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PRIME MINISTER PRESENTS MOUNTAIN DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY AT EXPOGEORGIA

5c13cda245d81
BM.GE
14.12.18 19:33
657

Good afternoon dear friends,

Let me greet the representatives of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), diplomatic corps and officials of international organizations, Members of Government and Parliament of Georgia.

I greet with special respect you, our pride and joy, who are maintaining our homeland, our Georgia with your loyalty towards highlands of the country. I thank each and every one of you for visiting the capital city and for celebrating this key-note event together.

International Day of Mountains is marked by the entire world today on December 11. First time ever, this year we join the celebration and I hope that this will turn into a tradition, especially when more than half of the country is mountainous. Hence, we have a special attitude towards highlands and highlanders. Treason is an estranged feeling for you and it has been historically so. It is true nowadays and will be so forever.

It take it as a great privilege in speaking with highlanders. I hope nobody will mind me saying that you tend to give advice which will be remembered forever. I wish to tell you that the entire country is proud of your courage and audaciousness. You give hope to the entire country and with your presence there you protect the Georgian land, Georgian border. Each individual living in the highlands is a live shield of Georgia. It is your great historical mission, which has been served with great dignity and by doing so you are continuing the traditions of our ancestors. I am convinced that you will convey it to future generations.

Mountain is the historic and cultural wealth of Georgia. It is our duty to take a good care of this asset, maintain and protect it from abandonment. We all know how harsh the conditions are and that is why we highly value your individual contributions. We wish to ease your life and create decent living standards there.

You may well be aware that mountains, with their unique nature and due to the patriots living there, are most important for the stability, development and advancement of our country. That is why, development of highlands has been declared as a priority of the Government of Georgia (GOG) and we passed a Law on Mountains, which has enabled us to address the issues of tier one for you. It is a predominantly cash support, which covers many segments: about 19 MLN GEL has been disbursed for the newborns to the eligible families, supplements to pensions for highlanders have amounted 61 MLN GEL, addition to the social security package was earmarked in the amount of almost 8 MLN GEL, supplement to the wages of medical personnel amounted 9 MLN GEL, while that of the teachers and sports coaches - almost 20 MLN GEL. I wish to express special warmth to these very people - teachers. Each of you are true heroes of Georgia. Over 110 MLN GEL have been spent so far towards this end. In addition, let me also note that almost 315 enterprises enjoy tax incentives for highlanders.

I wish to tell you that National Council of Highlands is working constantly on these issues, along with the Fund for Development of Mountainous Settlements. The latter has already allocated 66 MLN GEL for financing the infrastructure project in high terrain regions.

Apart from this, stable and irreversible development of mountains has made it essential to develop a long-term strategy. We would wish for this strategy to exist since the day Georgia regained its independence. It would enable us to address many current problems of highlands much earlier, however I am confident that this strategy will enable us to overcome all these fundamental problems in a very short period of time. Today, I wish to use this opportunity and express my heartfelt gratitude to UNDP for its active support in the formulation of a Strategy for Development of Mountainous Settlements for 2019-2023. Also, I wish to thank the Swiss and Austrian authorities and UNDP Project in Support of Regional and Local Development through their financing. My special thanks go to all those people, who were directly involved in the process of this Technical Assistance (TA).

Support of our foreign colleagues has resulted in a guiding document, which ensures the sustainable development of settlements in highlands, social security and increased access to public services in high terrain regions of the country.

Status of mountainous settlement is currently enjoyed by 1730 settlements. After the implementation of the Strategy, life will considerably change to the better for over 300 000 individuals and it is almost 10% of our population.

One of the priorities of the Strategy is to ensure the sustainable development of mountainous settlements, along with the support of small, medium to micro businesses, farming estates and cooperatives, facilitation of high-demand products on the market and support of their production. Rehabilitation of existing roads will be continued for the improved traffic. New roads will also be built. This will enable us to fully use the economic and touristic potential of high terrain regions. All-year-round tourism infrastructure and services will be developed. Rehabilitation of monuments of cultural heritage will be continued. Investment programs will be developed to cater the needs of mountainous enterprises and farming estates. State support programs will be intensified to facilitate the agro-industrial cooperatives.

Many of you are aware that our vision is to develop such segments of the agriculture sector, which will focus on the production of organic products and this is the advantage of highlands. Therefore, when we pass the Law on Granting Full Tax Exemptions for Organic Production, it may be said that Georgian highlands will be one of the first to enjoy the unique tax exemptions.

Work will be continued for the increased access to quality healthcare and social services with an aim of social support of highlanders. Number of village doctors will increase, along with the pool of transportation for emergency rescue service. Healthcare facilities and emergency rescue services will be built. Access to utilities and telecommunication services will be increased. Substantial steps will be made for the supply of power energy, natural gas, drinking water, sewage systems and waste management services in high terrain regions. If the region does not allow for power energy supply through cabling, it will be provided through alternative sources. About 400 households in all the villages left without power supply in high terrain regions will get alternative sources of energy in 2019, while all the mountainous settlements will get mobile telecommunication and internet access by 2020. Work is in progress to ensure internet access in Pshav-Khevsureti and Gudamakari valleys. Significant projects of water supply will be launched in 2019, including in Stepantsminda and adjacent villages, along with Tsaghveri, Vale, Mestia, Abastumani, Bakuriani and Gudauri.

