• Delays, Lack of Coordination Hamper Georgia Weather Forecast and Early Warning Modernization

    The biggest climate change project in Georgia is approaching its end after six years. About $ US 27 million has been spent so far to improve weather forecasting and set up early warning systems. 

    But government ministries, agencies and local municipalities are still unable to coordinate effectively and avoid the worst damage from frequent natural disasters caused by climate change.    

    Despite two newly installed radar systems, precise weather forecasting is still a challenge in a mountainous country hit by several major natural disasters, including the Tbilisi flood of 2015 that killed at least 19 and the deaths of 33 at the popular Shovi resort in 2023. 

    The Multi-Hazard Early Warning project, being implemented by the United Nations Development Fund [UNDP], should have made Georgia better equipped and prepared for natural disasters. 

    Over the past year, several natural disasters including those in the mountain regions of Racha have cost dozens of lives of Georgians and foreign tourists.

    Search and rescue dog at Shovi disaster site in Oni Municipality, two days after debris landslide [5 |8 | 23]. The source of the debris flow was high up the south-east face of Buba Mountain, where part of the rock slope collapsed. The debris slid down the Buba glacier and reached a village 12 km downstream | photo © Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia


    In addition to the loss of human life, the natural disasters have destroyed houses, arable lands, rendered certain areas uninhabitable, and created new eco-immigrants.

    Heavy precipitation also damages the capital Tbilisi: after the rains, due to poor drainage systems and outdated equipment, streets and basements are flooded and properties are damaged.

    On June 26, a tornado the likes of which has not been seen before in Georgia erupted next to the Alaverdi monastery complex, ripped off its dome roof and damaged almost all areas of the complex, which has the status of a cultural heritage.

    Tornado in eastern Georgia | 26 | 6 | 24 | Video grab © Levan Iashvili

    Alaverdi monastery Church dome after tornado, with its roof totally removed by strong wind | Photo ©  Georgian National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation


    Biggest climate project in Georgia

    The Multi Hazard Early Warning project began on December 1, 2018. If it does not receive a no-cost extension, it will be over by the end of 2025 with few accomplishments to boast about.

    Scaling up Multi-Hazard Early Warning and the Use of Climate Information in Georgia - Budget and Timeline © UNDP Transparency Portal, screen shot 


    The Budget

    The total budget for Multi Hazard Early Warning is $US 74,334,622. It has four donors. 

                  A corrected version of the project budget © Extract from the contract 


    The biggest contributor is the Green Climate Fund [$US28,239,024]. The Green Climate Fund is a fund for climate finance that was established within the framework of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

    Others include Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation [SDC] ($US5 million); the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency [SIDA] ($US4 million), and UNDP (US $42,000). The Georgian government through the ministries of Environmental Protection and Agriculture, Internal Affairs, and Regional Development and Infrastructure, along with Tbilisi City Hall, contributed [$US38,239,024].


    Project Inefficiencies 

    Because of multiple donors and various components, it has been hard to manage the project, according to an assessment done by external experts. Each donor has a different deadline and the specific working methods. Sometimes assignments overlap. 

    One component, sponsored by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, was extended at no-cost and finished in March 2024. 

    The biggest component, supported by Green Climate Fund, also lags behind. The Green Climate Fund has already spent $US15,739,957. The project team discussed a possible no-cost extension in April but no decision has been made so far.

    External experts analyzed the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation component. A published report on April 30, 2022 includes 13 recommendations. Due to inefficiencies, backlogs and lack of coordination, a 12- to 18-month free extension was recommended and agreed to by the project team.

    The most recurring note of recommendation was more "efficiency".

    "Given the limited time, a science-based, standardized and agreed upon, multiple risk mapping assessment methodology must be developed. In order for national institutions to be able to create and implement similar maps and risk assessment methodology, specific steps should be taken," the assessment states.

    The recommendation also states that along with the creation of similar systems, appropriate framework laws and legal bases should be created that define a clear structure for risk mapping and risk assessment and data classification.

    To solve these difficult tasks, the recommendations emphasized the strengthening of institutions carrying out these tasks, and that the process of training and capacity building should be resolved quickly.

    It pointed to the need to clearly define institutional obligations so that there is no room for "shifting the blame to each other". 

    Another evaluation on Green Climate Fund project work, published on August 31, 2022, said that the project lacks clarity of action, a time-bound plan and clear deadlines.

