By Natia Kuprashvili / Environment News Service
The Georgian authorities are promising that 15 new hydroelectric power stations will create thousands of jobs and improve energy provision, but environmentalists and residents of the villages to be flooded have voiced strong objections.
At least 20 villages are expected to be submerged by the reservoirs created by new dams in almost all regions of Georgia. Construction work will begin later this year.
Officials argue that the hydroelectric schemes will make Georgia a leading regional energy exporter as well as meeting its own needs.
President Mikheil Saakashvili has said the projects will also generate 13,000 jobs.
But opponents of the dams say they will take a heavy toll on local communities, and claim the government’s impact assessment for the project was flawed.
For the last two months, television stations have been carrying adverts arguing the case for hydroelectricity with clips of life in the 1990s, when frequent power cuts plunged Georgia into darkness, and people huddled around fires on the streets.
Opponents of the plan, mostly ethnographers and environmentalists, counter that the dams will in fact damage Georgia’s past by flooding ancient buildings, wiping out endangered species and generally harming the environment.
Prime Minister Nikoloz Gilauri has thrown his weight behind the campaign, telling a Turkish-Georgian energy conference on January 20 that the project would benefit Georgia and its neighbors.
“I believe that the construction of all these hydro-stations will bring profit to investors, to our country, to Turkey, and to various countries. You could say that whereas before, we were the least successful country [in energy terms], now we are the most successful,” he said.
Gilauri said around 40 contracts for the construction work had already been signed, mostly with Turkish businesses, he added.
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