Rezo and Lia moved from Tetritskaro to Akhal Samgori in 1956 - in fact, they were moved. “Up (in Tetritskaro) there were no roads, there was nothing. When we were young we thought that everything would be fine in a new village.”
In the 1950s, living conditions in Tetritskaro were dire, there was not a proper road leading to this mountain hamlet and others up on the cliffs in the region of Kvemo Kartli, in southern Georgia. The then-Soviet authorities decided then to move the population down to the plains, into a new village - Akhal Samgori. For people like Rezo and Lia, it was a new beginning.
“Everything worked, vine growing, gardening, cattle-breeding, dairying, market-gardening everything was fine back then,” recalls Rezo who worked as a taxi driver for most of his 75 years of age. “No one complained. [Then everything changed] and slowly ruined.”
As the Soviet Union broke down, so did Akhali Samgori. The 1,850 residents lack access to safe drinking water and most of them drink and cook with bottled water - at least those who can afford it. Then, there is the smell - the prickly, acrid, stinging odour that lingers in the air.
In 2011 an area approximately three kilometres away from the village was turned into a waste disposal facility and since then walking, playing, hanging out outside has become nasty. There is no proper fence around it.
“The site polluted the village,” explains Lia, 76, a retired civil servant whose house is further away from the site. “When the wind blows the smell reaches and surrounds [it]. There should be a pit and a high fence, so that it could hold the waste when it’s windy. The fence is symbolic, it just prevents the cattle from venturing into it.”
However a tall fence can’t do anything against the smell. The villagers’ repeated pleas to move the landfill further away fell onto the deaf ears - politicians would dispense promises ahead of elections only to disappear after the vote.
Since 2016 the facility is managed by the Solid Waste Management Company of Georgia, a 100% state-owned company established in 2012 to handle “solid waste management actions with respect to landfills in Georgia, excluding the City of Tbilisi and the Adjara autonomous region.”
Since then, the situation has slightly improved - a line of trees was planted around the landfill to create the protective layer in a few years. and in early 2017 the new facility management created an ad-hoc cleaning task force to remove the waste from the village, including from the local cemetery where gravestones were covered from plastic brought by the wind.
According to Levan Aptsiauri, a representative of the municipality, works have begun to install a windbreak line and a drainage netting on the landfills. He claims that the tank supplying water to the village is clean and not at all affected by the landfill.
As villagers feel they are getting “poisoned”, additional research is needed to assess whether the site poses a public health threat. For Tbilisi-based doctor Marina Sabashvili “it all depends on the type of waste disposed at the facility and what kind of bacteria could move in the air,” especially on windy days.
Environmental organizations maintain that Georgia is falling short of the requirements set by the European Union in the Association Agreement that the government signed in June 2014 - and not enough is done in terms of the whole chain of the waste management.
“Waste should be separated at the source, it should not arrive at the landfill unseparated, this is how it is done mostly in the world,” states Nino Chxibadze, chairwoman of the Green Movement of Georgia/Friends of the Earth.
Either way, villagers ask for solutions. Valeri, 48, lives in part of the village closest to the facility.
“The smell… “We are all affected, but children and the elderly are those suffering the most, the are the most vulnerable,” he says in disgust. “And then there is this wind that spreads plastic of all sort across the fields... Animals eat what they find among the grass, but cannot digest the material, it happens that they get sick, some die.