    An excerpt from the evaluation: "A work map defined by deadlines should be created, which will facilitate the timely execution of activities provided for by the project and will be focused on results."


    Screenshot by Cactus © UNDP Transparency Portal 


    The State of Weather Forecasting in Georgia 

    Flood monitoring and meteorological observations in Georgia have a long history, dating back to the mid-19th century. The Department of Hydrometeorology [GHMD] has been and continues to be the source of hydrometeorological information, notifications and services for the public. 

    According to a World Bank report, in the 1990s the collapse of the Soviet Union hampered the provision of hydrometeorological services in Georgia, resulting in the disruption of traditional observation networks and the use of outdated and inefficient technologies [unlike the services provided by hydrometeorological agencies in Western European countries].

    According to the same report, GHMD is unable to make the best use of weather forecasts available in digital form from leading centers around the world due to outdated hardware and software. It does not have access to sufficient observations and instruments needed to make forecasts for less than six hours ahead, which are necessary for warning of torrential rains, mudslides and landslides. Its hydrological services are based on data and methodologies from the 1970s. 


    Weather Forecast After It’s Over

    On June 12, the Facebook page administrator for the Agency of Environment of Georgia [NEA] changed weather forecast data: an initial Facebook post at 17:24 PM mentioned one hazard [a hailstorm[ and one location [the capital city of Tbilisi].

    The eastern Kakheti region was not mentioned as a location where hail storms could occur. It was added about two hours later when the NEA changed the Facebook post -- after a hailstorm heavily damaged one of the agriculturally important regions of Georgia.

    Edited post about weather from the FB page of the Agency of Environment of Georgia, NEA © Screenshot by Cactus 


    “I cannot recall such a heavy hailstorm -- ice of this size passed through the villages,” posted Karlo Amirgulashvili, the head of the biodiversity department at the Ministry of Environment and Agriculture, adding photos showing hail pellets of about 3-4 centimeters. 

    Ice pellets of hailstorm from Kakheti | June 12 | 2024 | Photos © Karlo Amirgulashvili 


    Municipalities - Dazed and Confused 

    According to the information the UNDP Tbilisi office shared with Cactus, only 10 municipalities in Georgia out of 69 have Emergency Management Actions Plans in one form or another. Few are approved, some are works in progress, and some have not been started.

    Disaster site at Guria municipality, Georgia | 9/8/23 © Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia

    Few existing regional municipal emergency plans currently in force were approved only last year, some before and one after the Shovi disaster.

    UNDP Georgia helped Tbilisi City Hall prepare an emergency management plan. The document is not approved yet. Cactus expects more details on it from the mayor's office.

    "What is the role of the municipality in the chain of early warnings? We have neither the financial resources nor the professional personnel to plan it. Perhaps environmental protection should pay attention to this. I am now giving you my subjective opinion," said Paata Katamadze, head of the health protection and social protection service of Shuakhevi municipality, Ajara region.

    Katamadze said that he did not know whether there was any weather forecasting technology in Shuakhevi municipality.

    Most municipalities contacted by Cactus refused to comment or speak on the phone. All asked Cactus to write a public information letter request instead of giving an interview.

    Five out of 11 municipalities wrote to Cactus that they have not developed an evacuation plan; others did not answer this question at all.

    Some refrained from a direct answer and stated that the representatives of the municipality go to a disaster area immediately and take residents to a safe place as needed.

    "Preliminary studies have revealed that the capacity and awareness of Georgian municipalities regarding the early warning system is quite limited," states a letter received by Cactus from the Tbilisi office of UNDP. "Taking this into account, various activities are carried out within the framework of the UNDP project in order to raise the awareness of municipalities in cooperation with relevant partners and state agencies."


    Confidential Contracts 

    According to open data published on UNDP's transparency page, from February 28, 2019, to January 30, 2024, about 100 contractors were hired to execute the project Multi Hazard Early Warning. These include Georgian and non-Georgian companies and individuals. 

    Copies of the contracts are confidential according to UNDP policy, said Abdul Riza, an analyst in their New York office. He said UNDP has a disclosure policy whereby documents listed in Annex I are public or may become public upon request [unless they are already published on UNDP's transparency page].

