Lone pensioners in Georgia receive food parcels from the Red Cross

Published: 5 April 2001 0:00 CET

Nata Tvalchrelidze in Tbilissi

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, internal conflicts and the break-down of the Georgian economy, the country found itself in a difficult situation. Today, when we talk about the civil war in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, many Georgians find it difficult to remember the hardship. However, the Georgia of that time, when the Federation opened a delegation in Tbilisi, resembled the worst nightmare the country had ever seen.From 1995 the rehabilitation of the Georgian economy began.The society is now divided into two groups: those who could cope with the changes and those who could not.

Long queues for bread and empty supermarkets were then a matter of everyday life. Naturally, therefore, the very first programme, the International Federation implemented in Georgia was that of relief. For seven years 500,000 lone pensioners and handicapped people throughout the country received food assistance.

Today, when you walk in the streets of Tbilisi full of beautiful shops and expensive cars, you get the impression that the infrastructure in the country functions well. However, thousands of pensioners are still in a very vulnerable situation. Most of these people had a long career. They expected that upon retirement they would get a decent pension. Instead, they get either USD 6 a month, or, in case they fought in World War II, around USD 25.

For many, especially the old, the only salvation is support from the extended family or access to land to produce food. The least secure are those who fall through the traditional safety net: the elderly living in cities without family support. They are the traditional beneficiaries of the Red Cross - not only in Georgia, but in all CIS countries.

"I think that the betrayal of expectations is so tragic for the lone pensioners," says Paul Emes, Head of Federation's Delegation in Georgia. "These are people the same age as my own parents, people who worked hard all their lives and who expected a decent and dignified retirement. Instead, due to the economic collapse, they find themeselves destitute and almost entirely dependant on external assistance."
A food intake survey - carried out at the end of 1999 by the Federation Delegation in Georgia among 400 elderly without close family members - revealed that the majority had an insufficient food intake to meet their nutritional requirements. Their protein consumption was very low, and many of the elderly told us they lived on bread, sugar and oil.

The Georgian Government has not yet found the means to provide support for the lone pensioners, the most vulnerable people in society. The number of those suffering is increasing; poverty is on the rise. Half of the population in the whole country and almost 60 per cent in the capital, Tbilisi, earn less than the minimum monthly subsistence wage, which was calculated as USD 96.8 per month in 1999. The average monthly salary mounts to USD 57.2.

In February 2001, the International Federation with the financial support of the German Government through the German Red Cross provided food assistance to the lone pensioners and multi-children vulnerable families in four large Georgian cities. The distribution of the bulk food procured by the WFP is underway in the rural areas of Samtskhe-Javakheti and Kvemo Kartli - areas that were affected by the devastating drought in summer 2000.

Today, according to data from the Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Affairs, there are 37, 697 lone pensioners in Georgia; 12, 000 are extremely vulnerable and depend fully on Red Cross assistance.