Location: Borjomi region
Project value: 45 888 PLN
Donor: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland
Centre for Biodiversity Conservation & Research (NACRES)
Samtskhe-Javakheti Media Center (SJMC)
Over 38% of Georgian territory is covered by forest and large-scale forest fires are among the most common natural disasters. They destroy not only the natural habitats, but also pose a threat to local communities.
According to the National Forestry Agency, during the last decade there were 300 forest fires, which affected an area of ca. 4200 hectares. 2017 was the most tragic year so far: only in August there were 30 forest fires, out of which the largest one, lasting 20 days, broke out in the Borjomi National Park.
Borjomi municipality is an area that is particularly prone to extensive forest fires during the tourist season, most of which are caused by human negligence, e.g. not extinguishing bonfires, throwing out cigarette butts, trash, etc. Although unprepared, local residents often spontaneously join the fire fighters in an attempt to help suppress the fire. During the 2017 fire ca. 1,500 people were directly engaged in the firefighting effort (including foresters, local residents, park wardens, etc.).
The project by Solidarity Fund PL is a direct answer to the existing local needs. Using the commitment of local communities, a group of volunteers is being assembled, whose tasks include a range of preventative actions, which is accompanied by a large-scale media campaign. Through a system of training courses the volunteers are also gaining knowledge and awareness in regards to emergency response systems, enabling them to offer valuable support to local fire service. The assembly of the group of volunteers is a first step towards the creation of a firefighting actions system based on the resources of local communities; a system that draws on the experience of Polish Voluntary Fire Service.
The main objective of the project is to reduce the risk of forest fires in the Borjomi municipality through the creation of a group of volunteers ready to take preventative firefighting actions.
As a part of the project, a group of 20 volunteers was created, comprising National Park workers (4 persons), foresters of the State Forests (3 persons), firefighters (3 persons), a representative of the City Hall, and local residents committed to participate in preventive actions. The volunteers underwent training on fire prevention and learnt about forest fires, the statistics in regards to fires, as well as the practical aspects of functioning of fire and rescue services. An important component of the training was the introduction to the response system, and practical exercises on planning and communication between various institutions and persons in crisis situations. During the training, owing to the presence of a Polish expert — an OSP firefighter, trainer and an expert in Crisis Response System — the volunteers have learnt about the Polish model of functioning of the Voluntary Fire Service, which inspired them to create similar groups in Georgia.
Information and prevention campaign was a vital part of the project. Information boards were placed at 13 picnic sites in the Park, informing about the causes of fires and about responding to emergency situations. Additionally, the volunteers socially undertook a series of awareness raising activities among local youth and other inhabitants dedicated to the issues of fire hazards. In the three most threatened villages near Borjomi (Tsagveri, Kvibisi and Sakire) meetings with local residents were organised, accompanied by circulation of posters and leaflets, and an educational meeting: an open-air class for the youth at the most popular local retreat (the so-called “Plato”).
The local Borjomi TV channel launched a broad media campaign dedicated to the causes of fires: specially designed preventive videos were aired, as well as talk shows with the representatives of local institutions, and a short documentary on the experiences of Polish Voluntary Fire Service.
The project partners, i.e. the NACRES organisation and the Samtskhe-Javakheti Media Center, along with a Polish expert and a representative of the Solidarity Fund PL in Georgia held a series of local and central level meetings to promote the idea of voluntary prevention groups and to inspire cooperation between various institutions related to forestry.
The activities of the project created a platform for synergistic actions of various institutions, i.e. the workers of the Agency of Protected Areas, the National Forest Agency, the local department of Emergency Management Service of Georgia, and the authorities of Borjomi, who all have declared their commitment to support the group that is being created.
The steps taken within the framework of the project are highly significant, as they are aligned with the nationwide actions, i.e. the plan to create a central system of voluntary groups for supporting the national fire service in 2019. At the time the project was being closed, specific plans of the national programme were already laid down (i.a. a training system plan, division into voluntary and semi-professional groups, introduction of firefighting specialisation into the obligatory military service, etc.). In the light of all these activities, the initiative in Borjomi has the chance to set an example for a nationwide, systemic change, and the experience of Polish Voluntary Fire Service may become a model for a similar institution that is to be created in Georgia.
The Project was co-financed by the Polish development cooperation programme of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland.