Despite laws protecting Georgia's Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park and its environs, the land's pristine beauty recently came under threat by an electricity project. It took a coordinated effort by civil society in Georgia to protect the park.
Borjomi-Kharagauli is one of Europe’s largest national parks. Its 85,000 hectares are home to beautiful vistas and an abundance of wildlife including the park’s iconic brown bear. Yet it also stood in the path of a major electricity transmission project.
In the aftermath of the 2008 war with Russia, international donors and financial institutions pledged $4.55 billion over a period of three years for the development of transport infrastructure, implementation of energy projects, and construction of houses for internally displaced persons. Missing from these pledges was a monitoring mechanism to ensure the funds were spent properly. Seeing the critical need for oversight, the Open Society Georgia Foundation proposed and supported the creation of a coalition to monitor spending. Seven nongovernmental organizations made up the coalition, Transparent Financial Aid to Georgia.
The coalition worked to convince both the government and international donors that aid funds would not be effective without public oversight and transparency. During the monitoring process, the coalition identified both strengths and weaknesses of the funded projects and revealed violations in issuing tenders, as well as in road reconstruction, and housing construction.
As part of its monitoring work, the coalition learned about the Black Sea Regional Electricity Transmission Project. The Ministry of Energy was proposing to construct a 500 kilovolts power transmission line from western Georgia to the Azerbaijani and Turkish border across the Borjomi-Kharagauli. This power line would have led to cutting trees in the park over several kilometers and devastating a national treasure, which was already damaged as a result of the war.
The coalition immediately mobilized to warn donors of the environmental issues associated with the project and was joined in its campaign by international environmental organizations. Green Alternative, a Georgian environmental NGO, developed an alternative route for the transmission line. Although the alternative was more expensive to construct it would spare the park damage. At meetings among coalition members, donors and government officials, the alternate route was presented, and donors pledged their readiness to provide additional financial resources.
In the end, the government selected the plan that would preserve the park and the European Commission provided the additional money to cover the cost of the alternative route.
The foundation’s work with a broad spectrum of Georgian civil society not only brought about a significant positive result for the park, but it also showed just how important transparency is.