    According to the same policy, exclusions are covered including "specific situations, sensitive information that is determined by a specific political, social and cultural situation and should be subject to confidentiality."

    "Depending on the request, the national office [UNDP Georgia] may provide you with the details of the contracts," Riza said. 

    UNDP Georgia did not share copies of the contracts with Cactus even under the conditions of disclosure of potentially "sensitive" data, such as withholding names and redaction of financial information.

    "The value of the contracts and the information related to their contents have already been made public in open sources, including the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) transparency portal: open.undp.org," was the answer received by Cactus.

    The data on contracts published on the UNDP Transparency Portal is only partial and does not reflect the full picture.


    Few Public Contractors 

    The names of individuals and a few companies are public.

    Among them are John Brant Chatterton and the Georgian consulting company "GeoGraphic LLC", as well as several commercial companies and sociological research organizations, including CRRC - a non-governmental, non-profit research center that collects, analyzes and publishes data on current events about political and social processes.

    According to the information UNDP Georgia provided to Cactus, the total value of the contracts signed with John Brant Chatterton is $US 82,850. John Brant Chatterton's contractual obligation included the preparation of 13 reports. Ten reports are ready and the remaining three are currently being prepared. The UNDP response did not specify when the remaining three reports will be completed.

    There was an inconsistency in UNDP’s answer to Cactus on John Brant Chatterton’s reports. Initially the UNDP Tbilisi office told Cactus the volume of Chatterton's reports is 56 megabytes and, if desired, they would provide it to us. But according to a second letter, the reports prepared by Chatterton are "internal working documents and are not subject to disclosure".

    Geoinformation Systems and Remote Sensing Consulting Center "Geographic" [referred to as GeoGraphic LLC on UNDP's transparency portal] has been working in Georgia since 1998. According to the UNDP Tbilisi office, the total value of the contract with GeoGraphic LLC is $US 171,400 and the contract should end in June 2024. 

    Within the framework of the project, "Geographic" was hired for the purpose of socio-economic vulnerability assessment [including data collection, database creation, algorithm writing] and preparation of risk maps for western and eastern Georgia.

    According to UNDP Georgia, "Geographic" has not finished its work yet.


    Future Sustainability of the Project 

    According to UNDP Georgia, the Ministry of Environment Protection and Agriculture is the main recipient of the climate program, and first deputy minister Nino Tandilashvili is the Georgian national program director, responsible for overall program coordination.

    Nino Tandilashvili at the 37th board meeting of Green Climate Fund, GCF which was held in Tbilisi in October 2023. Ms. Tandilashvili was elected a member of the Governing Board of GFC. She sits in the first row, second from the right  

    According to UN regulations, Tandilashvili does not receive a separate payment for performance of this specific duty.

    Cactus contacted Tandilashvili for a telephone or face-to-face interview to discuss the following issues: after the completion of the project, will the government of Georgia - all relevant ministries, agencies and municipalities - be able to maintain its sustainability, institutional strengthening and coordinated execution of complex works?

    Tandilashvili refused a face-to-face or telephone interview and asked us to send the questions by email.

    Cactus got a late answer to questions about how government money is spent and who are the contractors paid by Georgian taxpayers. According to the Ministry of Environment Protection and Agriculture, more than 100 people were hired at the Agency of Environment of Georgia and at the Environmental Information and Education Centre -- both under the umbrella of the Ministry.

    The contracts were reducted; no names or payment amounts are clear.  

    "The United Nations Development Program does not dispose of the amount allocated from the state budget and does not have information about the contracts signed within the scope of 38,249,024 USD. Co-financing is the activity of state agencies, therefore, for additional information, contact the state agencies involved in the implementation of the project," stated UNDP Georgia. 


    Small Wildfire in Tbilisi

    On June 4, 2024, a fire blazed up at the Mtatsminda slope in Tbilisi. It was extinguished in hours. Fire’s real cause is not investigated yet, but some specialists blame climate change as the average temperature rise on the planet Earth, which causes wildfires too. 

    Lifeguard extinguishes fire in Tbilisi | 4 | 07 | 2024 | Photo © Emergency Management Service of Georgia


    It was extremely arid climate and the air temperature was 38 celsius in Tbilisi that day. 




    →  The following publication was produced as part of the n-ost project Online journalism, in-depth,which is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development [BMZ]. The views expressed in these publications are those of the independent authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the BMZ.