was justified.
"This report is prepared on the basis of visual field research, as well as stock historical materials and generalization of expert knowledge. The following was found:
The study area is located on the Imereti Plateau, divided by small wetlands and dry ravines. An arched, ancient landslide body with various shapes and landslide areas is formed.
In March 2022, in the village of Itkhvisi, on the upper side of the central road of the village, landslides intensified and in one of the areas a rocky collapse occurred, where a 12-15 meter high crack formed, near which a two-storey, capital house belonging to Giorgi Megrelishvili completely collapsed. Landslide processes are currently in active dynamics, resulting in a wholly deformed and collapsed homes.
The reasons for the challenging situation in the Gogatishvili and Megrelishvili districts are probably the following:
- Underground mining in the study area, presumably in the 1970s and 1980s of the last century, and in the later stages the process of permanent sloping of the ceiling in the mines and canopies, which has recently been reflected in the relief in the form of separate rock collapses and various deformations.
- Complex geological conditions of the study area, beneficial species, their high degree of depletion and erosion.
- Abundant atmospheric precipitation in recent months;
- Recent seismic tremors in the region - earthquakes.
Here we would like to note that this conclusion is mainly based on visual research. Consequently, the conducted research is not enough to get a complete picture and we consider it necessary to set up an inter-agency commission, which will be composed of specialists in the relevant field - miner, geologist, marker, geophysicist, constructor, etc. The commission will be able to thoroughly assess the causes of the process, as well as, most importantly, the degree of deformation of the citizens living in the Gogatishvili and Megrelishvili districts, about 90 households and houses, in order to determine their risk. The National Environment Agency is ready to appoint a representative within its competence to participate in the monitoring group periodically, as well as to work in the interagency commission," said Otar Kurtsikidze, Deputy Head of the Geology Department.
The initial report of the state agency repeats the content of the statement issued by "Georgian Manganese" on March 31: "Geological processes in Itkhvisi developed in the 2000s. It is for safety reasons that the company has not carried out any ore mining operations at all. "These problems may be caused by mineral extraction in the old 80s and 90s, accompanied by other geological processes, which is the subject of additional study."
In the same statement, "Georgian Manganese" emphasizes that "the company is in active communication with all relevant authorities in selecting the form and type of assistance. "Georgian Manganese" always acts within the framework of a strong corporate social responsibility policy and supports the local population and the municipality in solving social problems."
Facts that make the geological conclusion questionable
In Itkhvisi, the last house that fell on the side of the road belonged to 72-year-old Inver Makhatadze. The old man has 50 years of experience working in the mine. He retired 7 years ago. His son, 40-year-old Giorgi Makhatadze also works in the mine. Both are convinced that the cause of Itkhvisi's trouble is manganese mining.
"The mine runs under this village. Who knows that better than me? I was working inside. I was a tunnel driver. What the communists left behind, we call the feet on which the village stood and should not have fallen, they also removed them and how long would that emptiness stop?
"The village was destroyed," - Inveri Makhatadze confirmed the information we found that "Georgian Manganese" paid compensation to their family twice in previous years.
There is a plot of land about 300-400 meters from the Makhatadzes' house, where small cracks appeared in several places 14 years ago: "Me and my son worked there and they could not deceive us. In 2009, when the plot was damaged, they stood up and compensated us with 1.5 GEL per square meter. We still used to grow corn. "Everyone who lives here knows that there is a mine under the village and houses would crack periodically, but we did not expect such a disaster."
In 2019, the Makhatadzes' house started to crack. He stood closest to the mountain that split in half and fell halfway to the ground. "Georgian Manganese" paid a small compensation to the family even then.
Imeda Makhatadze is also mentioned. He works explosively in "Georgian Manganese". Behind the video camera, he also confirms that the demolition of Itkhvisi is the result of the work of the mine: Those units are now logged in and removed completely. Those villages were standing on those feet, they were released for the first time in 2013-2014. "
"Georgian Manganese" has been operating in Chiatura since 2007 - it is the largest mining company in Georgia. In Chiatura and Sachkhere municipalities, it holds a 40-year license to extract subsoil on 16,430 hectares. Georgian Manganese and its contractors are "invading" directly into residential areas. Yards of houses, plots of land, part of the forest, roads have been dug - everything where manganese is suggested. Due to the estimated damage of 416 million GEL, which the company caused to the environment until 2017, the state introduced a special manager in "Georgian Manganese". Although he could not solve the problems, moreover, the situation worsened in many directions, in 2020 the three-year term was extended for another year.
One can barely find a family in Itkhsvisi whose at least one member does not work in a mine. Mines are their primary source of income. According to the March 2022 data of the Social Service Agency, more than a third of the population in Chiatura district, 35.5% (14,141 people) receive a subsistence allowance for the poor. Severe social conditions and mine dependence are also one of the main reasons for hair loss. It also prevents critical comments from government officials. They expect what the state will do for them.
In early April, Zaal Gorgidze, the head of the Kutaisi office of the Young Lawyers' Association, arrived in the village. The affected families went door-to-door and left contacts if they decided they needed help. No one applied to a lawyer. There is no evidence that Itkhvisi's trouble is related to the activities of "Georgian Manganese", nor is anyone conducting an alternative examination; meanwhile, government agencies are documenting using dubious and erroneous materials.
On what basis does the National Environment Agency state in its geological report that the geodynamic processes in Itkhvisi have been exacerbated by recent earthquakes in the region? The report does not specify what data was used. We applied to the agency, but could not get an explanation. We clarified with the director of the National Center for Seismic Monitoring, Tea Godoladze, that the National Environment Agency did not ask them for information about earthquakes in the Imereti region. According to the director of the center, there has not been an earthquake of such magnitude in Imereti recently that could have caused such processes in Itkhvisi.
Following the publication of the article, on April 19, the National Environment Agency, in response to an April 14 letter to "Mtis Ambebi", informed that the agency's team of geologists had studied the situation in the village of Itkhvisi. Preliminary assessment of geodynamic processes was prepared by specialists, on the basis of which a corresponding conclusion was drawn up. The document was sent to Chiatura Municipality and other state agencies for further response. As for the detailed (in-depth) assessment, an inter-agency commission will be set up in connection with the current situation, which will be staffed by specialists in the relevant field. A detailed study of the area will be carried out, as a result of which the final report of the commission will be prepared.
Although Mountain News requested an initial geological report from the agency, the agency did not provide the document. "Mountain News" addresses another administrative complaint to the Minister of Environment and Agriculture regarding the blocking of public information.