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Environment Minister says ordinary citizens are his best allies

By Mzia Kupunia
Friday, August 14
Minister of Environment Protection and Natural Resources Goga Khachidze held an online conference and answered the questions of internet users on Thursday.

One of the first issues raised was the current condition of the forests burnt by Russian firebombs last August and the restoration activity being carried out there by the Environment Ministry. According to a press release posted on the Environment Ministry website about 1,100 hectares of forest was set on fire in Borjomi Gorge, Khaishi, Ateni and Gori in August 2008. “The fire set by the Russian occupiers can be considered the biggest forest fire in the recent history of our country,” the Ministry statement reads. In comments in further aspects of the Russian aggression, it also declared that about 50 tonnes of oil poured into the Black Sea when Georgian ships were blown up by Russian troops and about 720 tonnes of crude oil seeped into the soil in the village of Skra, in the Gori region, when a rail convoy set off Russian mines.

The Environment Minister said the burnt woodland need to be “isolated” in order to give it a chance to revive. He said that cleaning the damaged soil had already started. Khachidze noted that although scientists have assessed the damage the Russian aggression caused to the Georgian environment as being about 1 billion lari this is not an exact figure, because there is no efficient methodology for quantifying this damage. “This issue is not only about how much wood was burnt down, it is also about the ecological and microclimate changes this can cause,” Khachidze stated.

The Minister touched upon the issue of poaching in Georgia. He said that society’s approach to this needs to change. “Poachers in many cases try to blackmail environment protectors. There was a case where people told our staff that if they were not let into the wood they would join the protest rallies,” Khachidze said. He also commented on the illegal cutting down of wood in the forests, saying that in order to prevent this the Ministry needs to have much more funding and human resources. “In the current conditions, when part of the country is occupied, the Environment Ministry and its activities are not the top priority in the country and this is quite natural,” the Minister stated. “Therefore we put the focus on social action. People are our best allies,” Khachidze noted, adding that the Ministry is trying to use its funding “to maximum effect”.

One of the 20 or so questions given to the Environment Minister was not actually about the environment. One person asked Khachidze if he played any sports. Khachidze said he used to wrestle, and that he has a “purely sporting interest” in wrestling the Prime Minister of Russia, who, according to the Georgian Minister, has been showing off his skills “dressed in a kimono.” “This is not related to politics,” Khachidze said. “I am ready to wrestle him even in front of the Kremlin, on Red Square. I promise a clean victory to the Georgian people,” he added.