The 5-day war between Georgia and Russia in August 2008 resulted in significant contamination from cluster munitions and other ordnance, to the north of the Georgian town of Gori. Hundreds died and around 150,000 civilians were displaced.
Shida Kartli, one of the country's most productive agricultural areas, was the most affected region. Thousands of people were displaced or unable to farm safely, leaving them without homes and in poverty. There are also areas outside Georgia's conflict zones which are in civilian use where mines and UXO continue to cause casualties, including former military bases, border minefields and former military training areas.
In the year after the war, HALO's 300 staff cleared more than 1,700 hazardous items from 3,400 hectares of land. By the end of 2009 Shida Kartli had been successfully cleared, allowing internally displaced people to return to their homes and begin farming again. Since 2009 we have also cleared land close to the administrative boundary with the breakaway region of South Ossetia, an area previously unused by farmers due to security concerns.
Between 2010 and 2014 HALO cleared the minefields from around four former Soviet military bases which were being used for a variety of purposes by the local people. This clearance was particularly challenging as the sites were full of military rubbish and armoured machinery was necessary to remove and process large amounts of soil containing landmines.
Since 2014 we have been clearing a former Soviet firing range around the sixth-century monasteries of loane Natlismcemeli and David Gareji, which thousands of tourists visit annually.
There are still some mined areas in Georgia, but the problem is clearly defined. The next step is clearance of the Chognari minefield, which is part of a former Soviet military base in Imereti region. We remain grateful to our dedicated donors, the Government of Japan and the United States of America, who continue to support our work.
Abkhazia was contaminated with mines during the 1992-1993 war precipitated by the collapse of the Soviet Union. After 14 years of HALO mine clearance, the region was declared mine free in November 2011. An area of more than 3,700 acres (1,500 hectares) was cleared, with 9,788 mines and 48,998 items of UXO (unexploded ordnance) found and destroyed.
Although Abkhazia is mine free, ordnance continues to be a problem. Ordnance from the war is routinely found during farming, construction and other daily activities. In addition, many individuals hold ordnance in their homes as a legacy of the war. Over time they have grown to understand the ongoing danger this poses and people are increasingly asking to hand in ordnance but they need a process they can trust and it needs to be disposed of carefully.
HALO's mission in Abkhazia is to ensure that the population is safe by promptly disposing of any mines, bombs and ordnance that are found or that need to be safely destroyed. Between July 2013 and June 2015 we responded to 556 callouts and destroyed, 1,134 explosive items. In the same period, we destroyed 2,534 explosive items from stockpiles. HALO also oversees the Abkhazia Mine Action Office, which maintains detailed reports and maps of clearance operations - an important resource for anyone developing rural land.
HALO has expanded its mission to facilitate post-conflict development by rehabilitating damaged rural road infrastructure. Collapsed bridges and culverts and eroded roads are cutting people off from their land, schools, critical services and markets. We have rehabilitated or rebuilt 23 critical items of infrastructure such as bridges, culverts and flood-protective dams, improving the lives of thousands of inhabitants.
HALO is grateful for support from donors including the PM/WRA, the United Kingdom’s Conflict Security and Stability Fund, USAID and the European Union. However, much rural infrastructure is still in dire need of rehabilitation and the destruction of stockpiles or ordnance remains a high priority. HALO is currently the only organisation in a position to conduct the latter work and make Abkhazia safer, but more donor support is required to do so.