One of the significant tasks of the Strategy is to improve the current infrastructure of education institutions. Construction of 6 new schools will be launched in 2019 and works will be carried out in the amount of about 15 MLN GEL for the rehabilitation of existing schools. Quality general and tertiary education will be accessible to all. Twelve new kindergartens will be constructed and routine transportation will be provided to school children. Funding for students will be continued in support of youth living in highlands. More wide-scale mechanisms will be introduced to boost the birthrate with an aim of improving the demographic conditions. Tailor-made programs will be developed and introduced in 2019 to facilitate the economic activity of the youth in highlands.

One more significant priority of the Strategy is to ensure the access to public services in high terrain regions. Innovative systems of management and services will be introduced. Electronic engagement of citizens will be developed along with the municipal websites. Number of public service centers will be increased.

I wish to single out a very important challenge, which we have and unfortunately witnessed by all of us in the past three years. Installation of early warning system of disasters is very important in mountains to safeguard from those caused by the climate change. You are aware that we have allocated very substantial funds towards this end and designed pilot projects also. We will be carrying out preventive measures to mitigate the harm caused by natural disasters. It implies the clean-ups of various valleys and river beds, installation of four automated meteorology stations, forestation, improvement of sanitary conditions in forests and recovery of post-fire aftermaths in mountains. Most significant component of the Strategy is also the introduction of insurance programs to minimize the harm caused by natural disasters.

I need to stress that this Strategy does not contain only general provisions. It lays out such specific projects as the construction of dairy production enterprises in Tsalka, Dmanisi and Akhalkalaki Municipalities; facilitation of honey production in Kazbegi; support of economic and entrepreneurial activities of local residents by protected areas of Pshav-Khevsureti; tertiary training and retraining of seekers; facilitation of traditional crafts production; support of timber production along with the energy-efficient panels and palettes. Tourism is the most important and we prioritize mountain tourism all-year-round. Hence, development of tourism infrastructure and service development will facilitate the implementation of such specific projects as the recovery of Old Dikli castle village in Tusheti, construction of a water treatment facility by Paravani Lake, restoration of Mestia and Ushguli and construction of a new museum in Oni.

With an aim of irreversible state policy on mountains and generation of more resources for future, we decided to establish a Department of Highlands at the Technical University of Georgia. This program will be adequate to similar existing programs taught throughout the world and will respond to the needs and your problems in high terrain regions.

You may well be aware that many infrastructure projects have been completed already. A 2 km-long motorway tunnel has been constructed at the crossroad of Dariali and Devdoraki Valleys. In terms of its magnitude and scale, nothing similar has been built in Georgia since 50's. Natural disaster has been repeated several times in recent years in Dariali Valley. Construction of this tunnel has made the travel safer in the referred location. Construction of a new and almost 6 km-long access road has been completed by Gergeti Trinity Church. It is a special landmark destination for tourists and new road will substantially facilitate the development of tourism potential in Kazbegi.

Apart from the rehabilitation of existing roads, it is also planned to construct wide roads of strategic significance. These are such roads that increase the economic activities of highlanders and will improve their living standards. Such projects include: construction of Roshka-Arkhoti road linking with the Other Khevsureti, construction of a 54 km-long motorway in Racha, about 200 km-long motorway linking Sno-Juta-Roshka-Shatili and several other valleys.

Recent improvements to infrastructure and rehabilitation of historic monuments have made Kazbegi, Shatili and Mutso more attractive to tourists. Projects are planned for the restoration of Mestia and Ushguli from the following year. Recovery of Chazhashi monitoring and observation towers in Ushguli community will be continued. Project for the restoration of Mutso will be completed in the following year also.

High terrain regions and mountainous recreation areas should be developed in line with the requirements of modern life to gain the potential of hosting most significant international sports tournaments. Hence, you may already be aware that we have received consent and Georgia will host a world championship in skiing and snowboarding in Bakuriani in 2023. Also, construction of sports compounds is planned with international standards to increase the public awareness of this destination.

State programs for the first aid medical service access has already been developed within the scope of the Strategy on Highlands. Selected 30 volunteers are attending this event today. These people are true patriots of our country and I wish to thank them for being ready to provide first aid to mountain residents for gratis.

I pledge to follow this Strategy and spare no effort for making the development of highlands an irreversible initiative. Mountains should not only be kept away from abandonment, but should be made most comfortable and economically attractive for dwelling.

I remember that when the Law on Mountains was passed, statements were made and we all remember them. Some claimed that this project would not be viable and would not lead to tangible results to our highlanders, etc. Best international experts and two countries - Switzerland and Austria - have helped us in the development of the Strategy. In my opinion, it is the best example of how a country should use the highlands as the best wealth to generate prosperity. I am confident that this strategy will enable us to find the best use of our greatest wealth - Georgian highlands. Once again I wish to thank everyone contributing to the development of this Strategy and express hopes that we will meet plenty of times in future to discuss the Strategy in greater detail through its implementation.

At the same time, I wish to let you know that we made a decision to establish a Week of Highlands together with this key-note event, which will be celebrated in the week symbolically starting from July 16 - day when a Law on Highlands was passed. It will enable us to celebrate it together with you in mountains and turn it into a genuine public festivity - a celebration of Georgian highlands. - notes Mamuka Bakhtadze

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